Hammer films launched in 1934 and in the ‘50s, after success with Dracula and Frankenstein films, they went that direction in the ‘60s and ‘70s with lots of gothic horror films.
They first came to my attention when they released the wonderfully creepy Let Me In four years ago.
This is the first film Hammer shot in England in 35 years.
It’s the early 1900s, and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) is a young lawyer who goes to a village to take care of the sale of a house that may be haunted. The locals in the village know it is, but he has his doubts. And his boss insisted he get the paperwork done if he wants to keep his job. So he lights those candles and kerosene lamps and gets to work. If only ghosts could haunt lawyers in real life.
Screenwriter Jane Goldman (The Debt) adapts this Susan Hill novel with no humor like she showed in her script for X-Men: First Class. And that decision works at keeping tension and fear. I also think the decision of Radcliffe to take the part was smart. Sure, I thought of Harry Potter when he’s in an old train station and some of the facial expressions…but you have no problem believing he’s a young adult. This is a guy that won’t have the problem other child actors had that couldn’t segue into a film career as adults.
I thought Janet McTeer was much more interesting in this than the role she just got nominated an Oscar for in Albert Nobbs.
Irish actor and fellow Harry Potter cast member Ciaran Hinds has a nice role as the one local willing to help Radcliffe and disprove all the superstitious folks in town.
I first noticed Hinds as the quiet right-hand man in There Will Be Blood, and have enjoyed watching him in Salvation Boulevard, The Debt, and even two movies I didn’t care much for – The Rite and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
This film uses a lot of cheap tactics. How can we not scream when the volume is cranked up for a ghost screaming, or a toy turning on? I can let a lot of that slide because…the Victorian toys were just so creepy. There were monkeys, bizarre looking dolls, and a clown that spins around (they’ve creeped me out since Stephen King and the clown in Poltergeist).
You also have those moments where you wonder why he doesn’t just high tail it out of there, but come on. It’s a good old-fashioned haunted house flick. And there are some interesting shots that make up for all the clichés (is there ever a dog in these films that doesn’t bark at ghosts?)
We see high tides keeping Radcliffe trapped, as well as mist and fog from the water giving an eerie vibe. There’s a great shot of a candle reflecting off the monkeys eyes, making it appear that they are moving.
The story could’ve had a bit more meat to it, but the movie does its job. It scares you, and it’s the type of scary movie you can bring your kids to (if they’re over 12).
It gets 2 ½ out of 5 stars.