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If you’re seeking a good, old-fashioned ghost story that
sends chills up your spine and has you calling for your mommy, you could do a
lot worse than the 1989 British television production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK.
With the new movie, co-produced by Hammer Films and starring Daniel Radcliffe of HARRY POTTER fame, opening
tomorrow, it’s a great time to take a glance back at the original film version
of Susan Hill’s classic ghost novel.
Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins, who in a strange bit of kismet
plays Harry Potter’s father in the film series) is a young solicitor making his
way up through the ranks of his employer’s law firm. He is forced by his
superior to accept an assignment to close the estate of one Mrs. Alice Drablow,
an eccentric old recluse who lived alone on a barren stretch of marshland in
coastal Britain. The Eel Marsh House is accessible exclusively by a narrow
causeway which is passable only at low tide. Before even reaching the remote
place, Kidd is spooked by a woman who shows up at the decedent’s funeral
services, and then again in the cemetery at the interment. The woman, dressed
all in black (what else?), appears at first to be a mourner at the church, but
it’s clear in the graveyard that she is quite possibly something else.
When no one in the nearby small town of Crythin Gifford
wants to talk about the woman and she cannot be located upon further
investigation, it is obvious to Kidd that there’s more to the story. Finally
reaching Drablow’s isolated residence, he is terrified beyond reason when the
aformentioned ghostly woman appears to him when he is wandering the property
alone. (This particular scene will make your hair stand on end.) Kidd flees to
the safety of the house, only to discover horrifying past secrets that make him
question whether or not he should (or can) finish his assignment.
He is then startled by what sounds like a harrowing accident
just outside along the adjacent causeway. Rushing out to give aid to what can
only be a tragic carriage wreck in the dangerous marsh, he is greeted solely by
an enveloping mist and deadly silence. Entrusting his jumbled nerves to a
wealthy gentleman in town, Kidd is given details of the dark specter’s
unfortunate circumstances, and is shocked to realize the ghost’s wrath and
subsequent curse have reached all the way from the grave to his own happy home.
Directed by Herbert Wise and scripted by QUATERMASS creator
Nigel Kneale, THE WOMAN IN BLACK is difficult to find on DVD, as the
more-than-decade-old disc from BFS Entertainment is long out of print. It sells
for exorbitant prices here and there on-line, though the movie is readily
available (albeit in poor quality) on YouTube and the like. The fact that it’s
a made-for-TV movie isn’t even a factor here, trust me: While it’s difficult to
imagine that such a production could strike fear into your heart, make no
mistake—this film will truly jangle your nerves. It’s a spine-tingling study in
quiet terror, and if the filmmakers behind the remake can churn one ounce of
that foreboding dread into their movie, we’re all in for a hell of a ride.
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