DEATH BE­COMES HER

AS HAM­MER SUM­MONS A SE­QUEL TO THE WOMAN IN BLACK, STEPHEN KELLY DIS­COV­ERS AN­GEL OF DEATH IS NO MORE CASH-IN...

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - The woman in black 2 -

The walls of Eel Marsh House are thick with de­cay, its wood­work rot­ting, its sur­faces black with dead flies. Even as a Pinewood film set, it’s clear that death de­fines this place, that bad things hap­pen here. This will come as no sur­prise to any­one who saw The Woman In Black haunt its halls in 2012, the hit adap­ta­tion of Susan Hill’s renowned novella in which a mys­te­ri­ous spec­tre drives chil­dren to their sui­cide. Fans will know, of course, that Hill wrapped up her orig­i­nal story back in 1983, but the rea­son why

SFX stands here to­day is that on film the woman in black is back for se­quel An­gel

Of Death – although, you’ll be glad to hear, not with­out Hill’s in­put. Adapted by Jane Gold­man ( Kick Ass, X Men: First Class) and di­rected by James

Watkins, The Woman In Black was a big deal for not only Ham­mer Films, the leg­endary pro­duc­tion company that had re­birthed five years pre­vi­ously, but Bri­tish film in gen­eral, with it be­com­ing the high­est gross­ing Brit hor­ror in 20 years.

That, no doubt, was a feat helped by it star­ring Daniel Rad­cliffe ( in his first role post‑Harry Pot­ter) as Arthur Kipps, a wid­owed lawyer whose task of ar­rang­ing the sale of Eel Marsh House sees him caught up with the ghost of a woman griev­ing for her son – and who, in turn, ex­acts re­venge on a child ev­ery time she is seen. Even so, it’s un­fair to say that The Woman In Black be­came a suc­cess through star power alone. As a hor­ror, it was in­formed by shadow and space, of creep­ing dread and tra­di­tional shiv­ers – the sort that felt re­fresh­ing after years of tor­ture porn and found footage. Fit­ting, re­ally, con­sid­er­ing

that Hill orig­i­nally wrote the story as both a yearn­ing for the sub­tleties of au­thors such as MR James, and as a re­ac­tion to ’ 80s Amer­i­can hor­ror fic­tion that had be­come dom­i­nated by monsters and gore.

Hill her­self, now 72, is the foun­da­tion on which An­gel Of Death is built, as the new film was writ­ten from her orig­i­nal story out­line. “Hav­ing Susan un­der­pin it by giv­ing her name to the story was piv­otal,” ex­plains Si­mon Oakes, who took over as CEO of Ham­mer Films in 2007. “I ap­proached her be­fore the first film came out, and asked if she had ever thought about writ­ing another story on The Woman In Black. She said she had thought about it but had al­ways dis­missed it. As a nov­el­ist, she didn’t want to cre­ate a long- run­ning saga.

“But then she got in­spired while she was writ­ing some­thing else in Nor­folk and saw th­ese aban­doned World War II air bases. She thought about Eel Marsh House be­ing req­ui­si­tioned as a school or a hos­pi­tal when the Blitz was at its height and the decision was taken to evac­u­ate chil­dren to houses in the coun­try­side and then she be­gan to roll with it. It’s ter­rific to have her as part of this. It gives it a le­git­i­macy.”

wartime woes

From the bones of Hill’s idea, Ham­mer Films in­vited writ­ers such as Jon Cro­ker, a story ed­i­tor on the first film, to pitch how they would flesh it out.

“The out­line was only a cou­ple of pages long,” ex­plains Cro­ker, “and I had to pitch how I would ex­pand that, this core idea of World War II and old houses that were be­ing req­ui­si­tioned by the gov­ern­ment for var­i­ous uses, and con­tinue it. I came up with

“Sug­gested fear, dread, sus­pense… It’s not about mak­ing tor­ture porn, it’s grown up sto­ry­telling punc­tu­ated by ter­ror”

the idea of Eve. On a very sim­ple level, the first film had a male hero, so I wanted to give the sec­ond film a fe­male hero to make it dif­fer­ent. Also, The Woman In Black has th­ese themes of moth­er­hood, and I thought it would be in­ter­est­ing to see that from a fe­male per­spec­tive.”

