I know I go on about the olden days making me feel a little queasy.  Although it’s mainly Westerns that I hate, sometimes it’s hard to see how a horror film set in a time that I cannot connect to puts me off a little.  How wrong am I?  Very.  Based on the novella The Turn of the Screw, a new governess, Miss Giddens is put in independent charge of two small children, the orphaned niece and nephew of a very busy man. After hearing voices, seeing visions and witnessing the children’s behaviour change she begins to think the big old house is haunted.

The niece Flora shows her creepy colours almost immediately, what with staring at her new charge while she sleeps and singing manically and all.  That’s enough to put the willies up anyone.  And now her brother Miles is sent home from boarding school for being a bit evil.  Miss Giddens is all fired up to reprimand him but when he arrives he turns out to be quite the charmer.  But a bit too grown up for his own good.  He refuses to talk about school and cuts her off in an authoritative instant.
The children immediately feel too confident, lulling Giddens in to a false sense of security, and thus ensuring that it is they who are in charge of her and not the other way around.  As time passes they grow in confidence and maturity and their spontaneous fits of laughter knock you for six.

The lighting in the black and white shines like it is filled with all the colours of the rainbow.  The shadows of the house provide the children plenty of places to hide.  It’s very sophisticated camera work for the time, with above waist shots coupled with a teetering footstep giving the impression of the figure floating along the floor.  In focus foreground and background shots, with figures on opposite ends of the frame, make your own vision feel distorted. 

The visions of the ghosts wouldn’t look out of place in a John Carpenter film.  The whole piece is a study of perfect ghost story telling.  There are long drawn out scenes of Giddens walking around the house in darkness.  These scenes are not boring, they’re excruciating because of the terror you feel at not being able to see around the corner.  At the time censors cut the scene where Miss Giddens kisses the little boy on the lips as it looked too sensual, and I must confess, it does!

Black and white and set in the olden days (sorry, Victorian England) you may think this couldn’t possibly hold any horror you would be interested in. So, olden days, seems like I’m coming round to you after all.

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One Response to “Innocents The (1961)”

  • Still my favourite filmed version of the Henry James story. Its tone and atmosphere is closely related The Haunting and like that film it still manages to spook the viewer in this age of 3D and CG.

    Great film and great review.

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