Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sherlock Sunday:
The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire

The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002)
Starring: Matt Frewer, Kenneth Welsh, Shawn Lawrence, Neville Edwards, Isabel Dos Santos, Cary Lawrence and Tom Rack
Director: Rodney Gibbons
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When members of a religious order based in London's Whitechapel District start dying at the hands of what appears to be a vampire, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (Frewer and Welsh) are hired to find the culprit, be it a living psychopath, one of the walking dead, or a vengeful Central American demon-god.

After my luke-warm review of "A Royal Scandal," more than one reader told me that I needed to watch this Matt Frewer-starring Holmes, saying that it was a better movie on every level. And they were right.

Featuring an original story co-scripted by the director, this film is faster paced than "A Royal Scandal", more atmospheric, and, more importantly, it gives both Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh much more to work with as actors because it makes far better use of both Holmes and Watson as characters.

In my review of "The Royal Scandal", I put most of the blame for a weak pretrial of Holmes on Matt Frewer when I should have put it on the script, because given more and better material, Frewer does a passable job. Primarily, Frewer gets to portray Holmes looking down his nose at superstitions such as beliefs in spiritualism, vampires, and even God himself. This gives him more of a chance to display different facets of Holmes' character and even to play off Welsh's Watson a bit more than in the previous outing. Frewer's Holmes still isn't as equal to that brought to us by Basil Rathbone or Peter Cushing, but when given good material, he does a better job than either Robert Stephenson or Christopher Plummer did during their outings.

Kenneth Welsh is also redeemed as Watson in this picture. Like Frewer, once he had more to work with, he brought a life to the role that was lacking in "The Royal Scandal". Even better, Watson is written like just the sort of intelligent and capable assistant/friend that someone like Holmes would want to have at his back. In one of my favorite moments in the film, the final scene in fact, Watson even gets the last laugh as far as an on-going discussion about the existence of God and other supernatural beings are concerned, with Holmes being absolute steadfast in his denial of any such poppycock and Watson reserving judgement.

The supporting cast is also more interesting than that featured in "A Royal Scandal" and the "vampire murders" and the person committing them being gruesome and strange enough that the viewer is far less certain than Holmes (and even Watson) that they may indeed be the work of a demon or an undead monster. So well done is the film that you may be wondering right up to the very end where Holmes finds himself locked in a struggle for his very life with the killer.

Whereas I felt "The Royal Scandal" was a film Holmes fans could skip, I recommend this one more strongly. It's more faithful to Doyle and his vision that even some that purport to be faithful adaptations (especially when it comes to Watson's stance on the supernatural. Doyle was a True Believer when it came to spiritualism, so it's fitting that the defacto narrator of Holmes' adventures should at least have an open mind on the subject).

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