Entering an already bloated haunted house genre without any particular hook, other than an equally tired ‘based on a true story’ tagline slapped on the box art, should have seen this movie sink to the bottom of every bargain bin in the UK. Still, to my surprise ‘When the Lights Went Out’ remained prominent on many supermarket shelves and held its price on Amazon. To my even bigger surprise this movie is actually quite good!
The plot, as you would expect is basically what it says on the tin. Set in the north of England in the 1970s a struggling family move into a house which is very blatantly haunted by a violent poltergeist. In a refreshing twist of events, not only are the family quite open about the haunting, but so are the general public who literally queue to tour the house. Still, beneath the celebrity, the family are harassed continually until the mystery is unveiled and then they are forced to quite literally face the fear!
The pace of this movie sets it in good stead, with a nice mixture of scare scenes scattered with good intervals right from the start. This blatant approach leads to a certain subtle innovation with some of the more scary moments coming at you hard and fast, and without the often frustrating ‘red-herring’ moments where the scares simply don’t come. A good deal of atmosphere is generated despite the brisk nature of the film’s first half. This in turn is mostly due to a strong cast, all of whom slip convincingly into their roles as unwavering northern folk. Each character, the tough guy dad, the matriarchal mother and the victimised girl are tormented in their own way with the spirit goading and harming them depending on their fears and vulnerabilities. Within the movie a strong, non-cheesy script really lets you believe this really might have been based on the true story as advertised.
The best moments of this movie are the ‘old school’ scares which still prove themselves the best. The ominous shadows, the typical appliance tampering of the poltergeist, the horrible out of focus shots of figures in reflective surfaces. At least one or two of these scenes are guaranteed to give you the shivers. It’s also nice to see a couple of in-genre nods to some of the movies main influences.
Unfortunately, despite literally shitting myself towards the beginning of the movie, ‘When the Lights Go Out’ doesn’t quite hold its grip right until the end as sadly, like many before it, the temptation for a CGI ghost fest proved too great. The extensive and completely unnecessary use of CG apparitions in the latter part of the movie simply destroyed the atmosphere and tension which had been skilfully created throughout the first hour. Disappointing really, because quite frankly to believe the events of the last half an hour you really have to want it to have happened, if you get my drift.
Overall though, despite a rather silly ending, ‘When the Lights Went Out’ is a strong entry into the genre. As most are, WTLWO is best viewed with the sound up, and possibly without the presence of someone who was alive in the 1970s so that they don’t keep reminiscing whilst the tension builds. It’s scary when it needs to be and certainly better acted than most movies of this genre and budget.