H. H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer (2003)



Directed by John Borowski


It’s pretty hard to believe what a small amount of attention has been given to H. H. Holmes, the first real serial killer in America. In a day and age where it seems everything is being re-told through a modern filmmaker's eyes, not a single thing has been done about Holmes until now.

Independent filmmaker John Borowski took it upon himself to be the first with H. H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer, and he’s set a good example for others to follow. Instead of trying to re-create the times during which the killings good place (the late 19th century), Borowski opted to create a History Channel-style documentary detailing the atrocities committed by Dr. Holmes during the end of America’s innocence.

The documentary briefly glosses over Holmes’ life as a child, where a strict religious mother and a physically strict father in rural New Hampshire raised him. Graduating from medical college, Holmes traveled the country under various aliases, using a unique method of insurance scamming that involved replacing the bodies of supposed dead people with unidentifiable corpses in order to make his living. Finally settling in Englewood, a suburb outside of Chicago, Holmes put together enough money to construct a massive building that he used as a boarding house and execution chamber during the 1893 World’s Fair.

Borowski utilizes stock footage as well as actual on-location filming to intelligently re-create a crime spree that has gotten little to no attention from the public at large for almost a century. He also made the very wise decision to hire veteran voiceover artist Tony Jay (best known to me as the voice of the Elder God in the Soul Reaver games, but who’s worked in countless other games and movies throughout his long career) to narrate the proceedings. Jay has one of the most distinctive and mesmerizing voices in the business today, and his presence gives the entire production a far more professional feel than one would expect from an independent production.

Through the works of countless historians over the years, the true atrocities of the crimes Holmes committed, as well as his general indifference to murder in any form and the randomness of his intended victims, has truly come to light. It’s good we have independent filmmakers that are less concerned with making their own version of the story than with making their audience more intelligent, and for true crime buffs you really can’t go wrong with this documentary.

The film is now available on DVD with some impressive extras such as an update on the locations and some of the people (or descendants thereof) that were seen in the film. A "making of" featurette chronicles the three-year journey it took to get the film off the ground with other extras including some early poster art and bios of the director and Tony Jay.

If you’ve never heard of H. H. Holmes or read any of the details about his massive killing spree in young America, make sure you check out H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer before one of the many Hollywood studios gets their hands on the story and makes a glossy, glorified movie out of it the way they did with From Hell.

 

3 ½ out of 5

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