"A REALLY INTELLIGENT INTERVIEWER." -- Lance Henriksen
"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue

**Find The Vault of Horror on Facebook and Twitter, or download the new mobile app!**

**Check out my other blogs, Standard of the Day, Proof of a Benevolent God and Lots of Pulp!**


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hammer Is Back--With The Woman in Black

Some years back in 2007, I got wind that the once-mighty Hammer Film Productions was returning to action after decades of dormancy. However, I was somewhat let down when I looked into the matter and found that their first release would be a thoroughly modern affair called Beyond the Rave, and that the newly revived studio was looking to break away from its classic period roots and focus on contemporary horror. Which is sort of like if the Hal Roach Studio was revived to make American Pie sequels.

And so, after a couple of such modern thrillers, and even involvement in the well-made yet wrong-headed American remake of Let the Right One In, imagine my thrill to find that Hammer was at last truly returning--that is, going back to what it does best: Producing atmospheric British period horror. In the grand tradition of the studio that gave us Horror of Dracula, The Gorgon, Paranoiac, The Hound of the Baskervilles and countless others comes James Watkins' The Woman in Black, starring Daniel "Don't Call Me Harry" Radcliffe.

Folks, *this* is the true return of Hammer. This is what we've been waiting for. And just like that, we have a film that will very likely be in the running for the best horror film of 2012. Who would've imagined that a well-made, carefully shot gothic haunted house film with minimal gore and largely psychological scares could ever get made in this day and age of torture porn, quick cuts, gratuitous grue and lame post-post-modern slasher nonsense? Having just seen it, I'd put The Woman in Black right up there with such classics of the subgenre as The Haunting and The Uninvited.

Last Tuesday evening, joined by the lovely Captain Cruella, I decided it was time to go and see this film that I heard so much about. I also made the possibly imprudent decision of taking along my little Vaultlings Zombelina and Skeleton Jack. Sure, they had school the next day, and spent most of the night scared witless in bed. But that's what comes with the territory when you're the spawn of the Vault Keeper, people. At their age, I was shivering in bed after seeing Hammer's Lust for a Vampire on WWOR Channel 9, so I suppose the whole affair lends a certain comforting air of continuity. Anyway, they got over it the next day, and we all had a hell of a time howling, shaking and yelping in our theater seats at every chilling moment.

Yes, there are jump scares, which I'm really not much of a fan of. It seems that is an inescapable de rigeur element of the modern-day fright flick, sadly. Nevertheless, jump scares aside, this is one bone-rattling, good-old-fashioned blood-curdling ghost chiller, and just what the horror genre needed right now. British-born Watkins, whose previous effort was the vastly different torture thriller Eden Lake, sure knows how to build terror and craft an atmosphere of growing dread. If you love a good ghost story and you're a little jaded at the inability of most horror pictures' to genuinely get under your skin, then this one is for you.

Based on a 1970s novel by Susan Hill which had previously been successfully turned into both a TV movie and a touring stage production, The Woman in Black tells the tale of a mysterious abandoned mansion on a tiny island off the coast of Britain, apparently haunted by a malicious female spirit which targets innocent children. Radcliffe does a solid job portraying the poor solicitor who is assigned the unenviable task of closing up the estate, all while slowly discovering the house's evil history and the nature of the supernatural presence within.

X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman takes a break from superheroes to give us a script that effectively holds the viewer's attention while not resorting to short-attention-span theater and silly gimmicks. It's a slow burn, but so worth the ride. There are not a lot of fireworks until we head toward the final act, but I was so engrossed watching everything carefully unfold that I didn't mind one bit. Imagine, shots that last more than five seconds! This is a welcome return to measured horror film-making.

Radcliffe does well in his first big-boy role, but the one who really steals the show here is the always-excellent Ciaran Hinds as the skeptical local who befriends Radcliffe but refuses to believe there is anything going bump in the night in that old dark house--despite the fact that the titular specter is possibly responsible for his own young son's demise. As all great actors do, Hinds makes the most of a simply written character to give us a textured, understated, anchor of a performance.

But just like most of the Hammer gems, the film's greatest power is derived from the way the actors are filmed and the surroundings in which they're placed. Gorgeously shot by the edgy Tim Maurice-Jones, the film makes the most of its setting, so that the Welsh landscape and most importantly the house become characters in themselves. And although the excessive use of digital filters can be a bit off-putting at first, in the end I felt it helped add to the otherworldliness--lending a cold, washed-out aura to the characters and their world. Not to mention that the actual Woman in Black herself is one truly frightening creation, and the crew at London effects house Union VFX deserves kudos for her creation and the many other scares they helped generate.


