A true genre classic if there ever was one, The Innocents was a horror film that was majorly ahead of its time and has influenced a number of them for decades to come. Beating Robert Wise’s better known The Haunting by three years, this adaptation of the Henry James novel The Turning of the Screw offers up a true horror buff’s collection of spooky mansions draped in shadows and hysterical heroines in flight, captured in its entire glorious black and white prowess. And like the best of the supernatural horror genre, at the heart of this old fashioned ghost story is a first rate classic era actress – in this case Deborah Kerr – and a cavalcade of hidden symbolism and deeper meanings.
The story follows an inexperienced governess named Miss Giddens who is employed by a wealthy socialite to look after his massive estate and watch over his two children, with the only stipulation of the arrangement being that she never contact him with questions or concerns regarding the setup. Upon arrival, Giddens becomes acquainted with the state and those who live there, particularly the young children Miles and Flora. After a series of odd, potentially supernatural encounters, she comes to fear that the house of being haunted by spirits of past inhabitants and that the two children are in danger of being possessed.
Director Jack Clayton adheres closely to the film’s much celebrated source material, choosing to depict ghosts as physical manifestations of Miss Giddens’ own turmoil and unhinged imagination. Author Truman Capote adapts the source material – along with William Archibald – in a distinguished enough fashion and makes the material his own while still managing to encapsulate what made the original story so distinctive and memorable. Together, the combination of the mannered, restrained directing style and the intelligent adaptation of the story result in a handsome and often unnerving finished film. More than fifty years after its initial release, and The Innocents still offers a more frightening and engaging watch than the vast majority of modern horror cinema. A true testament to the skill and ingenuity of those involved with the production, stronger perhaps than the countless number of imitators and the like which this film has inspired over the years.
As we get into the thick of that time of year best suited for binge watching horror films of any kind, take the time to look into one that offers a number of surprises and hidden pleasures, while also learning where a lot of your own favorite horror films learned all their best tricks from.The Innocents is a true spooky delight in all meanings of the world: an old fashioned horror gem that served as the launching pad for many tropes we commonly associate with the genre today, and just an all around effective viewing experience on its own.