Film blogs and horror fans have recently begun to buzz over a surprising announcement from Hammer Film Productions. The iconic horror studio, which garnered significant praise in 2010 for the broody vampire chiller Let Me In, has planned a sequel to its latest release The Woman In Black, a Victorian ghost story based on Susan Hill’s popular novel. At the moment, all sources are circulating rearranged versions of the same scanty details. The upcoming film, entitled The Woman In Black: Angels Of Death, will evidently feature a story developed in collaboration with Hill, who has not published any continuation of the original novel to date.
The Woman In Black is the mournful tale of Arthur Kipps, a young London lawyer who encounters a malevolent spirit (the eponymous black-clad lady) haunting a northern English country estate of which he is the executor. Having uncovered a sordid story of undead vengeance, he has more than a little trouble putting the curse to rest. The novel has been adapted previously for television, and as a long-running West End stage play.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe as Kipps and sporting atmosphere worthy of the Baskervilles, the newest version of The Woman In Black enjoyed a modest but generally favorable reception in the USA. Meanwhile, in its native UK, it received warmer praise and set earning records for British horror films of the recent past. This seems fitting, since its period eeriness is the most literal homage to classic Hammer horror of the 1960s and 70s since the studio resumed production in 2010, following three dormant decades. In the studio’s temporary absence, Hollywood virtually monopolized the horror market with slashers, at least until Japan got into the game with such influential offerings as Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge. Leaving aside the movie’s success in British markets, perhaps it is the spirit of older Hammer franchises, especially the Dracula films of Christopher Lee, that has inspired the idea for a second installment of The Woman In Black.
Even with the author’s blessing and participation, what exactly does a new chapter of this saga promise? Presumably it will involve the discovery of the original curse by a new set of hapless characters, some time in the future (unless, horror of horrors, it is a prequel). Will the rules have changed with the passage of time, or will it merely be the same tale told in a more contemporary setting? The aforementioned Dracula series adopted the latter formula to surprisingly good effect – remaking Horror Of Dracula numerous times over the span of roughly a century – but it is a risky gamble to expect similar results in this case.
Count Dracula, Frankenstein, and even the Mummy have stronger reputations and more flexibility than does this Woman In Black. Her story is decidedly one-note, and the smart approach to resurrecting her will be to juice things up. More scares, a faster pace, and more colorful violence go without saying. But once all that’s done, how closely could Angels Of Death possibly resemble its morose, dread-laden source material, demand for more of which must have inspired this unexpected sequel in the first place?
Consider, also, the colon issue. Not the gut-twisting apprehension that fans of the first film might be feeling, but the unwieldy two-part title of the sequel. Following an obnoxious trend among aspiring film franchises, it hints darkly that we may be facing a situation akin to Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (or The Crow: City Of Angels). A stylish, efficient title like The Children In Black, The Gentleman In Black, or even The Village In Black would be less indicative of a high-dollar disappointment in the making. As it stands, the name reads like a second-rate computer game. Sequel.
Further nitpicking in advance of cast, plot, and other assorted details will do little good. I liked The Woman In Black very much, and it’s lovely to have a capably executed, definitive, big-screen adaptation of a widely treasured book. However, what are we to expect in revisiting its tidily packaged horrors? If you haven’t caught the movie yet, try it for yourself and see what your instincts tell you.
For the official line on The Woman In Black: Angels Of Death, check out the BBC’s version here.