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HUGHES BROS. STALK RIPPER

Allen and Albert Hughes have inked to direct the Terry Hayes-scripted Jack the Ripper story “From Hell” for New Line Cinema. The project is greenlit for a September start.

The move is surprising because New Line was developing a competing project, “The Ripper Diaries.” By setting up “From Hell” the company severs its ties with the “Ripper Diaries” project, to which director William Friedkin had been attached.

“From Hell,” which takes place in 1880s England, is also a marked turn for the Hughes brothers, who previously directed “Dead Presidents” and “Menace II Society.” The budget for “From Hell” is estimated at $30 million, and it will be shot on location in London.

“From Hell” was hatched originally at Disney by producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy of JD Prods. Disney put it in turnaround in December, and Columbia, Warner Bros. and Fox all jockeyed for the film once the Hughes siblings emerged as directors. The project had been in development for three years.

Hamsher and Murphy will produce with Kevin Messick, who is president of the Hugheses’ company Underworld Entertainment.

Steve Tisch and Kearie Peak, who were to be the producers of “Ripper Diaries,” will be executive producers of “From Hell.” “The Ripper Diaries” will remain dormant at New Line.

Based on a 10-part series of graphic novels by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, “From Hell” focuses on the murder investigation by Scotland Yard detective Frederick Abberline. Though neither the Hughes brothers nor New Line execs would reveal their killer, the prime suspects are members of high society who are shielded by the royal family, which itself might have been involved in the murders.

“From Hell” derives its name from Jack the Ripper’s fourth letter, which historians believe was probably the only one from the real killer; the return address was “From Hell.”

“The Ripper Diaries,” meanwhile, focused on the controversial and discredited diaries of James Maybrick, who was alleged to have killed the prostitutes because of an addiction to arsenic and strychnine, and rage that his wife was cheating on him.

Toeing the Line

The project reunites New Line with the Hughes brothers, who made their screen debut on the highly profitable “Menace II Society,” but parted acrimoniously with the studio. It is the second consecutive project in which the Hughes duo explore the exploitation of prostitutes. They are currently halfway through “American Pimp,” a documentary on the men who coerce women into turning tricks.

“People’s initial impression is that we might be doing this because we get a kick out of the gore, but the story is much more imaginative, and the violence is indirect,” Allen Hughes said. “We’re more interested in the royal conspiracy factor.”

Said Albert Hughes: “A lot of people don’t know they had really bad ghettos over there like Whitechapel, which was really run-down and where the murders took place. This is no Merchant Ivory movie. The script mixes the upper class and lower class and how they clash through this detective. It’ll be shot all over London, and gives us a chance to work with veteran British actors, which will be a new step for us.”

Added Hamsher and Murphy: “Allen and Albert’s unique perspective into this chilling story will take the material to a whole new level. As young Americans looking into British society 100 years ago, they’ll bring a fresh, hip perspective.”

Ripping good tale

For New Line, production president Michael De Luca and executive vice president Richard Saperstein dropped their own bid to do the Ripper story once they read the script by Hayes, who wrote “Dead Calm” and the remake of “Fahrenheit 451” which Mel Gibson’s Icon Prods. and Storyline Entertainment are developing at Warner Bros.

Said Saperstein: “The other was a contained psychological thriller, centered around Maybrick and his wife. This is more an examination of how the rich fed on the poor in turn-of-the-century England, and more of a terrifying whodunit.”

Differences patched up

Both New Line and the Hughes brothers said they’ve patched up past differences.

“We’re delighted to be back with them,” said De Luca. “They’re real filmmakers, and they pitched a compelling, fresh take on a period piece that they want to make very scary. We feel they can do it.”

Acknowledging their past differences, Allen Hughes said: “There were four studios in the pot, but it came down to New Line because it seemed they’d make the movie we wanted to make. Though we’ve had our ups and downs, there was a comfort factor. In our first movie, we didn’t have final cut, but they didn’t mess with our cut. Even though we felt they didn’t pay us right back then, they will this time.”

The Hughes brothers were repped by ICM’s Jim Wiatt and Robert Newman with attorney Sam Fischer. JD Prods. was repped by CAA’s Joe Rosenberg and attorney Craig Emanuel.

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