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.
* 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).