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I was 8 years old when Christmas 1989 approached and would’ve considered myself to be a fairly normal kid.

But after Christmas Eve, I was never the same again. 

I had developed a passion for football, computer games, music and films. I loved all kinds of films but an experience with Jaws shifted my focus towards the scary stuff. The dark side, if you will.

Watching Spielberg’s classic on TV at Christmas with my family was an exhilarating and intriguing experience. I felt safe sat in between my parents, willing to take on the killer shark, knowing I’d be just fine as long as the television set didn’t pull me into the water!

But as gripping as Jaws was, how could it scare me if I never found myself swimming in the ocean?  Of course, there’s no way it could! The thrills dissipated as the credits rolled.

My imagination was wild but it wouldn’t allow for such ridiculous thoughts as a shark attacking me when I’m lying in bed. My worry only existed during the film (and any time I was next due to be in water!).

But those temporary childhood scares were soon to change. Dramatically. I was about to encounter something which would become my most potent, consistent fear button for the rest of my life. Something which I couldn’t reason with or loosen myself from its evil grasp.

As my memory serves, on an early evening in December I saw the first of several adverts on ITV for a film called The Woman in Black, to be shown at 9pm, Christmas Eve.

‘The Woman in Black is a 1989 British television horror film directed by Herbert Wise and starring Adrian RawlinsBernard HeptonDavid Daker and Pauline MoranNigel Kneale’s teleplay is adapted from the 1983 novel of the same name by Susan Hill. It focuses on a young solicitor who is sent to a coastal English village to settle the estate of a reclusive widow, and finds the town haunted.’

I wish I could remember more specifically what it was that struck me but I know that the vision of a still, ghostly woman dressed in black Victorian clothing caused me much discomfort. I knew I was scared of her but couldn’t fathom why.

Soon enough the TV publication, The Radio Times, was delivered in the post and I saw a picture of her. It was only a small image in the listings section but it was more than enough to frighten me. It got to the point that I’d dare myself to turn the page to see this haunting apparition, feeling those dreaded nerves and sickening turn of my stomach.

I recall asking a friend of mine what he thought of the picture and he was completely indifferent, not at all understanding where my fear had developed.

So, Christmas Eve rolled around and I was ecstatic about the imminent arrival of Father Christmas (as us Brits used to call him). But I also had one eye on the 9pm debut of the dreaded ‘Woman in Black’.

As it happened, my Dad wouldn’t let me stay up to watch it. I should’ve predicted it but as we had seen the Jaws films in the past, I presumed another Christmas treat would be on the cards.

Maybe it was to do with my parents wanting to watch it on their own or maybe they knew it would scare me. I’ll have to ask them to see if they remember.

Even though I was disappointed at not being able to confront this strange combination of intrigue and fear, I was too excited about Christmas to care too much. It was bound to be on again.

Except it wasn’t. Not until Channel 4 aired it on Christmas Day, 1994. Little did I know that I’d have to wait 5 long years to witness the terror for myself.

What happened throughout those 5 years would’ve been a great case for anybody studying the psychology of fear and its effects. I saw the woman in black everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. Especially in the dark.

She simply would not leave me alone. She had woven herself into the fabric of my young, vulnerable mind. At night in bed, I’d pull the covers over my face because I knew that if I looked out into the dark room, I’d see her ghastly, ghoulish face leering at me (or worse still – hovering over me). I hated closing my eyes during showers so washing my hair was a pain. You see, that’s when she would creep up on me. I always expected to see her stood there when I rinsed the shampoo out of my eyes.

I couldn’t bear to say her name out aloud. I’d have to be feeling very brave and could possibly do it in front of my friends in the day time but even then I’d feel that gut punch of nerves and a wave of chills would wash over me, up and down my spine.

It was worse when somebody else said it because I wouldn’t be prepared. One time my Dad started singing a song by his favourite rock band and I almost jumped out of the window.

“That woman in black has got a hold on me!”

Like, WHY would you do that, Dad?! Sometimes I felt like nobody ever truly understood just how terrified I was. Everybody is scared of something, right? We all have our thing, whether it be clowns, spiders, the dark etc

Why didn’t anybody put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and say, “It’s just a phase. It’ll pass.”?

Maybe because they knew it wouldn’t. That worried me the most.

