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‘Potter’ star trades cloak for dagger in scary new vehicle

Radcliffe helps forgotten studio relive its past haunts

POSTED: February 2, 2012 12:30 a.m.
/AP Photo/CBS Films

Daniel Radcliffe is shown in a scene from the supernatural thriller "The Woman in Black."

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I love that Daniel Radcliffe's first post-Harry Potter role is in a Hammer Films production.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Hammer was known for making cheap, exploitative horror films, many of which starred Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Lesbian vampires, ritual killings and ridiculous twists on classic monsters were all standard parts of the Hammer repertoire.

Radcliffe and "The Woman in Black" now enter a Hammer pantheon that includes titles such as "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell," The Brides of Dracula," and "Slave Girls" (part of an entire series of Cave Girl movies).

It's a good career departure for Radcliffe, but he is also lending his star power to help revive a storied studio. We like that.

But Hammer didn't always deal in gore. Before turning toward the excessively shocking, Hammer was known for gothic horror films, like "The Horror of Dracula" and "The Curse of Frankenstein," which focused on atmosphere and suspense.

"The Woman in Black" is an unabashed throwback to that classic era of Hammer Films. It's an old-fashioned haunted house movie built around a scenario that couldn't be more typical.

Young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) lost his wife during childbirth several years ago. He continues to struggle with the loss while trying to raise his son (Misha Handley).

Desperate to keep his job, Arthur accepts an assignment to travel to a remote mansion set in a foggy English marsh in order to settle an estate.

Once there, Arthur encounters unwelcoming villagers. Parents rush their children indoors as he passes. The kids peer from behind windows. The town, it turns out, has a long history of children dying tragically. A ghost, the woman in black, haunts the estate and the town, and is somehow connected with the children's deaths.

The only people to welcome Arthur are Mr. Daily (Ciarán Hinds) and his wife (Janet McTeer), who lost their son years ago. Mr. Daily, a reasonable fellow, doesn't believe in ghosts. Mrs. Daily believes all the stories and dotes on her two dogs as if they were children. McTeer does a wonderful job of playing crazy.

In standard horror movie fashion, Arthur refuses to heed warnings and continues to go into the house, provoking the wrath of the ghost. He must not only survive but find a way to stop the bloodshed, especially before his son joins him at the end of the week.

The film consists mostly of mysterious sounds, glimpses of ghosts and gotcha scares. This is the movie's best and worst quality.

Director James Watkins understands how to draw out the moments of foreboding before lunging some object or ghastly being at the audience. The movie also features the creepiest collection of toys and dolls in movie history.

The movie's focus on this type of horror becomes rather monotonous and tiring.

Still, there is something joyous and nostalgic about watching Radcliffe creep through the spooky old mansion wearing a vest, watch chain and ascot, wielding a lantern and a self-destructive curiosity. Fifty years ago, this would have been an ideal showcase for Cushing, Lee, or Vincent Price. Radcliffe fills those big shoes quite well.

You parents who still associate Radcliffe with Harry Potter need to know that this is not a family movie. The only reason "The Woman in Black" is rated PG-13 rather than R is the absence of profanity or sexuality. But it features plenty of violence toward children.

The movie is so much more "adult" than the Harry Potter series that Radcliffe released a brief video warning parents not to take their children.

That makes Radcliffe even more admirable, but that video also falls into the tradition of publicizing horror films by warning the public.

Fans should not expect any nods to Radcliffe's wizarding past. Nor should they expect any original ideas. "The Woman in Black" is strictly for lovers of classic horror and those ready to see Radcliffe in a new way.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.



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