'Woman in Black' revives old-fashioned horror story

2012-02-03T00:00:00Z 2012-03-21T14:29:55Z 'Woman in Black' revives old-fashioned horror storyBY JOE WILLIAMS • Post-Dispatch Film Critic • joewilliams@post-dispatch.com • 314-340-8344 stltoday.com

In the 1950s and '60s, the strongest force in British horror was Hammer. The studio struck gold with moody, low-budget spook-house flicks, often starring Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, that thrived on the drive-in movie circuit. In the new millennium, Hammer was left for dead, but like outdoor cinema, it has risen from the grave.

Hammer is one of the producing partners of "The Woman in Black," Daniel Radcliffe's first film since graduating from the "Harry Potter" series. This haunted-house tale is so defiantly old-fashioned that it feels like it was reincarnated from another century. Which it was.

Based on a novel by Susan Hill, a long-running play and a 1989 TV movie, "The Woman in Black" is the story of Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a mournfully widowed lawyer in Edwardian England who is sent to handle the affairs of a recently deceased woman. The reclusive Mrs. Alice Drablow lived in a mansion on the marshy coast where the locals fear to tread. When Kipps tries to rent a hotel room or hire a carriage driver, he's coldly ignored or warned to return to London.

But faster than you can say "It was a dark and stormy night," Kipps is tiptoeing through the decrepit estate and hearing strange sounds behind the locked doors.

Although director James Watkins is prone to peekaboo teases, most of the jolts are genuine and are culled from the vintage catalog: devilish dolls, ghostly reflections, resurrected victims of the vengeful ghost in the title.

There's little that's new, revealing or stylish about this basic-black horror story, but if you've got a Goth sensibility, it might suit you.


"The Woman in Black"

Two and a half stars (out of four) • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:35 • Content Violence and disturbing images

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