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Q&A: Director Tom Harper talks “THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2”

As any horror fan knows, Hammer is often considered the gold standard for vintage horror, implementing just the right amount of class, elegance, environment and imagination to old school scare fare. And with their recent revival, those aesthetics have been adapting to the times, adding a more visceral and creepy edge to horror stories that still hold a high regard for performance and scope that was executed perfectly with 2012’s THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Of course, those expectations remained with the sequel, THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH, which ushered in a deeper and darker look at the mythology of it’s titular terror. FANGORIA recently spoke to THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2’s director Tom Harper to talk about living up to the legacy of the first film, the 1983 novella and his own cinematic voice…

FANGORIA: Considering the success of the first film and the legacy of Hammer Horror, what was it like coming aboard THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2?

TOM HARPER: It was exciting. I’m a fan of Hammer and I liked the first movie as well as the original source material. I think The Woman in Black is such a brilliant vengeful ghost with such a great myth surrounding her that gives her strength, and I’m very intrigued by her and the potency of that myth. I was initially skeptical of the sequel and where they would take the story since the first movie has a very distinct ending and would be hard to bring characters back from that.

But when Simon Oakes explained the idea that Susan Hill had to set the film 40 years ahead of the first film and with entirely new characters, I spoke to the writer, John Croker, and we slowly started to feel our way into this world. So the story would contain some strong thematic similarities to the first film but involved a new set of characters, a new story and a new setting. That skepticism turned to a real sense of excitement, and I know the first film did so incredibly well but I tried to just focus on the story we needed to tell.

FANGORIA: As a filmmaker, what sensibilities of your own did you want to inject into THE WOMAN IN BLACK property for ANGEL OF DEATH?

HARPER: Sure. One of the things that really resonated with me from THE WOMAN IN BLACK novella was the organic sense of nature, I suppose, with how those natural, organic things became obstacles to trap the characters in the story. It’s like how you have to cross over the path on the seabed to the island, and that’s something that really struck me. So as a filmmaker, that was something I really wanted to capture and expand more in this movie, so we wanted to explore what was around the beach and on the island. We wanted to give the feeling that this was an island that was, in a sense, cut off from the land by the sea, and I worked hard on that.

FANGORIA: THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 follows a female lead as opposed to the first film. As a director, did that opportunity appeal to you in telling this type of horror story?

HARPER: That was a good thing because I think what this movie is about is a battle between good and evil over a child. On one hand, you have The Woman in Black, who lost a child herself, and on the other hand, you have Eve, who also lost her child. So there’s this overarching sense of loss, which is something that all classic horror movies universally share and is something that comes across the most strongly in the film. The Woman in Black herself is somewhat representative of the fear of losing a child, and as a father myself, seeing the connection between a mother and child is something I wanted to tap into and find the psychological similarity between Eve and The Woman in Black. So their battle for Edward’s soul, future and survival really intrigued me.

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FANGORIA: What was your approach to the death scenes in the film, considering the exact nature of The Woman in Black and her victims?

HARPER: I did speak to Hammer about not making the film too upsetting, and I believe that less is more in horror anyways. Personally, even if there was no attention to rating whatsoever, I don’t think this story could have benefited from seeing more gore or going further with the death scenes. I find it quite horrific enough without the need to be more gory, and I guess I wanted to get away from content in the genre akin to “torture porn.”

If you go back to the original WOMAN IN BLACK book, it’s a very classical ghost story that comes from a very rich tradition of classic ghost stories. I wanted the film to be an extension of that as well as tap into those aesthetics, and to push it further would have been a mistake.

FANGORIA: Was there anything from the original script that appealed to you as a filmmaker in terms of what appealed to your skill set?

HARPER: I’m very interested in the art of distraction and misdirection, as to bring the audience in one direction and then suddenly pull them away. In terms of the story, I was very interested in the psychological aspects and Eve’s backstory. There are small things scattered throughout the film about Eve’s past, including what happened between her and her father and everything in the hospital regarding her child and why it was taken away from her. Some of it was explicit, and some of it was less explicit, but I really wanted to play with that. I liked how it linked her to Edward, and how Edward responds to her.

FANGORIA: In terms of the story as a whole, did you ever find it difficult to pace both the scares and the narrative progression in a way that works symbiotically?

HARPER: Obviously, with any horror sequel, that’s a delicate balance to strike. I wanted the film to work as a standalone, but I also needed it to work with the first story and make sense. I didn’t want to regurgitate the story and I also wanted to move the story forward so that THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH wasn’t a rehash of the first film. So we played around with that a lot, so we were able to play around with how we used The Woman in Black while also telling a love story between Eve and Harry. I also wanted to know The Woman in Black better and explore her history, as long as the core mythology behind the character remained the same.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2: ANGEL OF DEATH is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD Platforms from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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