THE WOMAN IN BLACK, the new horror picture from EDEN LAKE director James Watkins and based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill, is the first Gothic horror film to carry the Hammer trademark in close to forty years. To give the film its considerable due, it's an immense pleasure to see a period horror film on the big screen that allows mood and suspense to build organically, rather than through accelerated editing and other post-production hot-rodding. Some of its best moments consist of nothing more than Daniel Radcliffe walking through a series of darkened corridors while holding a candle, and I applaud the filmmakers for having sufficient faith in this classic form of storytelling to rely on it. Though Hammer was in fact only one of seven different production companies involved (and not even the first mentioned onscreen), the village tavern and the old menacing house with a mezzanine inside the front doors lend some heartwarmingly nostalgic scenery to offset the chills -- and there are a goodly number of them.
It must be mentioned that Hill's often-staged novel was filmed previously within recent memory, also in England, for the UK's Central Television by director Herbert Wise, who worked from a script by one of the gods of fantastic screenwriting, Nigel Kneale. All things told, the previous version -- reviewed in VIDEO WATCHDOG #88 (as coincidence would have it, the issue with Daniel Radcliffe on the cover as Harry Potter!) and now suddenly no longer available on DVD but available for online viewing here -- is on balance the humbler but also the more effective of the two adaptations; it contains at least one shock so unsettling that this new remake didn't dare address it. As far as this new version goes, there is a modernist, Friedkin-like streak in its shock effects, which tend to be loud and sudden and bordering on the subliminal, and the cinematography has the expected digi-palette, this time accentuating inky blues, deep blacks and whalebone whites to the nearly complete omission of red. Also, while the previous version -- like the novel -- had notable points in common with Mario Bava's Operazione paura (US: KILL, BABY... KILL!, 1966), Watkins quotes Bava's film visually to such an extent that it feels like an inversion of it, with the little girl ghost now a boy, and the dead child's mother engineering his haunting from her grave rather than from her villa. The shots of spectral children glowering from dirty windows, cold dead hands pressed against frosted windowpanes, and the lonely toys of abandoned playrooms are so direct, the film walks a tightrope between hommage and remake.
I was amused by the fact that the Woman In Black was portrayed by an actress named (Liz) White.
Viewed at a local theater!