Monday, October 29, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 29

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

149. The Woman in Black (2012- dir. James Watkins)

Fans of Britain’s most venerated house of horrors couldn’t help but be thrilled by news of its return in the late ‘00s. That excitement may have quickly turned to disenchantment, because like so many resurrected corpses, Hammer came back wrong. The new generation of producers didn’t quite seem to know what to do with the valuable property. Following a toe-in-the-water web series called “Beyond the Rave”, the first new Hammer feature to see release was a stalker picture set in hipster Brooklyn called The Resident. Aside from the winking presence of Christopher Lee, this hackneyed piece of lint couldn’t have been more out of step with the Hammers of old. The folk horror throw back Wake Wood was closer to the mark, though slight. A remake of Let the Right One In was well made, but pointless when the body of the superior original wasn’t even cold yet. After five years of trial and error, Hammer finally returned with a picture that would have made the Carreras family proud. James Watkins’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story The Woman in Black is a return to the creep shows of old. While the lack of dime-store blood and heaving bosoms is decidedly un-Hammer-like, the period setting, Gothic desiccation, and Daniel Radcliffe’s fey performance ably fill all the baggage that comes with the studio’s name. Radcliffe is a solicitor charged with settling the paperwork of the unappetizingly christened Eel Marsh House. His arrival at the crumbling old manor sets off an extended sequence that recreates the sensation of walking through a really scary carnival spook house more accurately than perhaps any other film— right down to the ghosts that slide out of the darkness as if on tracks. Watkins does not let a cheap trick pass him by, from faces that materialize out of the shadows to rocking chairs and doors that swing of their own volition to loud bangs to close ups of the creepiest antique doll collection in the world. We let him have his clichés because they all work so marvelously well. That nerve-wracking passage alone would make the film essential. However, The Woman in Black is also bolstered by a strong central mystery that doesn’t cop out on its specter’s malevolence and what may be the most macabre happy ending in ghost story history. Welcome back, old friend!

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 2010s here.

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