"Based on a true story of the most terrifying poltergeist haunting in British history," WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT lacks any unease or scares, but has authentic 1970's hairstyles and beige décor.
Britain's premier ghost hunter Harry Price carried out tests on the so-called "Poltergeist Girl" - thirteen-year-old Romanian peasant Eleanore Zugun - at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research in South Kensington during 1926. With Zugun sporting facial scares and bitten by unseen teeth, Price claimed "it was not until I brought Eleanore to London that the word poltergeist became common in the British press." Price was most famous - some say notorious - for his studies of the 1928 Battersea poltergeist scare, the Isle of Man's talking mongoose, the Brocken Experiment (a magic ritual involving a goat) and Suffolk's Borley Rectory, "the most haunted house in England." The backbone of the Borley legend was a nun found guilty of unchastity, walled up in the basement and left to die of starvation. Poltergeist deeds was necessarily pulled into the mix with flying crockery and the spirit ability to materialise lead pencils and mark interior walls.
Tasha Conner is the standout performer in this formulaic programmer.
Pat Holden's WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT is "loosely" based on the Black Monk of Pontefract manifestations, which allegedly took place at the home of Joe and Jean Pritchard between 1966 and 1969 (Jean was actually Holden's aunt, and the director's mother - a local psychic - frequented the house). During the paranormal action crockery and household ornaments were smashed, pools of water appeared on the kitchen floor, crashing noises shook the building, and a strange white dust drifted down from the ceiling. The case is unusual because it also includes the sightings of a physical apparition, a tall faceless monk dressed in black, said to be the ghost of a sixteenth century brotherhood (the monk's most noteworthy act was to drag the Pritchard's daughter Diane upstairs by the neck). Although the case was well-known locally, it was Colin Wilson's 1981 book Poltergeist! that widened its scope.
For the film, set in 1974, the poltergeist is portrayed as a warning. Jenny (Kate Ashfield) and Len (Steven Waddington) Maynard move into their new property with thirteen-year-old daughter Sally (Tasha Conner). From the start Sally is haunted by the spirit of a young girl, who she later learns was murdered by a monk. A séance reveals that both the girl's and the monk's spirits exist in the home, and after an exorcism seems successful, the monk returns for Sally, who eventually banishes the apparition using the dead girl's pendant. It's all by-the-numbers, with the only memorable scene having Jenny spooked by some suitably garish 70's wallpaper; in fact, it's this authentic smell that makes the feature palatable at all, with its misty clubs and creepy use of retro toys (Slinky and Buckeroo). Conner and Hannah Clifford - as school friend Lucy - are the pick of this dramatis personae, and in more disposable roles Martin Compston plays a concerned teacher and Gary Lewis is the disgraced Father who oversees the unintentionally comedic exorcism, which is further blighted by cheap CGI.