Woman in Black Review

The Woman in Black is a short horror story written by Susan Hill in 1983. First being televised in 1989 by Quatermass and British horror supremo Nigel Kneale, it was also the basis for a highly successful three-man stage adaptation by Stephen Malatratt which has run in Covent Garden and on tour since 89 also. It has now been given a new film treatment by a revitalized Hammer Studio (in conjunction with various funding partners) and stars Daniel Radcliffe, fresh from the Harry Potter series.
Given the story and the reputation of its adaptations, the Woman in Black is a logical choice for a maiden outing by the new Hammer studio; it’s one of the genuinely terrifying ghost stories of its day. Only being aired twice on television (the last time on Boxing Day 1994 at midnight), the Kneale version provided one of the most terrifying moments saw on British television and is still discussed as ‘THAT BIT’ in reverential capitals when discussed by traumatized fans online.

The stage adaptation to has audiences screaming, and although the matinees are usually full of school trips of kids generally amusing themselves by shrieking, I once sat behind a teenager who was reduced to burying his head between his hands and murmuring “no, no, no, no . . .” as the protagonist, Arthur Kipps comes across an open door at Belmarsh a house that has previously been locked and starts to enter.

Given such an impressive track record of terror, how does the latest version measure up? Well, rather well I’m pleased to say. Although more than prepare to dislike Radcliffe and the four facial expressions he used for all the Harry Potter films, he actually does rather well and conveys the haunted and tortured Kipps admirably. Fine support is also on hand from Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer.

No doubt heeding the disastrous remake of the other standard of cinematic horror – The Haunting, The Woman in Black utilizes modern CGI effects but keeps these restrained and blended with some genuinely creepy cinematography, lighting, and set design. Most shocks are supplied via the usual “Lewton Bus” technique of something loud suddenly happening, but the climax of the haunting and the confrontation with the Woman in Black herself is expertly handled and proved a little too much for one or two of the 12A audience watching (there have been some comments that despite targeting the captive “Potter audience” brought by Radcliffe, the film should really be a 15 certificate).
The story tells of recently bereaved solicitor Arthur Kipps, who leaves his young son to conclude the legal affairs of an Alice Drablow, a resident of a small coastal town called Crythin Gifford. On arriving at the town and his connection with Drablow’s property – Eelmarsh House – being known, Kipps finds himself shunned by the town inhabitants, all except for Sam Daily, a local landowner, and modernist who doesn’t hold with superstition.

Kipps starts to sense a foreboding presence about the house, hearing the echoes of an accident on the fog-clouded causeway that claimed the life of Drablow’s son; a boy who he later learns was forcibly adopted from Jennet Humfrye, the Woman in Black.

The vengeful spirit of Humfrye starts once again to claim the lives of the townspeople’s children, and having awoken the evil presence from within the house, Kipps soon realizes his own son’s life is in danger unless the mystery can be solved and the murderous Woman in Black put to rest.
Critically, the opening brought in $20 million, much more than the $11 million that had been projected. Part of this is no doubt due to the casting, but it’s also a well delivered and genuinely scary ghost story of the traditional style and can hold its ghoulish head up high in the company of the other adaptations. As a commercial success as well as an artistic one, it also raises the prospect of another resurrection from beyond the grave; a new beginning for Hammer Studios.


If you like the sound of Woman in Black, then check out Insidious on Amazon, another gut-wrenching, jump-out-of-your-seat thriller! Also, don’t forget the Harry Potter saga:
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