The James Clayton Column: haunted by Harry Potter

As Hammer’s excellent The Woman In Black opens in the UK, James wonders, is Daniel Radcliffe haunted by the Harry Potter franchise…?

Daniel Radcliffe is haunted. In The Woman In Black, the young actor plays a man threatened by an ominous spectral presence – the titular ghost lady of the title. That’s not the only ghastly menace Radcliffe is facing, though, and the Woman in Black may actually be the least of the poor guy’s woes.

This movie – Hammer’s return to good old-fashioned British horror action – is not just an opportunity for Radcliffe to show his acting range and lead a different kind of feature. It’s also a cinematic moment that allows him to practise ghostbusting skills and hone his abilities as he seeks to challenge a paranormal force that would have him confined to a psychic straightjacket, in an accursed state of crippling spiritual limbo.Daniel Radcliffe is a nice young man, and the idea of him being perpetually plagued by supernatural malevolence is quite disquieting, don’t you think?

The sorcerous peril is, of course, the Harry Potter franchise, which has raised Radcliffe, made him obscenely rich and given him the chance to wave a wand in the face of Alan Rickman. That, I suppose, makes the franchise a pretty good parent. The important thing about father/mother figures, though, is that eventually they let go of their children and allow them to live their own lives, have relationships with others and deviate from the conditioning and codes they imposed upon their offspring.

The Harry Potter leviathan, I fear, is not up for this sort of progressive parenting. In fact, I’d say that the paternal powerhouse I shall henceforth refer to as ‘Wiz-Daddy’ is an abusive, manipulative and sadistic entity with ill intentions. Think on it a little deeper, and you soon realise that our man Dan is Norman Bates and that the franchise is Mother – a cantankerous control freak that fails to acknowledge its own demise and insists on dominating its child to the detriment of the son as an individual.

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Radical efforts to shut the rotten cadaver in the basement and bury the trappings of the past may only result in psychosis and unhinged episodes where the afflicted victim dresses up in the parent’s old frocks and stabs anyone who impinges upon the status quo.

I get horrible images of future Radcliffe being an antisocial hermit holed up in the Shrieking Shack surrounded by unnerving taxidermy experiments (“That’s an interesting stuffed Hungarian Horntail you got there, Harry…”). He froths at the mouth, cries in pathetic obedience to the dictatorial Mother voice in his mind and compulsively traces a lightning bolt shape onto his forehead with a makeshift wand.

The matriarchal evil of Psycho isn’t as powerful and dangerous as Wiz-Daddy, though, which excels thanks to its manipulative cunning. It’s a supervillain that specialises in propaganda and puppeteering, pulling people’s strings and leading them on while it sits back with a benign grin on its face as the money rolls in.

This invisible power swept the planet and brainwashed entire populations with visions of a magical world adjacent to our mundane reality. This coming-of-age good-versus-evil boarding-school-with-bonus-wizardry saga of an orphan miracle boy got whooped up into a frenzy and was cravenly crafted into hysterical Pottermania.Trust me – this phenomenon was not audience-led, growing out of popular enthusiasm. It was all generated by the ghastly Wiz-Daddy lurking in the ether, snaking into unwary minds and dispatching dastardly minions to do its foul deeds and advance its world domination schemes.

Seriously, I suggest you take off the stripy Hogwarts-styled scarf you’ve wrapped around your head, swap it for a protective tinfoil hat like mine and listen, because you may have been influenced by this invisible peril. It has owl armies that hoot out subliminal messages at its command and has cast ‘Fangirl Fixation’ spells all over book stores and libraries. You too may have been dazzled by its Hollywood special effects and overwhelming marketing hype.

Once affected by this shadowy monster there’s no accepting life beyond the boy wizard and the afflicted public and mainstream media (because Wiz-Daddy controls the media) are trapped in a state of psychic stagnation. There is no seeing beyond Harry Potter, and this doesn’t really bode well for pop culture, evolving civilisation and – in particular for him on a personal level – Daniel Radcliffe.

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Every interview and feature I’ve encountered in the build-up to The Woman In Black betrays this sad truth. The ghost of Harry Potter looms over proceedings as Radcliffe is repeatedly drawn back to the role that made his name, even if it isn’t really relevant. If, like me, you’re not a Pottermaniac and care about other issues at hand – like the Hammer Horror revival and the promise of a genuinely chilling supernatural thriller gracing cinema screens – the all-consuming presence of the franchise is frustrating.

It’s surely irritating for Radcliffe when he’s looking to do his own thing and establish an identity outside of Hogwarts lore. It’s still early days, but if the fixated focus on Potter and the ominous presence of Wiz-Daddy lingers any longer, then the actor is likely to descend into despair. If he doesn’t trek off on a child-star-falling-on-troubled-times trope and drown himself in pornography and cocaine, it’ll be the Shrieking Shack and an eternity arguing with Mother. He deserves better than such a dreadful fate.

If the stage appearances (including getting naked and mutilating horses for Equus) and an impressive turn in The Woman In Black fail to achieve the desired effect, the actor is going to have to get even more radical in his choice of roles to distance himself from the Potterverse and shrug off Wiz-Daddy’s stifling grip.

He’ll have to throw himself into extreme survival horror movies, star in musicals, take on difficult and controversial biopics (“Daniel Radcliffe is Fidel Castro!”), appear in cult sci-fi works, collaborate with Asian auteurs in obscure arthouse experiments or somehow establish himself as the centre of a franchise reboot (“Daniel Radcliffe is RoboCop!”)

If that doesn’t work and Harry Potter is still held against him as the power of the ghoulish Wiz-Daddy prevails then the Ghostbusters, exorcists and spiritual mediums will have to be brought in to liberate Radcliffe’s soul. After re-enacting The Rite in the Shrieking Shack, hopefully our hero will be released from the spiritual cocoon and able to fly towards freedom and self-fulfilment no longer burdened by the all-consuming control of the suffocating parent.

Be vigilant against Wiz-Daddy and remember that Harry Potter is done with. Do not dwell on the boy wizard as you watch The Woman In Black.

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James’ previous column can be found here.

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