It's fitting that the latest movie to emerge from the relaunched Hammer Studios should be one of the most celebrated horror yarns of recent years. Susan Hill's The Woman in Black began life as a novel before becoming a hugely successful play (second only to The Mousetrap in terms of West End longevity), a well-received TV movie, and a staple of modern radio drama. Now James Watkins, the writer-director of Eden Lake, has brought it to the big screen.
In his first post-Potter lead outing, Daniel Radcliffe takes on the role of Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor sent to a small English town to sort out the affairs of a recently deceased widow. When he arrives at her crumbling pile, he finds himself at the centre of a supernatural mystery involving the malevolent presence of the widow's late sister.
The Woman in Black is an old-fashioned, Gothic chiller which opens in memorable fashion as three Victorian girls are interrupted in their nursery room play by the unexpected arrival of the titular character.
This opening sequence immediately establishes the tone and atmosphere of the movie. As adapted by Jane Goldman, this is not a horror film that relies on fitful doses of gore for its impact: it's a slow-burner that taps into the primeval fears of its audience - fear of the dark, fear of the unknown and fear of the dead. Though Goldman and Watkins introduce elements of modern Japanese horror into the equation, the filmmakers make the most of those Old Dark House staples - unexplained sounds, encroaching shadows and generally things that go bump in the night.
Daniel Radcliffe is a competent presence at the centre of events (if not entirely believable as a widowed father) but elsewhere the film truly shines. The production design, cinematography and music are all first-rate. Ciarán Hinds and Janet McTeer, meanwhile, are both superb in the roles of a wealthy local husband and wife on opposite sides of the sceptical divide. Best of all, though, The Woman in Black is that rara avis; a horror movie with genuinely scary moments. Watkins makes maximum use of sound, silence and shadows to give his audience the heebie-jeebies. And he is helped in his ambition by the fact that Victorian nurseries, with their life-like dolls, rocking chairs and mechanical toys, are the very definition of creepy.
Be afraid; be very afraid.