Scary Movie, Part I: The Innocents (1961)

This post is the first in my two-part Scary Movie(s) series to “honor” the rapidly-approaching Halloween festivities.

Today I will offer for your consideration a frightfully classic Gothic ghost story – The Innocents, a British production from the year 1961. Originally released in the UK release in late November of that year, it got its United States premiere on Christmas Day – just in time for that most jolly of holidays …

An adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, The Innocents stars Deborah Kerr as a governess whose charges exhibit increasingly strange behavior, leading to some shocking and mind boggling action.

With a screenplay by Truman Capote and direction courtesy of Jack Clayton, The Innocents is a mind-bending example of how horror/terror can be just as unsettling (in some cases more so) than even a film containing an astronomical level of blood and gore (see stab-squish-splat).

In other words, The Innocents is totally comfortable and effective in creating a menacing atmosphere through things unseen, courtesy of some expert lighting, black and white cinematography, and an accompanying haunting soundtrack composed by Georges Auric*.

There are many other details about the story that I know I am missing – with very good reason. Films like this, that play with me on a deeply psychological level, often cause me to block out some details, big and small. If that is not a ringing endorsement as to the merits of The Innocents as a film that deserves to be considered in the pantheon of “all time scary movies,” I do not know what is. In fact, many contemporary films, notably 2001’s The Others starring Nicole Kidman, owe a great stylistic debt to this film. Fun fact: the a portion of The Innocents’ soundtrack was sampled and placed on the “cursed tape” in the 2002 film The Ring.


Courtesy of the Criterion Collection website, there is a gallery of some the behind the scenes photos. I imagine these are included in the jam-packed special edition DVD/BD that went on sale last month. Check local and online merchants for pricing information.

Have you seen The Innocents? Let me know what you thought below in the Comments section.


* Among Auric’s film credits: Dead of Night (1945), Roman Holiday (1953), The Wages of Fear (1953), Beauty and the Beast (1946), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951).


  1. Bar none, one of the best ghost stories adapted to film.
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