'Woman in Black' So Old School It's Original

Throwback horror flick "The Woman in Black" will frighten all ages of scare fans.

I can safely say that moviegoers of all ages will get gleefully creeped out by The Woman in Black. Although it’s PG-13, I’d feel totally comfortable trying to scare the Cap’n Crunch out of my 6-year-old sons with this one, and I’d feel comfortable sharing it with the prudish Baptists down the street too (although the occultish overtones might scare the staunchest of nihilists).

The Woman in Black is unique because it’s a horror flick not punctuated with f-bombs, unnecessary violence or quease-inducing blood and guts. It relies wholly on suspense, surprise and eerie music to both frighten the audience and move the story along. It hearkens back to the glory days of 1940s and 1950s horror flicks.

This throwback cinematic mindset could be because The Woman in Black was made by Hammer films, a vaunted, UK-based film company that began making scare-‘em flicks in the 1930s, eventually fizzled out, and was resurrected in 2007. Hammer brought us Dracula, The Mummy and The Revenge of Frankenstein, among other classics exclusive now to Svengoolie’s TV show (which is still a great watch, Saturday evenings on WCIU).

Daniel Radcliffe, known to the movie-going masses as Harry Potter, plays Arthur Kipps, a failing London lawyer in the 1930s or ‘40s sent to the hinterlands to iron out an estate case. Radcliffe does a masterful job here, playing both the stone-faced inquisitor and the frightened tenant.

When Kipps gets to the remote village, he discovers it’s terrorized by a ghost, the woman in black, who is forever out to avenge the death of her son. He temporarily and unknowingly moves into the ghost’s former house, where an armada of scary toys, bad plumbing and mysterious bumps and bops keep him on edge. That house is the perfect setting for this story, and the filmmakers deserve high praise for creating it. It’s an abode filled with cobwebs, weird chandeliers, and scary pictures straight out of Disneyworld’s Haunted Mansion ride.

The filmmakers create a perfectly direful geographic backdrop here as well, with fog, rain and gloomy countryside completing a perfect setting for the macabre storyline. Their overall attention to detail is also to be acknowledged, as the woodwork in all the settings and even on the train (Wood? On a train? That ain’t Metra) suggests a time long gone. Some classic early cars make cameos here too, reminiscent of the classic namesake vehicle in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The eerie vintage toys (and they are all vintage, according to imdb.com) strewn about the haunted house play an important supporting role here, as the wind-up ones start making sounds for no reason here to add suspense. It reminded me of the week after Christmas, when dwindling batteries cause some robots and cars to start up on their own and give parents middle-of-the-night grabbers.

Although we see the actual visage of the woman in black only for a few seconds here, the image will remain with you. Upon returning to an empty house, I expected her ghastly mug to appear every time I opened a door or peeked out the window.

Overall, The Woman in Black is a refreshingly chilly horror movie appropriate for everyone. It’s so old school that it’s original.

Quotable moments

“This is your final warning” — Arthur Kipps’ boss to him, before he leaves

“I believe even the most rational mind can play tricks in the dark” — Samuel (Kipps’ friend in the village)

“It’s just chasing shadows, Arthur!” — Samuel, on the supernatural

“They prey on those most in need” — Samuel, on “charlatans”

Obligatory Who reference

In one flashback sequence, two boys walk over a couple sandcastles on the beach, an obvious reference to Keith Moon’s home footage during the brilliant Who documentary The Kids Are Alright. And although it’s the Beatles, not the Who, Samuel clearly says “sawr” in one line of dialogue, invoking John Lennon’s “I sawr a film today, oh boy” from “A Day in the Life,” from the grossly overrated “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

Other observations at the moviehouse:

  • Ordering tickets online and printing out the receipt is a sham. You still have to wait in line for the actual ticket stub once you get to the theater, and Cinemark (or is it Fandango?) slaps on a $1.50 service charge, much like the hated Ticketmaster. Just get there early next time and save yourself the dough and the toner from your printer. Yeah you’re guaranteed a ticket, so I guess it works to ensure yourself a seat at the crammed theater for the next Twilight flick.
  • Lawrence of Arabia + A River Runs Through It = Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Yeah folks, turbans ‘n’ trout, not just at your local Knights of Columbus Hall on Fridays during Ramadan. Coming soon.
  • In the upcoming 7500, a transatlantic flight gets disrupted by a supernatural force, apparently triggered by a passenger defying in-flight rules by playing a basketball video game on his mobile device. Choose your punchline for this one: 1) Do supernatural passengers have to pay more for extra baggage just like humans? 2) This is your captain speaking. The flying silverware is NOT a direct result of the rubbery chicken we just fed you. 3) The ghosts in this one understand more about technology than Tom Cruise.  
  • What, me worry? The upcoming This Means War, about two spies battling for the love of Reese Witherspoon, tries to tout itself as the cinematic answer to MAD magazine’s vaunted, time-honored feature Spy Vs. Spy. I doubt the analogy holds up. But true MAD fans should seriously check out MAD on the Cartoon Network, where a wonderful animated Spy Vs. Spy feature remains very true to the original. The entire show is a searing cut as well. This plug brought to you by Alfred E. Neuman.
  • Motley Crue, bikinis, fire, fast cars. How did I miss this Kia ad during the Super Bowl, er I mean the big game (sorry, NFL, don’t go after the Shorewood Patch for copyright infringement)?

In the previews for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, I can’t tell which is more ridiculous, Nicolas Cage’s over-the-top serious narration or his purply toupee.

Janet February 14, 2012 at 04:22 PM
We thought this was a good one, too. Radcliffe did a good job, and it was pretty creepy. Love the line about the toys starting up in the middle of the night -- haha!
Dave Wilson February 14, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Thanks Janet!
Nurslawzak February 14, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Another enjoyable review, Dave. I'm having trouble motivating myself to see this film because I can't get past Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter persona. While watching the previews for this film, I expect him to whip out his wand and "lebowskioso" or something to ward off the ghosts and earn 15 point for Gryffindor.
Dave Wilson February 14, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Haha Dave! Radcliffe already seems like an adult in this one so it was easy for me to get past the Harry Potter angle.
Alexie Aaron February 15, 2012 at 09:11 PM
This movie moves us away from the gore fest and back into the thriller movie. I felt that Daniel did an excellent job in this movie. The atmosphere was so chilling that when I exited the theater to 19 degrees I felt warm and cozy.


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