When The Lights Went Out
Disappointing British ghost story set in 1970s Yorkshire, starring Martin Compston
The UK box office success of The Woman in Black is presumably the reason for the deluge of such penny dreadfuls as When The Lights Went Out, yet another ghost train ride with a succession of scary faces looming out of the dark, aiming to jolt easily-scared cinemagoers. Writer/director Pat Holden’s horror film is reputedly based on real events, but seems to have more in common with the box office smash The Exorcist which it imitates in slavish fashion.
When The Lights Went Out opens promisingly, with the Maynard family moving into a Yorkshire house at the peak of 1974’s industrial unrest and electricity blackouts. Pre-teen Sally (Tasha Connor) is the first to sense a presence, but soon the whole family are pursued by spirits. Sally's sympathetic teacher (Martin Compston) understands the ghostly goings on have a grounding in local folklore, and soon a local priest (Gary Lewis) is ready for a battle with the malevolent spirit.
Holden’s film makes some sinister suggestions about the vulnerability of the family being exasperated by adverse economic conditions, and the background is reasonably coloured in terms of poverty rather than nostalgia. But this serious angle soon gives way to silliness, with the poltergeist fiddling with Sally’s Buckeroo and Slinky toys. This sits uneasily with an unpleasant emphasis on child abuse by the spirits, but also by the adults, with Sally vigorously slapped around on several occasions.
When The Lights Went Out does have some promise in terms of its observations of Yorkshire life in 1974; it could be argued that glimpses of Noel Edmonds presenting Top of the Pops or the girls enthusiasm for listening to The Sweet’s song 'Little Willy' are indicative of a cultural horror far more frightening that the various whizzes and bangs presented here.
Selected release Fri 14 Sep.