31 March 2015

"(Almost) Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about THE WOMAN IN BLACK" - A collaboration between Little Gothic Horrors, Winter Moon and Maynard

When I first got wind of the Hammer-produced "The Woman in Black" film with Daniel Radcliffe sometime in 2011, I thought it's gonna be an original film... but then I realized that it's actually based on a book that basically everyone has read except me... and then I realized that it has been already adapted into a film that seemingly every citizen of the United Kingdom has seen on television... and then I realized that there's also a successful stage play of "The Woman in Black"... and then I finally realized that I'm a complete nitwit when it comes to this mysterious woman who obviously has nothing to do with Foreigner or Uriah Heep ;-)

Now that I've finally seen the sequel AND the 1989 adaptation, I thought it's time to create an extensive and insightful review-post about all three films, as well as about the novel. Due to not having found proper time to read it, I invited two of my favorite blog-ladies (who know the book by heart) to participate with introductive write-ups and gorgeous pics: Emma from Little Gothic Horrors and Yvonne from Winter Moon! Enjoy your read! =)



Emma:

We all have different criteria for what makes something scary, and for me, 'The Woman in Black' just happens to tick the terror box. Isolation, unexplained noises, glimpses of something out of the corner of the eye, and constantly waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, create a tension in me that gory slashers (which I usually just find gross rather than frightening) never would.

I've seen the 1989 and 2012 movies of 'The Woman in Black' and I have read Susan Hill's horror novella on which the films are based. I really enjoyed all three, but as is usually the case, the novel offered more insight into the history and motivations of Jennet Humfrye, the malevolent Woman in Black, who haunts Eel Marsh House and the town of Crythin Gifford.


As I was reading the book, I often found myself thinking of the television series, 'Supernatural'. If only Arthur Kipps had been able to call on the Winchester brothers to sort out his vengeful spirit problem. In the canon of 'Supernatural', wronged, earthbound spirits will, over time, lose all their humanity and personality until their energy eventually becomes nothing but rage without reason or pity, and this is very much the way I would characterize the ghost of Jennet Humfrye.
The glimpses of her tragic backstory in the novel definitely elicit empathy for her, but just like one of the 'Supernatural' spooks, this wrathful phantom will not rest in peace simply by an attempt to right some of the earthly wrongs committed against her.

'The Woman in Black' is a force of hate, bitterness, and anger. I think her actions are even more heinous and disturbing in the book than in the movies, and they left me feeling uneasy long after the last page was read. Oh, if only Sam and Dean had been on hand to salt and burn poor Jennet's bones.



Yvonne:

The 1983 novel, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, begins on Christmas eve, with the cosy, traditional scene of a family telling ghost stories around a crackling fire. The step father of this family, Arthur Kipps, who is also the protagonist and narrator of the story, lets his mind wander back to when he was just 24 and had, himself, encountered a real ghost. Haunted by the memory of it all, he decides to write down his story, as a way of exorcising his own demons.
And so the 'real' story begins.

Susan Hill's words are beautifully descriptive, she creates an incredibly atmospheric world that the reader can almost imagine themselves in. It's not a fast-paced book, but one to be savoured slowly, and a must for lovers of the traditional ghost story.

The last but one chapter in the book is 'Whistle and I'll Come to You', which is also the title of an equally brilliant ghostly tale, by M.R.James. But that's another story...

 "Mine was not a story to be told for casual entertainment around the fireside upon Christmas Eve."

"Her appearance, even in the limpid sunshine and comparative warmth and brightness outdoors, was so pathetically wasted, so pale and gaunt with disease, that it would not have been a kindness to gaze upon her."

"It stood like some lighthouse or beacon or martello tower, facing the whole, wide expanse of marsh and estuary, the most astonishingly situated house I had ever seen or could ever conceivably have imagined, isolated uncompromising but also, I thought, handsome."

"She was at the far end of the plot, close to one of the few upright headstones, and she wore the same black clothing and bonnet, but it seemed to have slipped back so that I could make out her face a little more clearly."

"The door of the room from which the noise came, the door which had been securely locked, so that I had not been able to break it down, the door to which there could not be a key... that door was now standing open. Wide open."

 "The child's nursery had been preserved in that house as he had left it, with his bed, his clothes, his toys, all undisturbed, and the rocking chair, still and silent."

[llustrations by John Lawrence. Words by Susan Hill.]



And now it's time for me to ramble about the films:

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

German Title:
Frau in Schwarz

UK, 1989
Director: Herbert Wise

8/10








After Susan Hill's immensely successful novel was turned into a stage play by Stephen Mallatratt ("Coronation Street") in 1987, which eventually became second longest-running play in the history of London's West End, UK-based TV-network ITV produced the very first film adaptation of the spine-tingling story about the mysterious ghost that haunts the small English town of Crythin Gifford, directed by acclaimed (and Austrian-born) TV filmmaker Herbert Wise ("I, Claudius"), based on a screenplay by Nigel Kneale ("Quatermass").


