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H.H. Holmes - America's First Serial Killer
2003 - - 64 Mins.
Director: John Borowski
Producer: John Borowski, Dimas Estrada
Written By: John Borowski
Starring: Tony Jay, Ed Bertagnoli, Cary Callison, Willy Laszlo, Rachelle Villarreal, Audrey Welling, Harold Schechter
Review by: James O'Ehley
Official Site:

When diets go bad . . .
This is a rather neat, independently-produced documentary about H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer (don’t ya just love descriptive movie titles?) that is now available on DVD.

A contemporary of Jack the Ripper, the Chicagoan Holmes doesn’t exactly feature as largely in the public’s mind today as his London counterpart, but he was quite the media sensation when his case came to the fore in the mid- to late 1800s.

Besides being America’s first documented case of what was back then called a “multi-murderer," what makes the Holmes story so interesting is that he didn’t exactly conform to the popular conception one has of serial killers today, namely that they are isolated maladjusted loners whose victims are strangers picked up from the streets. In fact, some of Holmes’ victims included people he actually knew well such as a drunkard employee and several of his young children, not to mention a couple of Holmes’ own mistresses!

Also, H.H. Holmes went to medical school and graduated (apparently it is rare for serial killers to complete some form of tertiary training). His doctor’s training served him well in his secret career: he would actually sell the skeletons of his victims to various medical training institutions!

In the age of the so-called robber barons, H.H. Holmes was the serial killer as capitalist (or is that the other way round?). Through various shady property deals and scams, he constructed what locals dubbed “the Castle” – an innocuously looking building on the outside, but which actually contained lime pits, gas chambers (!) and furnaces - all designed for the grisly dismemberment and disposal of his various victims.

In fact it is somewhat unclear at times in this otherwise excellent documentary whether Holmes actually murdered people for the sheer heck of it, or whether he was simply getting rid of potentially embarrassing witnesses, since a lot of his murders actually involved various scams and con jobs. Perhaps focusing a bit more on the psychology of serial killers in general would have clarified this issue.

Clocking in at an hour, one feels that perhaps H.H. HOLMES - AMERICA'S FIRST SERIAL KILLER could have been longer. However, it makes for engrossing viewing and it wisely avoids the cheesy melodrama that often mars American made-for-TV documentaries when it comes to this sort of sordid subject matter.

Clearly a labour of love for its writer, director and producer John Borowski who spent three years making it, H.H. HOLMES - AMERICA'S FIRST SERIAL KILLER was worth the effort and deserves to be seen.

(Incidentally, just how many people did Holmes kill? Well, no-one is exactly sure, but one historian puts it at nine victims one can be definitely sure of. Sadly enough, nine victims seem a bit unimpressive by more ambitious 20th century standards. Here in South Africa for instance one Moses Sithole was found guilty of 38 murders and 40 rapes on December 5, 1997 . . .)
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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