I didn’t want to be in my 20s still too scared to go to bed and turn the light out through fear SHE would be waiting in the darkened corner of my room! I wondered how it manifested itself within me. What it was that pressed my fear button and hardwired the woman in black into my psyche?…

…A friend of mine had suddenly become afraid of spiders when he was a toddler. One dropped on his shoes when he rummaged through his toybox and his Mum said he was never the same afterwards. “He froze and went all weird!” she said.

He’s 39 now and still hates spiders. His Mum actually grew up in South Africa and had absolutely zero fear of anything in the creepy crawly realm. Go figure.

Anyway, there were countless situations that I found myself in where I became scared witless by my perceived visions of ‘her’. The bedroom door slammed shut at my Nan’s house once (most likely due to the wind) and I leapt from halfway up the stairs to the very bottom, crying my eyes out and almost breaking my ankles in the process.

My sister was one who had latched onto my weakness and took every opportunity to frighten me: once outside a graveyard, taunting me.

“The Woman in Black is gonna get you!”

I believed her. And she always did ‘get’ me.

I used to have a recurring dream in which I’d see her in a graveyard and knew she was coming for me and only me. People used to say that if you had the same dream twice, it would become a reality. That did not sit well with me. Freddy Krueger had nothing on this bitch.

Still, my interest in horror and all things ghostly grew stronger and more intense. I somehow enjoyed and hated being scared in equal measure. Feeling brave in the day, watching Friday the 13th and Halloween, asking my friends to tell ghost stories – and immediately regretting my stupid decisions in the evening, once the darkness rolled in. For that was ‘her’ time.

I had constantly pestered my parents in between the 5 year gap of the only two broadcasts of The Woman in Black on British television.

I wanted to know every last detail of the film. My Dad would get fed up of my questions and my Mum would simply say “Ooh. She was pure evil!”

Christmas Day, 1994 finally rolled around and after 5 years of checking the radio times listings in the hope that it would be on again, it was! Channel 4, late. We recorded it and watched it Boxing Day evening. 5 years of ‘preparation’ (well, how can you call scaring yourself silly ‘preparation’?) had lead to this moment.

I sat wedged in between my parents and watched in terror as everything that unfolded over the next 100 minutes was exactly what my imagination had built it up to be – and MORE.

EVERY SINGLE TIME the woman in black appeared on the screen, I fell apart. My blood ran ice cold, my forehead began to sweat and that ghastly familiar gut punch struck. I felt frozen in fear. She was able to achieve all of this while simply being there. She rarely moves. She remains eerily still most of the time. It’s her presence in the background which is so unsettling. Her gothic victorian clothing – all black – as though she is dressed for a funeral, coupled with her gaunt, worn, pale face.

There is remorse and hate in her eyes but also a sense of mourning. She bears almost no physical threat. She doesn’t utter a word. She never utters a word. What’s remarkable about The Woman in Black is the scant number of times she does appear throughout the film. I could’ve swore she was a constant but there’s actually a significant period in which she is absent. But that doesn’t matter. You can still FEEL that she’s there.

The atmosphere, skill of direction and your own imagination does all the work. You’ll see her in every corner of the house. Well, that’s what your mind will tell you.

There’s a stand out scare in every classic horror film but at 13 years old, I wasn’t aware of that. The woman in black lurking in the shadows was enough to ruin my life. I wasn’t to know that more was to follow.

There are several excellent scare set pieces in The Woman in Black, ranging from her appearing out of nowhere to stand in an impossible time shifting position to a ghoulish replay of the calamity in the marsh which claimed her life.

But there’s one scene in particular which became the stuff of nightmarish legends. A scene which instantly became my own fuel for feverish dreams. It’s the scariest moment in any horror film, ever (and shall remain as such).

Among fans of the film it’s known as ‘that’ scene. And it was ‘that’ scene which inflicted the deepest, most devastating and soul shaking impact. 30 years on, I can still hear the bone chilling shrieking – the only time the woman in black made a sound – and boy, it didn’t half leave a long lasting impression.

I would fast forward to it just to show my friends (in the daytime, of course).  I was keen to see if their reactions would be the same. They duly obliged but I always wondered if they took that vision to bed with them that night.
As for the ending of the film…

I won’t ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it but let’s just say that this is almost certainly the reason why I’ve always been partial to a bleak finale. It is chill factor turned up to the maximum. Shocking, Haunting. Horrifying.

