When it comes to British horror institutions, The Woman In Black must be right up there.

From Susan Hill’s chilling original novel, to a wildly successful London stage version to the Daniel Radcliffe movie that revived Hammer’s fortunes (and spawned its own sequel), the ghostly tale has resonated with audiences over the past thirty or so years.

But, arguably, the best retelling of Hill’s tale is the most enigmatic, a televised version that spooked ITV audiences back on Christmas Eve of 1989 – before vanishing as mysteriously as the title character (aside from, strangely, a WH Smith exclusive VHS release that came and went quickly in the early 90s).

The great news is those guys at Network have managed to dig the title up, give it a dustdown and restoration and, finally, we now have the tale back in our hands – on Blu-ray no less.

Having devoured this chiller back as on that fateful December night as a teenager, I am delighted to impart that this TV edit, masterfully controlled by director Herbert Wise from an adaptation by Brit genre titan Nigel Kneale, is just as good as I remember it.

The 1925-set tale is a simple one – after the death of a Mrs Drablow, up-and-coming solicitor Arthur Kidd is sent to her old house on the coast to tidy up her papers and sort through the legal matters before the house is sold – she has no living relative you see.

So far, so straightforward, but things are not that easy – for starters the house is a creaking, imposing home that can only be reached by crossing treacherous marshes in low tide. And, even worse, the mere mention of Drablow and the house is enough to send shudders through the locals.

Why exactly? Well, that is for Kidd to work out – and he certainly does when he comes across audio recordings that suggest some horrifying goings-on in the area, or when he begins to see a mysterious ‘woman in black’ at various times.

This is a ‘British’ ghost story of the grandest variety – all subtlety, suggestion and a creeping sense of dread. The titular character is just that – one jump scare aside she simply stands there, staring at Kidd in a manner that evokes 60s classic The Innocents.

The soundtrack also has a big part in Wise’s effort giving you the creeps, from the sumptuous score to the audio recordings to the bone-chilling screams that sweep in with the mist off the marshes.

Everybody plays things totally straight and the performances are tremendous, with Adrian Rawlins superb as Kidd, descending from mild-mannered desk-boy to near feverish madness as the world unravels around him. Solid support comes from Bernard Hepton as Sam Toovey (a local who knows plenty about the Drablow mystery), Clare Holman as Arthur’s wife Stella and David Ryall as Kidd’s overbearing boss Sweetman.

The Woman In Black remains a chilling affair, one that ominously builds to its payoff – and it’s great to have it back.

DISC: There are two versions of the film on offer – both the ‘TV version’ and a widescreen offering, with picture and sound excellent. In addition there is an audio commentary featuring Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and Andy Nyman (who has a minor role as solicitor’s clerk in the film).

Although not with the review disc, retail copies also come in a neat slipcase along with collector’s booklet.

Blu-ray Review: The Woman In Black
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About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle