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On Set: “THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 ANGEL OF DEATH,” Part One

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We were promised fire. It’s approaching midnight on a cold night in November, and FANGORIA is shivering on an abandoned military air base in Oxfordshire. The base itself is a vast expanse of desolate darkness, but we’re at least benefitting from the floodlights set up on a stretch of former runway, as the crew of Hammer’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 ANGEL OF DEATH prepare for a climactic sequence.

In a torrential downpour—courtesy of enormous rain machines—the dreadful shade of Jennet Humfrye is supposed to appear, heralded by both the storm and the spontaneous combustion of several fire baskets. Before that happens, however, there’s the small matter of getting the deluge to actually show up on camera. We huddle beneath a canvas lean-to, outside of which is an absolute monsoon, but on the monitor it looks as if nothing’s happening. Resigned to rethink the shot tomorrow, director Tom Harper calls a wrap for the night, and Fango is denied its explosions. “That’s a great irony,” chuckles Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes. “Failing to make rain in England…”

Soggy technical hitches aside, all involved are extremely happy with the way THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 (hitting U.S. theaters this Friday from Relativity Media) has been progressing. The reason we’re on an air base at all is that this follow-up to 2012’s supernatural hit takes place many years later, during WWII—a concept hit upon by Susan Hill, author of the original WOMAN IN BLACK novella, which was first published in 1983. “We might have gone ahead [with a sequel] anyway, but we wanted that initial spark to come from Susan,” Oakes notes.

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Her original thought was that Eel Marsh House, home of the Woman in Black and the setting for the book and initial film, would be requisitioned as a military hospital during the war. During development, however, that gradually changed, and the setup now is that the house has become a home for evacuee children, shipped out of London during the Blitz in the company of two teachers, Eve (Phoebe Fox) and Jean (Helen McCrory). Upon their arrival, they encounter Royal Air Force bomber pilot Harry (Jeremy Irvine), who becomes embroiled in their ordeal with the malevolent spirit despite harboring dark secrets of his own.

“The hospital idea was put on paper in quite a long treatment at some point,” recalls screenwriter Jon Croker. “But the curse is that whenever the Woman in Black is seen, a child dies, and we decided we didn’t want to break the rules. There was no obvious place for children in the military-hospital idea, so we felt a school was a better fit for the mythology.”

Where the 2012 film was structured around three separate visits to a single house (with welcome respite in trips to the village of Crythin Gifford), WOMAN IN BLACK 2 makes significant use of four locations. It does, of course, return to Eel Marsh, but alongside that causeway ruin, the village and the airfield, there are also significant sequences in a bunker beneath those desolate runways.

That’s in story terms, at least. In practice, the bunker set is situated in a warehouse about half a mile from the ex-RAF base, kitted out in impressive detail—much of which will barely register on screen. Newspaper cartoons are pinned to the wall, along with a map of the coast and a poster proclaiming “Know Your Gasses!” There’s a long, narrow control room with radio equipment at the far end, and in amongst the arc lamps and coils of wire littering the floor are mattresses belonging to the kids and their academic guardians.

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The scene in progress as FANGORIA arrives (earlier in the day than the runway rainstorm) involves the dozen children, the two teachers and Harry settling into their new bolthole for the night, having fled their intended home for obvious reasons. One of the youngsters asks if it’s true that there’s a ghost. Eve says it is. Another child, Edward—a mute boy played by Oaklee Pendergast—has a creepy-looking sailor doll he found in the house. He’s supposed to have left it behind, but somehow it has come with them. During their vigil, there’s suddenly the sound of somebody reciting a nursery rhyme (the voices representing ghosts of earlier Humfrye victims will be dubbed in postproduction), at which point Eve leaps to her feet and begins yelling in defiance at the spirit she knows is present, but can’t yet see. Then the lights go out…

“I don’t watch this sort of thing as a rule,” Fox grins between takes. “I scare very easily, which is probably great for doing this. My fear is real! I rather reluctantly watched the first film after I got the job, and after that, my friends thought it was really funny to make me watch things like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY as ‘research.’ But I actually found THE WOMAN IN BLACK scarier. I was watching it behind my hands with my brother-in-law, who was a nightmare. We got halfway and I was like, ‘Right, I think I’ve got the idea. I don’t need to see the rest,’ and he made me watch it for ‘closure.’ I didn’t feel any closure; I just felt terrified! I keep going home and turning off all the lights and getting that ‘she’s here’ feeling. People are not sleeping well on this job, I don’t think.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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About the author
Owen Williams

Owen Williams read English Literature at university during the ’90s, but preferred the company of engineers and physicists because they liked STAR TREK and metal. A regular contributor to Empire magazine, he has also been widely published elsewhere, and lives in the South-East of England with an academic and a cat. He doesn’t really blog and very rarely tweets.

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