Sunday Night Movie: The Innocents (1961)

innocents So last night I watched an atmospheric horror film from the early sixties, The Innocents (1961) based on the novella The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James.

The story is about a young and inexperienced nanny, Miss Giddens  – played wonderfully by Deborah Kerr – who is sent to look after the household and two young wards who are the niece and nephew of her employer.  Their uncle wants nothing to do with the children, being a bachelor and happy in his lack of responsibilities.

The household, Bly House, is in the country and the characters are isolated there, living in their own little world. Things seem normal enough until Miles, the young nephew is sent home, expelled from school under mysterious circumstances. Miles is played by the outstanding young actor Martin Stephens best known to me as the David the leader of the alien children in the classic SF film The Village Of The Damned. He is equally good here playing an equally stranger and terrifying child.

Events take a turns for the strange and Miss Giddens begins to suspects that not only is the supernatural afoot in the household, but that the two innocent children are hiding terrible secrets and that the innocence is all lies and deceit.

This film works its horror without overt acts of violence or scenes of random brutality. It is a slow piece, with careful photography  that builds suspense and tension with understated shots, and a disdain for photographic trickery. The image above is one of the ones I found most unsettling in the film. I can’t explain the image too much without indulging in spoilers, but it is the heart of the story right there in one image.

Today’s horror films have, in general, lost all sense of the unease that should be at the heart of horror. There is way too much attention paid to pain, suffering, and dismemberment. Torture-porn is not horror in my opinion. Horror comes from that moment when the sand shifts under your feet and the world no longer works the way you thought it did. This film capture that emotional wonderfully.