Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Goosebump Moment -- The Innocents (1961)

The trick to making a good ghost story movie is to make the audience uncertain of what they're really seeing -- just like the characters inside the movie. Although shocks certainly have their place, slow creeping dread and unease stays with you longer.

The Innocents is a pretty faithful adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, and tells the story of a old-maid minister's daughter-turned-governess to a couple of orphaned children in a big empty mansion.

If you've seen The Others (which borrows a bit from this film), you're familiar with the theme of a woman alone who is either witnessing something supernatural or letting her imagination run away with her. Now, throw in a couple of really weird children, and a thinly-veiled dose of sexual repression for the governess and you've got the makings of a great ghost story.

So, here's the set-up: Miss Giddings (Deborah Kerr, still in her King and I phase) has started to think there's something not quite...right...about the kids. She discovers that the previous governess/teacher killed herself after falling into a questionable relationship with the valet/gardener (also now dead). She's starting to wonder what kind of relationship these two had with the children and if that could be the cause of their behavior. She's also starting to see things that no one else appears to see, or admits to seeing...

Take note of how the music stops when she enters the drawing room, and how when she passes the flowers the petals fall off (both of these are recurring images throughout the picture and add to the overall creepiness).

Now this scene, out of context, may not appear particularly scary, but find the movie sometime, and watch it with the lights out and the curtains open, and you may feel differently, especially as things deteriorate further and lead to a truly disturbing ending.....

Tomorrow -- a break from all this creepiness to witness the most unbelievable Halloween special ever televised....

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