The new horror film "The Woman in Black" does just about everything right.
The setting is true-blue gothic down to the creaky mansion at the heart of the story. Star Daniel Radcliffe looks appropriately 19th century as the film's worried lead. And director James Watkins, who previously gave us the terrific shocker "Eden Lake
," knows how to tease out every quivering shadow in the house.
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But frankly we've seen it all before. The haunted house genre desperately needs a rest.
Let's break down the shocks in "Woman" to better see what the problem is. Radcliffe's character spends one very long sequence in the ghostly house in question. He sees shadows moving out of the corner of his eye, hears children's toys whir into life even though no one is there to wind them up and catches glimpses of ghostly faces in window panes.
Seasoned horror fans will see just about every "scare" coming our way. And that's because movie ghosts act in such predictable fashion.
If an all-powerful ghost really wanted to scare a guest to death - or simply chase him out of the house - couldn't it do a better job than slowly moving a rocking chair back and forth? Haunted house movies defy all logic even by horror film standards. And there's simply a limited number of times you can move a household object or make a loud noise and expect us to jump in our seats.
Last year's surprise hit "Insidious" was the exception that proved the new rule. The movie featured a haunted kid, not a haunted house. That, plus a dollop of imagination, set the film far apart from its peers. But for every "Insidious" we suffer dreck like "A Haunting in Connecticut," "The Uninvited," or the recent "Amityville Horror" remake.
The "Paranormal Activity" films do squeeze fresh scares out of the haunted house concept thanks to expert use of the "found footage" technique. But the most recent installment showed the franchise is wearing thin, even though the profitable film series will likely stretch to "Saw" like proportions before someone wisely puts it down.
Eddie Murphy might have said it best nearly 30 years ago when, during his hilarious stand-up special "Delirious," he mocked the very core of the haunted house movie.
"Y'all stay in the house too [expletive] long," he cracked about the protagonists in "Poltergeist."
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Today's haunted house movies still feature characters who stay in the house too [expletive] long. But the bigger problem remains the genre itself. We've seen too many fluttering curtains and creeping shadows to cringe in our seats.