The Woman in Black is the third major film to be produced under the Hammer banner in the past few years (the other two being The Resident, starring Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Christopher Lee, and Let Me In, the English language remake of Let the Right One In), and in a many ways it feels like the Hammer horror films of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to talk with Daniel Radcliffe about starring in The Woman in Black -- out this Friday -- Hammer horror movies, being skeptical about ghosts and the supernatural, and playing Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming Kill Your Darlings.
On his favorite thing about stepping back in time and into the role of Arthur Kipps, Radcliffe said:
"On a completely superficial level? The costumes. If I could wear that stuff all the time, I really would. […] When you put [one of those costumes on], it makes you stand differently – it kind of ages you slightly, actually. It’s quite helpful in that effort."
Indeed, one of the most jarring things about the opening moments of The Woman in Black is seeing Daniel Radcliffe – the boy who lived, Harry Potter – in the role of father and widower. Granted, this film takes place at a point in history when young men (Radcliffe is 22-years-old) were already well on their way toward grandfatherhood. Still, it’s initially difficult to break free from our preconceived notions of the actor as anything but a boy wizard, since we’ve known him almost exclusively as such for the past decade.
On the subject of the period of the film, Radcliffe continues:
"What’s kind of great about that period is that it came […] after five thousand years of [England] being a completely pagan nation. We fell out of love with any kind of spirituality as soon as Christianity came in. [Then], in the Victorian era, [England suddenly] started to come around to the idea of spirits and demons and the notion of there being [an] afterlife."
On whether or not he was paying tribute to the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee Hammer horror films of yore – The Woman in Black is a Hammer film – Radcliffe said:
"Absolutely. Peter Cushing was the still center of all those films around which that chaos could develop. So yes. [And if I wasn’t] actually paying tribute, I was certainly aware that had this film been made in a different time, Peter Cushing would’ve got the part."
Cushing was, of course, later known for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, but his most prominent work was with Hammer Film Productions – as Baron Victor Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein, as Van Helsing in Dracula, as John Banning in The Mummy, and as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, amongst others.
On the topic of Hammer Film Productions, Radcliffe continued:
"The Hammer banner is wonderful, it’s a fantastic thing for […] me particularly because, having been in the British film industry all my life – if you’re not working with people who actually worked the [Hammer] films, you’re working with their kids. The person who did my makeup on all the Potter movies, her dad, Eddie Knight, did all the original Hammer makeup. So, growing up in the industry in the England, you’re always very aware of those films and the importance they had and what they did for the industry […] in England.
"[It’s also great] because we can push the horror a little more, because Hammer’s there. We can have go back to old standards of creepy toys and a haunted house and all those kind of things that recur. And because it’s Hammer, […] nobody questions it."
Easily one of the best things about The Woman in Black is its reliance on practical cinematic trickery and effects as opposed to CGI or digital enhancement. The film, for the most part, is a truly old-fashioned haunted house film. There are times when it feels too much like something we’ve seen before – the ending, for example, will likely come across as predictable – but where the scares and cinematography are concerned, its aged style is ironically a breath of fresh air.
On whether or not Radcliffe drew from the Susan Hill novel on which The Woman in Black was loosely based, he said:
"Obviously, I did read the book and, you know, [our film and the book] are very different in terms of how the story is framed. This is a very different adaptation, but also, I find some comfort in the fact that every adaptation of this book has been very different. [The story] has had to be changed in some way to fit the medium in which it’s going into."
The Woman in Black has now been adapted four times -- once for television in 1989 on Britain’s ITV network, twice for BBC Radio in 1993 and 2004, and now by way of film. The story of the film is very, very different from the book, which utilized a much less conventional ending, and arguably a sadder one.