Even though it was made on a rather tight budget and looks like your average 80s/90s made-for-TV movie, the 1989 incarnation of "The Woman in Black" is a fascinating and unexpectedly scary film, and undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind rarity in the history of European television, in terms of creepiness and effectivity on the same level with classic ABC Movies of the Week. Wise slowly lures you into the clever and intriguing story, puts a creepy spell on you and mesmerizes you with a slow and tense build-up, lots of breathtaking suspense and some fascinatingly eerie, marvellously compelling atmosphere that somehow reminds me of b/w classics like "The Innocents" or "The Haunting".

The cast is thoroughly competent, everyone delivers a more-than-solid performance, especially the extremely underrated Adrian Rawlins (best known for playing James Potter in the "Harry Potter" films) as young solicitor Arthur Kidd, extensive stage & TV actor Bernard Hepton ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", "Smiley's People") as local land owner Toovey, John Cater ("Dr. Phibes 1 + 2") 
as local solicitor...


...and Pauline Moran's brief, but nonetheless stunningly eerie performance as the Woman In Black herself. You don't get to see her that often, but whenever she appears on screen, it's downright frightening, especially the scenes at the graveyrads in Crythin Gifford and outside the Eel Marsh House, as well as the slightly insane sequence where she's hovering over Arthur Kidd's bed, grinning, shrieking... *brrr* Also very worth mentioning: the captivating violin-driven score by Rachel Portman ("Never Let Me Go"), and the masterful use of all the horse-struggling/child-screaming sound effects

"The Woman in Black" was shown on TV only in 1989 and in 1994. It was briefly available on VHS and DVD, but for many years now it's out of the print and only available on online streaming sites like YouTube. According to Susan Hill, "the rights to the project have been purchased twice over, and now rest with a major U.S. studio", probably Universal




THE WOMAN IN BLACK

German Title:
Die Frau in Schwarz

UK / Canada / Sweden, 2012
Director: James Watkins

9/10








After the legendary British film producion company Hammer Films went bankrupt in 1979, it took almost 30 years until Dutch producer John de Mol came along and revived it in 2007. The first few productions weren't that much of a success, but then in 2011 they greenlit a new adaptation of Susan Hill's "The Woman in Black" which subsequently became the biggest hit of Hammer 2.0 so far.


Based on a screenplay by Jane Goldman ("Kick-Ass", "Kingsman"), writer / director James Watkins ("Eden Lake", "The Descent 2") created an unbelievably frightening and visually stunning creepfest that perfectly satisfied my 'horror needs' and turned me into a complete wreck when I first saw it at the cinema - yup, it's that scary! The grim opening scene (3 girls jumping out of a window) perfectly sets the tone for the first half which is chilling, a bit unsettling and breathtakingly atmospheric, while the uber-amazing second half is packed to the brim with heart-stopping jump scares, stunningly suspenseful scenes and damn creepy images. Hell, I never thought that rocking chairs and tin toys could be sooo fuckin' scary!

The characters are all well-written and likable, and the actors all deliver superb performances, especially a surprisingly excellent Daniel Radcliffe who carries the movie very, very well and truly shines as tormented but courageous young solicitor. Also great: Ciáran Hinds as local landowner and Janet McTeer as
the landowner's wife.


With its well-developed script, Watkins' flawless direction, a subtle but immensley eerie score by maestro Marco Beltrami ("Scream 1-4"), shitloads of eerie locations (the marshlands, interior and exterior of the Victorian "Eel Marsh House") and some awesome camera work by Tim Maurice-Jones ("Snatch"), the 2012 adaptation of "The Woman In Black" proves to be a perfect example of an awesome contemporary European horror film and definitely should be considered as modern horror classic.




THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH

Alternate Titles:
The Woman in Black: Angel of Death / The Woman in Black 2

German Title:
Die Frau in Schwarz 2 - Engel des Todes

UK / USA / Canada, 2014
Director: Tom Harper

3/10




I wouldn't say I was surprised that this turned out to be such a turd: a sequel to a movie that didn't need to be sequelized, with a no-name cast, no Daniel Radcliffe (not even a cameo...), a director with hardly any feature film or horror experience who's mostly working for TV (Tom Harper, "This is England '86"), a screenwriter with no horror experience whatsoever (Jon Croker, "Fast Girls"), as well as the fact that it takes place during World War 2 for whatever reason - let alone the dumb title "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death" which makes you rather think of Slayer or Josef Mengele, than of creepy houses and scary ghosts.

Still, I was kinda shocked about how bad this movie turned out to be. While its predecessor perfectly lulled you in with breathtaking atmosphere, terrific acting and shitloads of really frightening scares, the sequel is just a lukewarm cover version, bland and lackluster, soulless and frustratingly boring. Harper and Croker get in line with and endless parade of filmmakers who show no understanding towards the horror genre and have no idea how a proper horror film works.
It's NOT about repeating cheap jump scares and loud noises over and over again (*yawn*), and it's certainly NOT about over-using every single horror trope / horror cliché imaginable.


