Friday, 15 February 2013



Most people's first idea of a haunted house is either a huge country mansion such as Hill House or Castle Dracula: an ancient, crumbling ruin full of cobwebs, secret passages and sealed-off basements, or else one of those big American family houses as seen in Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror, where Something Really Evil happened in the past and It's Still There. You don't necessarily think of a suburban council semi in seventies Pontefract as the site of what's billed as Europe's most violent ever haunting.

In fact, When The Lights Went Out (a reference not just to creepy poltergeist activity but the electricity power cuts inflicted on the country by industrial action at the time) is a modestly effective and low-key haunted house movie in which an ordinary family in Yorkshire is plagued by supernatural activity: not just the swinging lampshades at the start but something deeper and more terrifying. Initially the daughter's claims of a presence, as you'd expect, are rejected, but the incidents become more frequent and ultimately undeniable. Can a spiritualist help? The Church? (Hint: there's a huge cross on the DVD artwork.)

In terms of domestic ghostliness, it's certainly a much better film than the Paranormal Activity series, for the simple reason that things do happen. Unlike those increasingly tiresome exorcises in found footage dullness, here the spirits are willing to do far more than just nudge a saucepan or push a door open very slightly when no-one's looking: the temperature drops, objects are thrown, people are physically attacked. The level of terror doesn't reach the wonderful heights of Insidious or even Sinister, but it's still jumpy and creepy as hell and I wouldn't have stayed ten minutes in the place. Sadly, it undercuts the hard work by climaxing with a huge spectacular in-your-face CGI ghost attack which doesn't really gel with the utterly believable domestic ambience.

Some of us are old enough to remember the 1970s, and that ambience is aided immeasurably by some spot-on production design showcasing 1973-4's truly hideous patterned wallpaper and bric-a-brac to go along with the equally horrendous fashions, hairstyles and spectacles of the era and shots of Noel Edmonds on the cathode ray telly. When The Lights Went Out isn't great, but it's certainly convincingly done, and unsettling enough to get by as a horror movie with superb period trappings as a bonus.



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