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By MARK TURNER
If you're like me you grew up watching horror films made by Hammer Studios. These were not your run-of-the-mill horror films but classily-made films that featured some of the classic horror icons like Dracula and Frankenstein, but in more of a gothic location.
This was a world of castles and mansions, of men dressed in fine clothing and women in low-cut laced gowns. The horror films made by Hammer had style and class and a certain amount of eeriness to them instead of gore. The studio fell on hard times but is in the midst of a return and its first major entry is a grand one called THE WOMAN IN BLACK.
It's the turn of the century and Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is at his wits end. A solicitor by trade Kipps has fallen on hard times, having great difficulty in dealing with the death of his wife several years earlier during childbirth. His son has grown but Kipps' melancholia remains these years later. So much so that he's fallen on hard times. The firm he works for gives Kipps a last chance to redeem himself by sending him to the small town of Cryphin Gifford to the Eel Marsh House where the estate of Mrs. Drablow, a recently deceased woman, must be settled. Kipps heads out hoping to reunite with his son and his nanny on the weekend.
On his train ride to the town Kipps meets a gentleman by the name of Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds). Sam is also en route to the same location and offers Kipps a ride to the local inn. But what greets Kipps when he enters is not what he expected: a cold shoulder from all but the inn keeper's wife who offers him a small room in the attic. He receives more of the same when he contacts the local solicitor who's been handling the affairs of the estate. Given the brush off and a carriage to take him to the train station, he pays the man to take him to the estate itself.
If the creepy factor weren't already oozing off the screen it does so in spades as Kipps makes his way to the estate. The mansion is located on a small island with a causeway that twists and turns up to it. All along nothing but the marsh can be seen, a gooey water trap if ever there was one, with plenty of sea beyond. The tides rise and close off the causeway throughout the day and the carriage driver agrees to return later to take Kipps to Sam's house for a dinner invitation.
Walking on to the house Kipps is greeted by the best of gothic sights, a mansion in disrepair covered with vines on the outside and cobwebs within. He lights some candles and gathers what paperwork he finds and begins working. But noises within the house cause him to stop and seek what is creating the sounds. As Kipps passes from one room to another, we have the chance to see the woman in black as her spectral image lingers over Kipps without allowing him to see her. She's everywhere yet nowhere in this house and the director of the film does a fine job in creating the atmosphere of her presence without seeing her at all times.
Kipps eventually goes to dinner at Sam's and meet's his wife. She begins to tell him things that will lead him to discover the truth behind the town's fright and the reason they want him gone. Her tale and other clues lead Kipps to find out about the sister of the Mrs. Drablow who was sent away while her son was adopted by Drablow and her husband. On a trip home one night, their carriage slid into the marsh and the boy was drowned, his body never recovered. Now when the woman in black is seen a child in the town dies.
Kipps continues his work, dealing with both the house and its foreboding inhabitant and continuing to deal with the loss of his wife. The intrusion of the woman in black in his business as well as the lives of others becomes too much and he seeks a way to appease her and put her soul to rest. This becomes all the more important as he has no way of reaching his son en route to the town to possibly be her next victim.
The movie does a wonderful job of offering us teasing scares that never go over the top. The chilling moments are found from start to finish, the locale's offering the feelings that something bad is going to happen and the acting complements the storytelling that delivers chills rather than one jump scene after another (though there are those). Best of all is seeing Radcliffe in a role other than Harry Potter, proving that there is a chance of his becoming an actor that can handle more than the namesake that brought him to attention.
The movie is one of the old-time scare films that doesn't rely on gore, doesn't rely on a hatchet wielding menace or a nightmare creation that sucks out your soul as you sleep. This is good old fashioned ghost story that makes your skin crawl while you wait for the next scare and that's a good thing to see. Welcome back Hammer.
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