There's no build-up, no atmosphere, no depth. I had no idea who the characters were and why I should root for any of them, since there was absolutely nothing interesting or likable about them. The acting is solid, but couldn't hide the fact, how empty and vapid all the characters are. The storyline is so dumb and half the time, it makes no fucking sense. Who had the stupid idea to bring a bunch of evacuated children to this god-forsaken place? Why does no-one really care when the kids get killed? Why does the Woman In Black punish the main girl whose child was taken away from her? She wanted to keep the baby, but they didn't let her - so, why punish her?

Other things that annoyed me: the blind man whose appearance had no effect on the rest of the film whatsoever, lots and lots of gaping plot holes (e.g. much ado about "lights out" and "blackout restrictions", yet later several characters happily waving around with torches and lamps and shit...), ridiculous-looking oh-so-creepy CGI ghost faces, the fact that the movie spends way to much time inside the house, and - worst of all - some of the most embarrassing dialogue I've heard in a really long time, stuff like: "This room feels... I don't know... sad... " - "Rooms aren't sad, Ms. Parkins. People are." Bleh.


Production design and cinematography both were very good, tons of beautiful images of the marsh and the house. I dug the scene at the end at the ace-looking decoy airfield and, as above mentioned, the acting was okay (aside from that uber-annoying silent brat). As for the rest: worthless. Just another forgettable and already forgotten Hammer Studios 2.0 production à la "The Resident" or "The Quiet Ones". Sad.

18 comments:

  1. Ah, a wonderful post, Maynard!

    I forgot to mention that I watched the theatre performance a couple of years ago, that was brilliant too! http://thewomaninblack.com/

    I haven't seen The Woman in Black 2, and don't think I'll bother.

    So happy that you gave both the TV film and 2012 version such high marks. :)

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    1. It's wonderful because you're a part of it! ^_^

      I sooo would love to see the theatrical adaptation. Hope it'll come to Austria in the near future.

      Not bothering about the sequel is the best thing you can do =D

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  2. Thank you for this wonderful review GROUP! Well done indeed! I didn't read Women In Black 2 as I am wanting to watch it on DVD! Yvonne has sent me Susan Hill's book, which my husband nabbed and loved it! My turn will come! Thank you again!!! You 3!
    xoDebi

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    1. Thanks for reading, Debi! :) I'd suggest to read the book before checking out the sequel. I'm sure you will hate it even more then :D

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  3. Great reviews, guys! I've got a copy of the Woman in Black sitting in my nightstand bookcase (where all the good books live). I'm going to finally finish that stupid end-of-the-world novel and start reading a decent book tonight!

    Look like I'll pass on Part Deux of the movie too, especially if you think it was such a turd, Maynard. Man, I laughed - now there's a word you don't hear much anymore. And it's such a good word! LOL

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    1. Hey, who cares about the end of the world when you got the Woman in Black in your nightstand bookcase? ;)

      Ha, believe me, the second part really is one helluva turd :D

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  4. Ah hah. The Woman in Black. I used to teach this, and used to set homework of reading a chapter...but the reader had to be by themselves, with just a small lamp or a candle AHAHAHAHAHAHAH!
    *chokes on evil laugh*
    Yes, the book is scary. Really very scary. The stage play, which has played non-stop since 1987 (I think) in London, is also edge-of-the-seat unnerving. All the parts are played by two actors, an old one and a young one, and you're wrapped up in young Kipps' isolation and terror. A very intense experience with a whole class full of screaming girls...

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    1. Holy hell, you're much more evil than I expected ;-)

      I've never seen the stage play, but I heard that it's awesome and also checked out a few clips on YT. If this ever comes round my place, I sure will check it out!

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  5. I absolutely love the Woman in Black - the book, the stage adaptation (which is my all time favourite show) and the film.

    You guys nailed it!! Well done!!

    Kudos to Emma for the SPN shout out - totally on point with the treatment of Jennet

    K :-D

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    1. We tried our best :) Glad that you enjoyed it so much! I knew that you are a TWIB fan, but I had no idea that you're such a hardcore fan! Woohoo! :D

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  6. Fantastic review everyone :D. Have only seen the Daniel Radcliffe version and haven't read the book either. Pretty glad I didn't pay to go see the sequel at the cinema now. :D XXX

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    1. Thanks! :) Don't bother about the sequel, but you definitely have to see the 1989 version which is also damn scary!

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  7. Thanks Emma, Yvonne, and Maynard - I loved the article. The 2012 movie scared the heck out of me!

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Lexa! :) Oh yeah, it scared the heck out of me too!

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  8. Great post!
    Maynard, I'd be lost without your reviews. I always check them before buying / trying a new horror film, and although our opinions aren't ALWAYS on the same level, they're usually close enough and they're a definite match on this one. P.S. I had no idea there was a book, so added to my reading list, thanks!

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    1. Thanks Esteé! =) I always try to be as honest as possible. Not everyone likes this, but I couldn't care less :D Thanks for visiting and keep reading! :)

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