CATEGORY: WORDS: Vince Christiaans

Hammer Horror has risen from the grave, let’s just hope it’s here to stay. ‘The Woman in Black’ is an entertaining gothic ghost story, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. The film contains enough of that spooky atmosphere that made the old school British horrors so much fun.

The film stars ‘Harry Potter’ survivor Daniel Radcliffe, he plays a young solicitor assigned to handle the estate of a mysterious family. Word in town is that the family’s property is haunted. As is tradition in these films, the townspeople are wary of visitors and look upon the new arrival with blatant distrust.

”Amazingly”, the Eel Marsh House actually turns out to be inhabited by a ghostly presence. Of course, there’s a creepy back-story involved, which I won’t spoil. What I can say is that this so-called Woman in Black can be quite persuasive, driving the local children to violently kill themselves.

The primary reason why I took interest in this film was my fondness for Hammer Horror. I’m going to delve into some film history here, so bear with me. Hammer Films is a British company founded in 1934; it specialized in producing quick and cheap pictures without any particular appeal. This changed when the company acquired the rights to film a new version of ‘Frankenstein’. It ended up as the horror classic ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’, which was quickly followed by ‘The Horror of Dracula’ and ‘The Mummy’.

Those three movies paved the way for a slew of horror pictures. With these Hammer redefined the genre by adding colour, blood, violence and lots and lots of cleavage. By today’s standards the films could be regarded as quaint, but back in the day Hammer’s brand of horror was found to be quite disturbing. The company made stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It was also home to the often overlooked director Terence Fisher.

There isn’t as much cleavage in ‘The Woman in Black’, but there’s enough of the classic ingredients to make the film feel instantly familiar. I’d love for Hammer to return to its roots and deliver more of these small-scale genre films. With Daniel Radcliffe they might even have found their new Peter Cushing. The supporting cast is also very strong. Especially Ciarán Hinds who, until recently, was a severely underused actor.

That’s not to say ‘The Woman in Black’ is without flaw. In fact, the film doesn’t really pack a punch. The mood is suitably creepy and the whole affair is enlivened by some well-executed jump scares but the film fails to become truly frightening. It’s more of an atmospheric piece with a rather dull story. It’s unfortunate, had the film been more intriguing and disturbing we would’ve had a superb haunted house movie on our hands.

In conclusion this film makes for a fine viewing. If you’re sick and tired of ‘modern’ ghost movies like ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘The Woman In Black’ might be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s rather mild and could have done with some more excitement. But all in all, it is a fun but flawed haunted house flick.

P.S. From what I understand they are already hard at work on a sequel called‘The Woman in Black: Angels of Death’. It won’t feature Radcliffe and will take place a few decennia after the original. I’m curious as to what the filmmakers wish to add, the ending to this film appeared to be quite conclusive.

 

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