Still from the 1989 Granada Television production of The Woman in Black. Image Source: The Movie db.
This month, Histories of Things to Come presents spooky posts on general themes often covered by this blog as part of the Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon. Today, the topic is the spectre of unemployment, which haunts so many people during the lingering recession. Regular posts relating to the economy, industry, marketing, finance or business are here.
Today's ghost story opens when a junior solicitor is threatened with losing his job by the head of his law firm, unless he takes on an unpleasant task which his boss is curiously reluctant to do personally. The young lawyer must head out to settle a dead woman's affairs in a small market town on England's east coast. The town just happens to be haunted by a vengeful spectre. As the protagonist continues to engage with the ghost, readers or the audience might ask one question: what would you do to keep your job?
Today's ghost story is based on a 1983 English novel by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black, which was made into a 1989 Granada Television film production; a 2012 film starring a post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe; and the story was also adapted into the second-longest-running non-musical play in London's West End. Aside from the way the job security of the protagonist is highlighted, the contrast between the filmed versions shows how much technology has dumbed down audiences. This runs contrary to the common Millennial attitude that instant access to information and computer-enhanced data have broadened creativity.
The 2012 film was criticized for not having enough explosive Millennial CGI scares. The movie was: "Traditional to a fault ... [and forewent] gore for chills—although it may not provide enough of them for viewers attuned to modern, high-stakes horror."
Oddly enough, comparing the 2012 version to the 1989 production shows just how much the Millennial effort tries to conform to a traditional presentation, but its style is anything but. Even though the 2012 film comes from the (revived) classic British Hammer horror studio, it slides over loads of details, jumps to noisy jolting action, and relies on plugged-in CGI effects and sweeping video game landscapes. The film's creators evidently assumed that their audience would have shorter attention spans and shallower imaginations than in the past. This film caters to desensitized and disconnected sensibilities.
The Woman in Black (1989) Part 1. Video Source: Youtube.
The Millennial film looks traditional, until you compare it with its predecessor. In the 1989 Granada Television show, the village and characters are much more understated and complex, and therefore believable.
The Woman in Black (1989) Part 2. Video Source: Youtube.
The Woman in Black (1989) Part 3. Video Source: Youtube.
The Millennial creators explain a lot more to their audience, not just during the scares but also in the protagonist's interaction with other characters. One startling difference in characterization is the 1989 depiction versus the 2012 version of the wife of the local landowner. It takes much more today for film-makers to explain her social status and her distress.
The Woman in Black (1989) Part 4. Video Source: Youtube.
The Woman in Black (1989) Part 5. Video Source: Youtube. The film continues here, here, here, here and here.
Not to be outdone, the West End stage production is circulating CCTV security film footage on the Web of The Woman in Black's Fortune Theatre premises supposedly being haunted. The footage has been posted on Youtube. The CCTV discovery was followed by a ghost hunting paranormal investigation of the theatre: see here and here. The Youtube video opens with a high profile ad for the Samsung Galaxy SIII phone.
The Fortune Theatre, West End home of The Woman in Black theatrical production at night in 2011 (Hat tip: aka). Video Source: Youtube.
A 1993 BBC Radio 5 audio play of The Woman in Black, starring Robert Glenister, which demands some patience and imagination, was dismissed by a Youtuber who stated flatly: "Fuck this." Less jaded and cynical, but still detached, another Youtuber used the production as the basis of a multimedia mix for multitasking: "I have mixed this with :Rain on tent + thunderstorm etc AND I have to walk my dog through a park at 4am GREAT!! ON AN MP3 PLAYER LOL." The 1993 audio version starts here.
In short, Millennial renditions are less human ghost stories, and are mediated by technology. The scares are slickly aesthetic rather than familiar. Both the 1989 and 2012 films are frightening. But what scares people today is more artificial and assumes little or no awareness of history. It is almost as though the Technological Revolution forced a break with the past. Ghosts - who are supposed to be frightening reminders that the past is far from dead - are presented in the new Millennium as stylized avatars of a fear of the past, rather than emanations from direct experience with that fear.
Then again, one connection with the past continues from the 1980s to now: both films show an employee compromised and mortally endagered by his employer. The outcomes are different, but both films answer the questions: how far would you go to keep your job? And what would you do after the worst business trip ever?
See all my posts on Horror themes.
See all my posts on Ghosts.
The Woman in Black (1989 film) is © Granada Television and is reproduced here solely for the purpose of not-for-profit review and discussion.
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