GORE IN THE STORE
THE WOMAN IN BLACK ****
Directed by Herbert Wise.
Starring Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker, David Ryall, Pauline Moran, Andy Nyman, Steven Mackintosh.
Horror, UK, 102mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Network on 10th August 2020.
The popular 2012 Hammer adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel THE WOMAN IN BLACK is often cited as one of the better haunting movies of modern times, with lead actor Daniel Radcliffe helping to bring in a younger audience despite some spooky scares that surprised many a parent whose child wanted to see Harry Potter in a ghost story and who likely ended up writing to the BBFC to get the rating changed.
However, any internet page dedicated to listing scary movies over the past few years has been quick to point out that the 1989 made-for-TV movie of the same name is the superior shocker, and the DVD having been out of print for several years meant that many people weren’t able to make the comparison. Until now that is, as Network have finally put out the movie on Blu-ray for everyone to enjoy (and be terrified by).
Adapted by Nigel Neale and directed by Herbert Wise, THE WOMAN IN BLACK sticks fairly closely to the novel – with one or two minor changes – and sees young lawyer Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins, from the HARRY POTTER movies, ironically enough) sent by his boss from London out to the coastal village of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of Alice Drablow, a lonely elderly woman who has died and left no family. Leaving his wife and two children behind, Arthur arrives in the village but the locals seem very hesitant to help him do what he needs to do, particularly when he mentions going to Alice Drablow’s old home, the creepy Eel Marsh House set out in the isolated marshes, only accessible via a causeway that floods regularly.
Once at Alice’s funeral, Arthur sees a mysterious woman wearing a black dress lurking around the church and then again outside of Eel Marsh House, and once inside the house things start to get very spooky as unexplained noises and events threaten to send Arthur over the edge and into madness.
Presented in its original broadcast 4:3 aspect ratio and also in widescreen, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a welcome reminder of when television dramas didn’t have to spread themselves over several episodes to fill a timeslot and could still tell a deliberately paced story without having to have a jump scare or a ‘moment’ every few minutes to keep audiences interested; then again, this came from a time when audiences weren’t so distracted with other things whilst watching a movie so it’s probably a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. In either case, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is very slow but manages to pack a lot into its running time, never being boring and always with something to get invested in.
The early 20th century setting is wonderfully recreated and once Arthur gets to Crythin Gifford the doomy atmosphere permeates every frame of the film, the morbid visuals accentuated by the lack of a score for a lot of the running time and, of course, there is one particular scene that always gets a mention whenever this film is discussed and yes, it does still have the necessary effect thanks to some clever editing and sound effects, and is easily scarier and more unnerving than anything in the 2012 film.
There is also a fun audio commentary provided by author/critic Kim Newman, actor/writer Mark Gatiss and actor Andy Nyman, who makes his first movie appearance here alongside plenty of other familiar British TV faces, and although the disc is a bit light on any other extras the main attraction makes it an overdue but very welcome addition to your Blu-ray collection thanks to a pristine restoration job, and despite some rough-around-the-edges production niggles – you can clearly see the actress playing the woman in black coming out of cover in the graveyard scene when she is supposed to just appear – this version of THE WOMAN IN BLACK is in a different class to the miscast and effects-heavy Daniel Radcliffe movie and will continue to give you the chills even after several viewings, especially if you watch it during those dark winter evenings that these types of moody ghost stories were made for.