Harry Potter and the Gashlycrumb Tinies

We went to see THE WOMAN IN BLACK at Fiona’s urging, because the book’s a modern spook classic, the Nigel Kneale TV version has one of the greatest scares ever (even if it otherwise borrows a bit too freely from THE INNOCENTS), because it’s from the revivified Hammer, and because advance word was good. Didn’t know it was from James Watkins, director of the acclaimed EDEN LAKE (which I haven’t seen because it sounded too nasty for my squeamish side) but that’s good too.

The film, in which Daniel Radcliffe is terrorised by some other small children, as well as by the titular funereally clad lady, is proper scary. Admittedly it gets by on powerful BOO! gotchas rather than dragging the suspense out for as long as it might, but fans of Slow Creeping Terror will nevertheless  find much to be freaked by here. One shock moment — “That’s the sort of window faces appear at!” to quote Mr Withnail — made me scream like a woman, while another caused our friend Mr Brown to practically shoot vertically from his chair. I felt sorry for our dates, who were relying on us for manly protection.

The Victoriana is terribly vague — when is this supposed to be happening, exactly — but serves its atmospheric purpose in the best Hammer manner. Lots of vine-covered mansion, rattling carriages, puffing locomotives. Since this is a ghost story rather than an out-and-out horror, we’re deprived of what Philip Larkin approvingly called “tit and fang”, but I expect Hammer, still in the early days of new management, are limbering up for that.

Jane Goldman, the go-to girl for genre entertainment in the UK today (KICK ASS, STARDUST) pads out the slim plot with borrowings from Mario Bava’s KILL BABY KILL, inventing a rule that each sighting of the dreaded Woman causes… well, I won’t say exactly. In fact, spoilers are hard to come by here, since the plot is so slight and one-track. In a way it’s refreshing that it avoids major twists and reversals of the “He’s not who you think!” variety — it’s more like J-horror, and indeed the vengeful ghost is pretty much out of THE GRUDGE — she’s not open to negotiation.She takes a Hard Line.

Weakest element, as you may have guessed, is the man Radcliffe, who is never less than, well, physically present, and assumes a suitably worried expression throughout, but one can’t help, afterwards, imaging what a more substantial actor might have brought to the role.

Those who have seen THE ARTIST will recall the BANG! intertitle which serves a neat double-purpose (the film’s cleverest touch), seeming to mean one thing but instantly recontextualized by the following shot. Here, at the ending, of which I plan to give away NOTHING, there’s a similar switcheroo, with an image rather than a word being the ambivalent junction between two Schrodinger’s cat style possible outcomes to a single event. One solid, unambiguous image somehow serves as a signal-change shifting us from one reality to another… hard to describe, but I think you’ll dig it when you see it.

20 Responses to “Harry Potter and the Gashlycrumb Tinies”

  1. When the Hammer logo came up it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, after that the sensation was more blood curdling terror. I even had to employ my childhood anti-scare techniques of sticking my fingers in my ears and screwing up my eyes. (I also observed two teenage girls who had to go to the toilet together they were so scared. And yes, I know teenage girls go to the toilet together already, but you know what I mean)

  2. I really enjoyed the (admittedly somewhat ridiculous) pacing: he shows up, bad stuff starts to happen, and then it pretty much keeps happening without any real let-up until the end. There’s barely any moments of, “Oh, things are temporarily okay.”

    Presumably that’s because the plot is so incredibly thin, but in a dark theater having come there to be scared, I found it didn’t much matter.

    I really enjoyed the actor who played the town lawyer, Mr. Jerome: despite having very little screen time, he gave a memorable sense of someone who’s sozzled his sorrows in scotch for good. And Ciaran Hinds made a good sidekick: his concerned looks were a bit more convincing than Radcliffe’s.

  3. Yeah, Hinds is terrific, as is Janet McTeer. They struggled slightly to make the “suspicious locals” stuff fresh and transcend the obvious, but the obstructive lawyer had a slightly more specific take on it so that helped.

    The mayhem in the village did remind me a little of the TV show The League of Gentlemen, which has an Unlucky Vet character whose appearances are always swiftly followed by animal carnage. So that stuff wasn’t so scary, but it did keep things motoring along, and compelled the hero to take an active role. He’s kind of acted upon in the TV version, which is less satisfying.

