Halloween Review: “The Woman in Black” (1989)

I had hoped our mystery review would be Babadook, but trying to find that thing playing even remotely nearby, save at a film festival, has proved problematic. Other countries have seen the general release of this low-budget, well-reviewed horror film; North Americans (at least, those of us not attending recent film festivals or horror conventions) will have to wait a little longer.

Instead, we have a double review for you, of the two film adaptations of Susan Hill’s contemporary gothic classic, “The Woman in Black.” The first is from 1989.

Cast and Crew

Director: Robert Wise
Writers: Nigel Neale, from the novella by Susan Hill

Adrian Rawlins as Arthur Kidd
Bernard Hepton as Sam Toovey
Fiona Walker as Mrs. Toovey
David Daker as Josiah Freston
David Ryall as Sweetman
Clare Holman as Stella Kidd
John Cater as Arnold Pepperell
John Franklyn-Robbins as Reverend Greet
William Simons as John Keckwick
Joseph Upton as Eddie Kidd
Steven Mackintosh as Rolfe
Pauline Moran as the Woman in Black

Full cast and crew details may be found at theimdb.

Available at Amazon.


In the 1920s, a young solicitor heads to a village to settle an elderly widow’s estate. He discovers a haunting that may threaten his sanity and his family.

High Point

The film uses minimal visual effects. It relies heavily on the actors, setting, and (most significantly) sound to create horror, and does so effectively, creating a sense of plausible horror and dread.

Low Point

The ending really doesn’t work for me—as much for the execution as the concept.

The Review

Originality: 2/6 This film adapts a novella that had previously been adapted as a stage play—and the source material itself consciously uses the conventions and tropes of the traditional gothic tale. The ending is the film’s own.

Effects: 4/6 The film makes minimal use of special effects, but its sound is disturbingly effective.

Story 4/6 The ghost has an interesting backstory, and the film plays with the notion that Kidd’s mind may be haunted, rather than the house. The conclusion really doesn’t work for me, and it resolves little.

Acting: 5/6 Much rides on the central performance (Rawlins is in virtually every scene, often alone), and the actor delivers. The other performances vary in quality.

Production 5/6 This Woman in Black makes effective use of a low budget and location shooting. I strongly suspect the fog is real.

Emotional Response: 5/6 The film moves slowly, but it packs a few frights—and creates a lingering sense of doom and dread that the more recent version lacks, despite its more developed use of the horror movie bag of tricks.

Overall: 5/6

In total, The Woman in Black receives 30/42.


Adrian Rawlins, who plays Arthur, appears in several of the Harry Potter films as Harry’s father, James Potter. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Arthur in the 2012 version, gained fame, of course, as the big screen’s Harry Potter.

October 2014 Halloween Reviews and Podcasts

Written Reviews:

Weekend of Oct 11: Friday the Thirteenth (1980)
Weekend of Oct 18: Zeiram (1991)
Weekend of Oct 25: The Woman in Black (1989) and The Woman in Black (2012)
Halloween Day: Ghost Hunt (2006)


October 4th: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
October 11th: Predator (1987)
October 18th: The Terminator (1984)
October 25th: Ghostbusters (1984)
Halloween: Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1970s)