And although we're talking slow build here, it all pays off in a haunted extravaganza at the very end, which finds our protagonist trapped alone in the house, face-to-face with the evil that lurks there. This is a kind of horror that we rarely see in the cinema anymore, and to be honest, even some of the great Hammer efforts of days gone by lacked the budget to pull this kind of stuff off as well. The hair danced on the back of my neck, a knot took shape in my stomach, and I'm not ashamed to say at one point I clutched my ten-year-old daughter and uttered a mild blasphemy that caused her to spiral into a serious fit of the giggles. In short, the movie did its job.

For fans of classic horror who also enjoy the contemporary stuff and sit and wait for those really special ones to come along, this is one of those. The Woman in Black is a genuinely creepy, well-written, evocatively shot horror film. It kept my kids up through the night, and don't be surprised if it does the same to you. I'm proud to say that about five years after the actual studio revived itself--at long last, Hammer Films is truly back.

20 comments:

Mike Snoonian said...

This really is a terrific film. Radcliffe does a fantastic job making one forget he just spent 8 films in the largest YA franchise of the best few decades. He's got a hell of a career in front of him.

Christine Hadden said...

Great review! I loved this one too. There aren't enough Victorian-era ghost stories in my opinion.

The '89 version is one of my favorite films, so this version had a lot to live up to for me. But I found the spooks genuine and the look of the film astounding.
You're right - Hammer is back!

B-Sol said...

I think Radcliffe showed a lot of promise in what I like to call the "Peter Cushing/Michael Gough" role, Mike! And thanks, CH! Wasn't this one a breath of fresh air? I must confess I've never seen the '89 TV movie. I should correct that.

teddy crescendo said...

It`d be nice to think that after 35 years of making nothing but unwatchable unimaginative garbage the British film industry might be finally getting back to making proper films again.

Danielle said...

I will admit I was at first just drawn to it cause it was HARRY FREAKING POTTER IN A HORROR MOVIE! That's two of the three things that I would looooooove to see mashed together.

Anyway, all fangirling aside, I loved this movie. It was even better watching it at midnight next to girls who were obviously Potterheads like myself, and clearly can't handle scary movies. Ever.

B-Sol said...

Now THAT sounds like it had to be fun. Not to mention, I suspect two more things you'd love to see mashed together would be you and Daniel Radcliffe :-P

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Agree that this has been the first film the revived Hammer have produced that feels like classic Hammer. I enjoyed this one a lot.

B-Sol said...

Here's hoping they churn out a few more like this. Not saying they have to slavishly adhere to the old-style Hammer, but they also shouldn't forsake their roots.

teddy crescendo said...

Actually B-Sol i DO think they should "slavishly adhere" to the old-style Hammer because strickly speaking The Hammer horror movies (and maybe some of the Amicus films and a few other individual cult horror odditys produced here and there by other obscure and long since defunct British film companys) were the only truly great films ever produced by the British film industry.

B-Sol said...

There's some truth in what you say, Teddy. But I do think there's room for trying some new things and also continuing the classic Hammer tradition. After all, a little experimentation is what led Hammer to its most successful formula to begin with.

Jenny Krueger said...

I haven't seen this movie yet but I plan on it. I've heard a lot of mixed feelings about this film so I'm excited to see how it all plays out. Plus, I'm excited to make some Harry Potter jokes when I'm watching it. :D

B-Sol said...

I think you'll enjoy the hell out of it if you love good ghost story. And little Harry's all grown up...

Watch Movies Online For Free said...

well first i like twilight and then this is my most favorite movie. awesome movie. great post. thanks. i like it.

Chrissie said...

Solid review! I was surprised that I enjoyed this film so much. I'm not usually a sucker for period pieces or Hammer horror for that matter, but Woman in Black really hit the mark on all fronts.

B-Sol said...

Just a hell of a well-made horror film, plain and simple. They rarely make them like that anymore.

Trailer Lover said...

I have to say that i just watched the trailer of this movie and it was scary, i'm not sure if i can see the complete movie lol but i loved it.

Sashinka said...

I've seen this movie and it's scary but in the same time very enjoyable for the horror-thriller fans, very recommended.

B-Sol said...

Couldn't agree more! Such a fan, scary horror film.

Nashville handgun said...

I still haven't seen this one. Ugh! It looks great, and so many people have said it brings a scare unlike anything out a this time. Can't wait to see it! ...and glad to see ghost stories coming back in.


---
T Noonan
Nashville handgun

B-Sol said...

Yes, Nashville, I'd have to agree with that assessment. You're in for a real scary treat!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...