Young and bereaved lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is sent on an assignment to collect the legal documents of a recently deceased Mrs Alice Drablow and soon finds his presence is not appreciated by the seemingly superstitious folk of village town Crythin Gifford. Desperate to keep his boss happy (and this being classic horror movie territory) Kipps is unheeding of the warnings from the townsfolk and ventures across a dangerous causeway to the foreboding Eel Marsh House where he find himself visited upon by a malevolent apparition. It soon transpires that a curse has been lade upon the village and upon each sighting of the ghostly woman in black, a child mysteriously dies. Our protagonist now finds himself unwittingly caught up in a web of increasingly chilling events and must discover a way of stopping the cycle of evil.
Not since the deadly reign of Count Mitterhaus has another fiend posed such a deadly threat to your children. In Hammer's new and most Gothic motion picture yet, the locals are again plagued by a spectre who has a rather upsetting habit of hypnotising and slaying the towns young (In fact, one particular sequence includes an image rather striking in its resemblance of a scene from the pre-credit sequence of Vampire Circus).
Having read the book, seen the original film and the stage play (all of which are brilliant) I was slightly wary of this film. Although Daniel Radcliffe's acting skills (and ability to move beyond the Potter phenomenon) have been in question for some time, the thing that really worried me was that perhaps old school chills and thrills would again be substituted for overused and unconvincing CGI effects. Quite gladly I was wrong. Firstly may I quite gladly say that this is really the first true Hammer Horror to be released since the studio's revival took place.
Although this is rather surprisingly Hammers first ghost story, several classic Hammer ingredients are in evidence, most notably the narrative being set in a village standing in the shadow of an aristocratic curse/threat (Kiss Of The Vampire/the Gorgon/The Reptile/Plague of The Zombies). Like the films springing from Hammers golden age, this film looks fabulous. Eel Marsh House is something to behold, dark and dank but with a certain ruined lavishness and the fog enshrouded causeway leading to the house really lends itself to the feeling of total isolation that our hero soon begins to experience.
Daniel Radcliffe is surprisingly quite convincing and manages to convey varying degrees of fear rather well. Not surprising when considering the splendid mise-en-scene with which he was able to work. Although edited with a certain modern sheen, the film retains a real sense of decay, thus allowing for a rather heavy atmosphere to build during the first 30 minutes. Once the thrills get under way, It is also pretty damn scary at times too, with some really brilliant moments of suspense and sudden shocks that are executed very well indeed (the highly enjoyable collective gasps at the premiere were testament to this!).
When comparing this film with the 1989 version, I would like to note here that whilst the originals low-key quality is successfully retained for much of this film, there are two particularly scary scenes with our leading lady (including the terrifying rocking chair scene from the stage show) that are executed with such 'Hammer flair', that it leaves no one in any doubt that Hammer Films have made this adaption, very much their own.
In conclusion, when trying to imagine what a Hammer ghost story would have looked like from back in the day, the only points of reference I could come up with were the 1961's The Innocents (splendidly cinematography by a certain Mr Freddie Francis) and 1963's The Haunting. Both of which have obviously inspired this film.
In foregoing the usual violence and over use of digital effects in modern films of this genre, the team behind The Woman In Black have produced a fine mix of heavy atmosphere, classic haunts and slick production values and as news hits the streets that the film is Hammers highest ever opening in the US (having taken more than the opening of the hugely successful Paranormal Activity), it looks like there will be more quintessentially British Hammer fare to come...
'THE WOMAN IN BLACK' IS RELEASED IN THE UK FRIDAY 10TH FEBRUARY 2012
REVIEW: SAM HARVEY
IMAGES: MARCUS BROOKS
SEE UK PREMIER FEATURE: UK PREMIER 'THE WOMAN IN BLACK'