The Woman In Black (1989 United Kingdom)

A truly memorable piece of work, once seen never forgotten. Unlike American made horror, the Brits know how to do subtle, relying on the potency of a story full of suggestion and anticipation. And when the great Nigel Kneale is involved with a script the result is usually quality and this is quality. Plus the special effects are few which lulls the viewer into thinking that this film is set in the real world, thus making us a bit more uneasy. No monsters, no blood or violence, no cliches, just terror. You’re constantly thinking: Is she there? Isn’t she? Where is she? What’s that sound? What’s upstairs? Everything’s fine…or is it? Aaah!

The setting is the south of England in the 1920s and floppy haired Adrian Rawlins (playing London solicitor Arthur Kidd) is sent to a remote seaside village to sort the estate of a recently deceased recluse. While staying at the woman’s mansion on the rural marshlands, he is tormented by the sounds of a phantom carriage crash, and the apparition of a mysterious woman in black who roams the property— but that’s the least of his worries. This dude is in deep s**t. Based on Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black has been hailed and beloved by fans, and rightfully so in many ways. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s an almighty well-done ghost story. In the vein of other Gothic chillers such as “The Innocents” or “The Haunting”, the film is indebted to a classical style— heavy on plot and mood, though punctuated by a series of legitimately scary moments that are strung along a sombre and downbeat narrative.

Adrian Rawlins leads the film as our protagonist and does a fine job here, while Pauline Moran plays counterpoint as the mysterious and seemingly malevolent Woman in Black. Originally broadcast on Christmas Eve 1989, the film definitely has a “made-for-TV” feel to it, (very M.R James) but the cinematography is slick and classy. The visual elements of the film are on par with the unusually sophisticated supernatural narrative arc. The downbeat ending here is just the icing on a very ghastly cake. Overall, The Woman in Black is essentially the made-for-TV equivalent of classic Gothic chillers such as Jack Clayton’s aforementioned “The Innocents”— that’s not to say it’s a bad film by any means, but rather that it runs in a similar vein, albeit with the budget quirks of a television production. Despite this, there are several remarkably startling moments that have frightened audiences for decades now, and these moments have earned their notoriety, as they are still well-crafted and effective to this day.

As a television production, “The Woman in Black” is a sophisticated and nicely crafted ghost story that holds its ground against its more innovated, big-budget peers. The most compelling segments of them all comes with the repeated, untimely visits of the woman in black–whose pale, disturbing, and nevertheless, silent presence leaves you uncomfortably in her view, drilling her dark circled eyes into your memory. Mrs. Drablow’s Eel Marsh estate: a tall, isolated home far from the local town is a fairly common setting that has been used time and time again. But the eerie murkiness of the empty surroundings leaves a dreadful pinch at the bottom of your stomach.The innovative choice for a lack of music during the film’s most intense scenes places you into the stillness, holding your breath as you prepare for a terrifying finale. It deserves a space on the shelves of your local dvd store beside the other versions. 🙂

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Comments

  1. Excellent review, I couldn’t agree more! I do prefer this film to the 2012 version. Much more subtle and eery, ESPECIALLY the ending! Also for those of you who can make it, I highly recommend the theatre production as well, classic stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for mentioning the theatre version. I’d love to see it.

    Like

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