Plot: A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted – The Innocents
Director: Jack Clayton
Released: December 1961
If you liked: The Legend of Hell House, The Servant, Woman in Black
After watching the hugely disappointing The Turning, I wanted to go back and watch the 1961 adaptation of the Henry James classic novel The Turn of the Screw, to not only see if it holds up but also decide if I was being too harsh on its modern predecessor. After watching both, I think it’s only fair to say that The Innocents is great, and I was right that The Turning is not.
Easily one of the best haunted-house movies ever made, it’s easy to see why so many directors use it as inspiration or straight up a template for their movies. Even from the outset, you know that this isn’t going to be ordinary, starting off with a strange beginning as a girl sings a haunting song over a black screen for a disquieting amount of time before you see anything on the screen.
Filled with beautiful shots and a splendid sound design. director Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis. clearly put in the effort to make the film stand out. Throughout their effective use of the widescreen framing and fluid, camera-work draws you into the story.
I’m a sucker for gothic horror and here you get that in spades, the set design especially is wonderful throughout, the house, pond, tower and gazebo are all utilised to their maximum effect, creating a wonderfully foreboding feeling and turning the estate into a character in its own right.
Deborah Kerr is outstanding as the governess. She makes the character likeable and in a role where it would have been easy to overact; she keeps her performance grounded, with just enough ambiguity to make you wonder if the ghosts are real or is she losing her mind?.
Both child actors Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin do well and more than hold their own alongside the more seasoned Kerr. Arguably, if these creepy kids hadn’t been so good, the film would have had far less impact. Stephens, in particular, is extremely good given the material he is tasked with.
This is an exquisite haunted-house story and has held up extremely well over the years. manly down to its genuinely haunting feeling, gorgeous looks and several spine-tingling moments including the scene at the lake in which we come face to face with Miss Jessel for the first time.