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H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer
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by Scott Weinberg

"The best H.H. Holmes documentary EVER MADE! ;)"
5 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2004 L.A. SCREAMFEST HORROR FILM FESTIVAL: About halfway through the indie documentary "H. H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer" two thoughts appeared and battled through my brain, each hoping to be the first to make it through the finger and into the keyboard: 1. "WHY have I never seen a movie about H.H. Holmes before?!?" and 2. "Know what? THIS is a damn good movie!"

If I ever happen to come across first-time director John Borowski, I'll be sure to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and offer the kid a sincere and heartfelt "Good Job!" - and I might just throw in a "Seriously, dude..." at no extra charge. That's how impressed I was with his labor-of-love documentary, which is as addictively entertaining as the finest Discovery Channel exposť on Jack the Ripper or Charles Manson. But those shows have huge budgets and per-diem support staffs. America's First Serial Killer had John Borowski working for three straight years.

It's just mind-boggling to realize that, in our serial-killer-addicted culture, there's never been a movie made about the late-19th-century mass-murderer H.H. Holmes! There's only been about three dozen flicks made about Ed Gein, so why no love for Holmes? This is a guy who married three women, maintained over a dozen alter-egos, ran countless con games in numerous cities, enraged Philadelphia with crazy courtroom tactics, and owned a private torture castle in suburban Chicago! Based on what Mr. Borowski has just shown me, H.H. Holmes makes Ed Gein look like Ed Grimley!

That crafty Borowski knows his story is pretty damn fascinating, too, so he doesn't feel the need to lay on the clunky dramatics or lurid splatter effects. His material is presented via newspaper clippings, archival photography, first-person testimonials, and a killer collection of old-school-style re-creations. The music, the scratchy B&W visual design, the flawlessly spooky narration by Tony adds up to a seriously slick little flick, one that will curl your toes while feeding you a nasty dose of Americana's turn-of-the-century underbelly.

What's most endearing about the film is obviously not the subject matter, but the meticulous craftsmanship with which it was created. There's a current that runs through the movie, one that reeks of a storyteller who's truly fascinated by his research and loves to share it. Watch the movie real close and two things leap off the screen: Borowski's passionate interest in the material - and, more importantly, his unwavering commitment to delivering a truly "professional-style" movie. It may have taken the guy 3+ years and a truckload of credit card bills, but he's already a bona-fide documentarian in my book. Someone get a copy of H.H. Holmes to those folks at the Discovery Channel!

Those interested in the immortally-infamous-yet-oddly-obscure H.H. Holmes and this surprisingly excellent documentary should feel free to click right here:

Oh, and the DVD? Stocked with commentary, trailers, outtakes, more material on Mr. Holmes, and a brilliant little 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Check out Borowski's play-by-play in that segment and then tell me you're not impressed.

If I seem just a bit too effusive about just some little serial-killer doc and its first-time director, then forgive me. But if you spent as much time as I do watching movies as soulless as they are expensive, then you'd recognize this low-profile, high-quality docu-thriller as cause for high praise indeed. (Plus it's really creepy too!)

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 10/10/04 19:46:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 ScreamFest L.A. Horror Festival. For more in the 2004 ScreamFest L.A. series, click here.

User Comments

6/13/14 Charles Tatum Overrated. Plays like something on the Discovery Channel 3 stars
11/30/09 Jane Collins How come nobody checked up on this guy for so long? 4 stars
1/19/07 David Hollands Fascinating, well paced, and creepy to the extreme. A masterpiece. 5 stars
10/12/04 Al Guy 10 stars would be more like it! The best movie of the year! 5 stars
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  DVD: 26-Oct-2004


  DVD: 19-Oct-2004

Directed by
  John Borowski

Written by
  John Borowski

  Tony Jay
  Ed Bertagnoli
  Cary Callison
  Willy Laszlo
  Rachelle Villarreal

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