Just when I thought that nothing could match the spine tingling fright of ‘that’ scene, I was proven wrong. This is the kind of imagery which stays with you for a lifetime.  I should know. I’m living proof of that.

I’m now 38 years old. In the 25 years since first watching The Woman in Black I have become obsessed with the film and everything surrounding the property.

I’ve read the book (I actually read this before seeing the film and yes, it has a different but equally brilliant ending), seen the theatre production twice (once in 2002 and again in 2017), purchased several memorabilia items from Susan Hill’s website, chatted to Susan Hill on Twitter (bombarding her with questions), got hold of a DVD copy of the film and even bought a VHS cover inlay because I wish to own every single thing related to the production.

The availability of the film remains a source of huge frustration. Initially released on various VHS editions in the early 90s, it also saw a US DVD release which went out of print quickly. You can buy copies on eBay but I highly doubt you’ll find anybody wanting to sell an original for less than big bucks. An original UK VHS in good condition is sometimes up for £50 on eBay.

Nobody seems to know who owns the rights. The Woman in Black is the scariest film ever made and even though it has reached its 30th birthday, it has still not been given the love and attention it deserves on an official Blu-ray. (EDIT – UNTIL NOW!)

I used to get so angry at how overlooked, underseen and underappreciated The Woman in Black was. But no longer shall this be the case as only a couple of months after writing this little memoir, Network Distributing announced a BRAND NEW BLU-RAY release!

It goes without saying that not only is this my most anticipated Blu-ray release of all time but I’m over the moon that others will finally be able to own a physical copy and experience this masterpiece as it was intended – using the original film elements for a high definition re-master!

Anyhow, I’ll wrap this up soon and get to the details of this glorious Blu-ray. I’ll just quickly explain that my teens and 20s continued to prove that I was the woman in black’s bitch. Going to the toilet in the middle of the night? Sure, I’ll go. But when I’m walking through the darkness, the first thought that crosses my mind every single time is her.

It got to the point that when I hit my 30s, even though I’d started to feel like more of a man, I’d still need the odd moment of self-reassurance when alone in the dark to convince myself I’m safe. “Dude, you’re in your 30s now. She shouldn’t be bothering you anymore.”

And generally, she doesn’t. It took a long time but I’m mostly fine. Nothing really scares me anymore. I enjoy any ghostly interpretations akin to the woman in black. Any vengeful, malevolent female ghosts (especially those dressed in black or with long, black hair) push my fear button. The Grudge, The Ring, Mama, The Curse of La Llorona – the antagonists of these films all do it for me. But nobody beats The Woman in Black.

It is, unequivocally, the scariest film ever made. 

The last time I was truly terrified would’ve no doubt been a while ago but I’ll tell you this; I haven’t been able to write this at night. When I did attempt it a few night’s back, I was consumed with so many creepy thoughts, I became unsettled and had to close my laptop.

When I stood up, a spine tingling chill surged through my whole body. It was frightening but a little bit liberating to think that I can still find that fear factor. And that she’s still got it. There’s life in the old girl yet. It took me a while to get to sleep that night.

Oh, by the way – I don’t think I’ve ever watched this film alone. I sure as hell have NEVER watched it alone at night. That’s a FACT. I tell myself that I probably COULD do it.

So, why haven’t I?

‘When a friendless old widow dies in the seaside town of Crythin, a young solicitor is sent in to settle her estate. Following cryptic warnings from the locals regarding the terrifying history of the old woman’s house, he very soon begins to see visions of a menacing woman in black…

Atmospherically directed by BAFTA-nominated Herbert Wise and starring Adrian Rawlins as the unfortunate young solicitor and Pauline Moran as the terrifying revenant, this unsettling drama remains a high watermark for ghost story adaptations on British television and still retains its significant potential to shock.

Unseen for decades, Nigel Kneale’s chilling adaptation of Susan Hill’s best-selling novel has been painstakingly restored in High Definition by Network’s award-winning in-house Restoration Team from original film elements for this long-awaited release.’

DirectorHerbert Wise
Writers: Susan Hill (based on the book by), Nigel Kneale (screenplay)
Certificate: 15