  4. Oh how I love Edward Gorey! How well I remmebr him swannign aroudn the Gothma Book Mart (which published his chapbooks) back in the day in his brown racoon coat and white tennis. Besides his superb illustrations he’s famous for having attended EVERY SINGLE PERFORMANCE of the New York City Ballet.

    He was also Frank O’Hara’s college roommate. Oh what fun these urban wits must have had together swapping lines like real life Wilde protagonists.

  5. Without Gorey it’s questionable if we’d even have a Tim Burton.

  6. Randy Cook Says:

    No question about it, DC!

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    When watching Christmas TV in the UK one time, I switched channels only to return at the “scary scene.” I think the TV version is superb.

  8. Christopher Says:

    I haven’t seen this yet(I may Friday night)But so many people I know have.Glad Hammer is getting support on its re-launch .I hope its an indication that Hammer may pick up the gothic approach to horror again.They might want to take a look at some of their films from where they left off tho,there was wit and humor(Captain Kronos)and plenty of naughty bits(Vampire Circus,pretty much anything else).

  9. I do think the TV version has the edge on slow-building dread and the “scary bit” is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. What’s great about the revamp is that it doesn’t disgrace that memory and tells its own version with considerable force.

    Hammer should now really get properly stuck in and do a major Gothic tale, a Frankenstein or Dracula… Fiona was just saying the other day that the Captain Kronos theme tune is so good it deserves a better film.

  10. I’ve finally made it. I’ve made it to today! Mr. Cairns, I’ve worked my way through your archive at last, a rather daunting, enjoyable task. Before commenting, in real time no less, very exciting, I just wanted to thank you for the seemingly near endless flume of content I’ve been chipping away at for about five months. Reading over that, it sounds a little negative, and a very mixed metaphor, but I enjoyed myself immensely.

    As to Daniel Radcliffe, when I saw him performing, I believe it was on Letterman, a number from the revival of How to Succeed in Business, I was actually blown away by how tiny he was. He is Audie Murphy tiny. This may actually be his dominant characteristic. Frankly, as someone whose operative adjective is at the opposite end of the spectrum, I find that as creepy as a dead woman dressed in any color you could name.

  11. Glad you made it! Four years of my incessant verbiage — I’m not sure I could read all that and live.

    DR’s tininess stands him in good stead. Hollywood seems to favour small leading men, I think it allows them to save money on set construction. See that Mission Impossible film? They SAY it’s the tallest building in the world he’s clinging to, but really it’s a bungalow in Wales.

  12. Hey, the little fellow can move!

  13. That only makes him more dangerous.

  14. kevin mummery Says:

    The new Hammer Films needs to find it’s own equivalents of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with a secondary group of equivalents of say Michael Gough, Andrew Keir and Andre Morrell. And of course lots of dazzling women to appear whenever the rest of the film slows down and is in need of dazzlement, can’t forget them.

  15. None of that would be too tricky with the right scripts. You can’t replace Cushing and Lee, but finding some new stars with the right sinister gravitas ought to be achievable. After all, Lee and Cushing were promoted up from the ranks. Lee was initially cast for his height, and Bernard Bresslaw nearly got the Creature’s role.

    I always like to picture that alternate universe where Lee wound up as comedy sidekick to Sid James, speaking in a falsetto voice.

  16. Mary Woronov would make an ideal Dracula if the New Hammer regime wants to modernize itself.

    And leave us not forget Barbara Steele.

    I never do.

    She introduced a screening of 8 1/2 the other night here in L.A.

  17. Yes, but she had a sign on the door saying she’d only answer questions on her work with the Maestro — in other words, “Mask of Satan is OUT.”

  18. kevin mummery Says:

    Too bad Nico left us so soon, I’d very much like to have had her thoughts on “La Dolce Vita”.

    Christopher “Falsetto” Lee….hmmm. Somehow I always imagined him performing Gilbert & Sullivan-type things since he apparently spends all his spare time singing, when he’s not performing in films. I left out another New Hammer equivalent that needs finding; they obviously need a Kiwi Kingston for things that the Lee equivalent can’t be bothered to do.

  19. On that score, it’s too bad Winston Dennis, Terry Gilliam’s colossus-in-residence, no longer seems to be working. I hope he’s still in good health. “The very big and the very small, they do not live long.” – Andre the Giant.

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