Eve Parkins, played by Phoebe Fox, is a young school teacher who, along with He­len McCrory’s head­teacher Jean Hogg, is tasked with evac­u­at­ing a group of chil­dren out of London dur­ing the Blitz. They are, of course, taken to that old, empty and di­lap­i­dated es­tate called Eel Marsh House, cut- off off by a cause­way from the main­land. One by one, the chil­dren be­gin to act strangely – es­pe­cially the re­cently or­phaned Ed­ward, who seems to have struck up a sin­is­ter friend­ship with the ghost up­stairs. Eve, with the help of lo­cal mil­i­tary com­man­der Harry ( Jeremy Irvine), dis­cov­ers that the group has awo­ken a force even more terrifying than London’s air raids.

“Susan’s idea of set­ting it in World War II and bring­ing the chil­dren more into the fore im­me­di­ately brought in new things,” says Cro­ker. “There’s that dark un­der­side of the Blitz spirit, for ex­am­ple. I also wanted to make the chil­dren proper char­ac­ters, whereas in the first film they are in the back­ground, dy­ing, and you don’t get to know any of them. I thought, ‘ let’s bring them front and cen­tre.’

That would be in­ter­est­ing but pos­si­bly makes it much more disturbing as you get to know th­ese chil­dren be­fore they’re bru­tally offed by an evil ghost.

“Another thing that felt at­trac­tive to me was that we avoid the big­gest prob­lem with hor­ror se­quels, which is ‘ Why go back?’ Even in the great­est hor­ror se­quel of all time, Aliens, you still go, ‘ Re­ally, would you?’ So at least it wasn’t that, be­cause this is set decades after the first film and has a new set of char­ac­ters to ex­plore the Woman In Black character through, who I feel there was much more to get out of.”

sec­ond best?

There is, of course, a ques­tion that hangs over An­gel In Death like a chill: is a Woman

In Black se­quel re­ally nec­es­sary? After all, hor­ror se­quels hardly have form for be­ing bril­liant and surely the com­bi­na­tion of a new, rel­a­tively un­known cast, a new writer and, in Tom Harper ( Peaky Blin­ders, Mis­fits), a new di­rec­tor is bound to ring the cash- in bells for any cyn­i­cal hor­ror fan?

“There aren’t many sec­ond hor­ror films that are that good,” ad­mits Cro­ker, “and that’s al­ways a bit of pres­sure. Tom [ Harper] and I, though, have gone through the script and said, ‘ Okay, is there any­thing in this that seems like a re­peat from the first one? If there is, is there any way to put a twist on that or make it feel like an em­bel­lish­ment? Or is there any­thing we do want to go back to the first one and nod to, but then move on?’”

“Our am­bi­tion has to be for it to be as good if not bet­ter than the first, and also dif­fer­ent,” agrees Oakes. “The new cre­ative team have set the bar very high. There’s fresh­ness, fear­less­ness, a point to prove. We’ve been very for­tu­nate. Jon’s ter­rif­i­cally brave and fear­less and has a real clear idea on what he wants to do. Ob­vi­ously mov­ing to another pe­riod in­stead of mov­ing from the last frame of the first movie means there’s a com­pletely new can­vas. It’s to­tally its own an­i­mal.”

And what does that mean for its scares?

“We tried to cre­ate a mood of fear all the way through,” says Cro­ker. “And if you sus­tain that level of fear, then you can tell an in­ter­est­ing story. Also, if you man­age to cre­ate a sense of un­ease in the au­di­ence, the sim­plest things can be the best scares. I am very proud of some of the ideas here. It was, ‘ Yeah, can we make this any nas­tier?’ ‘ What if there’s barbed wire?’ then you think, ‘ Oh my word, what are we do­ing?’ But it’s all very taste­fully done, hope­fully.”

In­deed. In 2012, The Woman In Black was deemed “too scary” by the Bri­tish Board of Film Clas­si­fi­ca­tion, who orig­i­nally gave the film a 15 rat­ing de­spite it be­ing PG- 13 in Amer­ica. And even when tweaks were made for a 12A cer­tifi­cate, au­di­ence com­plaints in­spired the BBFC to amend their guide­lines to take into ac­count a film’s tone and theme. Has that in­flu­enced just how far An­gel Of

Death can go? “It was a 12A but look, we re­spect that decision,” says Oakes. “But if kids are play­ing

Grand Theft Auto, they should be able to watch hor­ror. But it’s less about sev­ered limbs with us, it’s more sug­gested fear, dread, sus­pense – and that’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on young minds that you have to be care­ful of. It’s not about mak­ing tor­ture porn. It’s grown up sto­ry­telling punc­tu­ated by ter­ror.”

Phoebe Fox takes over from Daniel Rad­cliffe as the lead.

That win­dow was a per­fect spot for stargaz­ing. Eve knew

she should never have coat with paired the

blue a green dress. He was de­ter­mined not to take his eyes off that spi­der, even if it meant he could never leave the room.

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