H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer

Director: John Borowski

Producer: John Borowski
Writer: John Borowski
Narrator: Tony Jay
Distributor: Facets Video (2004, 64 min)

An American original not to be proud of.

Confession time: I have always been fascinated by serial killers. Perhaps it's because they are monsters of the real world, or perhaps I'm just too morbid for my own good. Either way, I've long been intrigued by these depraved madmen and from that rogue's gallery of the damned, one of the monsters that mesmerized me the most was a man who was in his day yet is virtually unknown today. A man who was a contemporary of Jack the Ripper, and while the Ripper only killed five, this psychotic murdered an untold number more. Ripper became a legend, and this man became lost in the annuals of human atrocities, overlooked and overshadowed by those to come. A man whose lust for killing was so consuming that he dedicated vast amounts of time and resources to sating his vile appetites, so much so that if he was a fictional character in a movie you might roll your eyes and say, “there's no way that this guy could be real.” This man was known as H.H. Holmes and now at long last there is a documentary about America's first serial killer.

Filmmaker John Borowski has carefully recounted the story of H.H. Holmes with a mix of archival photographs and documents and great looking dramatic recreations that look better then many “professional” horror films. Added to the mix are interviews with notable authorities such as an FBI profiler, a forensic expert, and one of the most recognizable authors who chronicle such human monsters as Holmes: Harold Schechter. The end result is not a typically dull, monotonous documentary but a film that is captivating, compelling and never a chore to sit through.


This documentary follows the life of Holmes (born Herman Mudgett) from his early life though his years of murder and subsequent "Trial of the Century.” Holmes' best known historical oddity, a luxurious hotel dubbed “The Castle” that he created as a mad genius like death trap, is well covered much to this reviewer's delight. That three-story edifice contained secret passages, spy holes, a chute for quick disposal of bodies, a fully stocked torture chamber, vats of acid and a crematorium. Again, if this was fiction it would be unbelievable; the fact that it was real makes it truly horrifying. No detail, no matter how small , is overlooked by Borowski. Even Holmes' partners in crime, and his sadistic glee when tormenting a mother by tricking her into sending her children with him on a trip, a trip they would never return from, is well documented.

H. H. Holmes is well narrated in a somber baritone voce by Tony Jay and the actors are used for the recreations, while having very little to no dialog, play their parts as well as any silent film star ever did. The direction and editing are first rate and better then many mainstream movies. All of this makes for one thoroughly enjoyable, educational, and frightening documentary experience.

If you would like a copy of H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer for yourself, you can order a copy from www.hhholmesthefilm.com. In addition to the great documentary I described here, the DVD contains insightful extras, including a making of the documentary, outtakes, trailers, and a commentary audio track.

I give H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer a 10 out of 10.

All material copyright (c) 2004, Elder Signs Press, Inc, all rights reserved. P.O. Box 389, Lake Orion, MI 48361-0389.
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