Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 10

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

61. The Innocents (1961- dir. Jack Clayton)

The 1960s dragged in a new era of horror no longer dependent on the traditions of Gothic literature. Even Hammer and Roger Corman’s updates of the classics were suffused with very non-traditional heaps of sexuality and gore. Ironically, in an era when horror films were really starting to test how much they could get away with, one of the most disturbing was an adaptation of a hoary and rather dry Henry James novel without a lick of graphic violence and only the slightest hints of supernatural terror. What The Innocents (its title culled from William Archibald’s ‘50s stage adaptation) lacks in sensationalism, it makes up for in nearly unendurable tension. As governess Miss Giddens, Deborah Kerr exudes unease even before she discovers there may be ghosts roaming the Bly estate. When she begins seeing fleeting phantom images and enduring the very strange behavior of her young charges Flora (Pamela Franklin) and (especially) Miles (Martin Stephens), the film pulls piano-wire taut and does not relent until the fatalistic finale. Although the film keeps the themes of pedophilia present in Turn of the Screw ambiguous, Miles’s inappropriate behavior is as shocking in its own way as anything in Psycho or Eyes without a Face. Young Stephens sells the boy’s sociopathy with chilling subtlety—one of cinema’s great child acting feats. Fans of the film are usually quickest to point out how unsettled they are by a spectral face that drifts in from the darkness to peer through a window, though Kerr’s sighting of a ghostly figure hunched in reeds across a pond is equally chilling. Freddie Francis’s deep-focus, high-contrast cinematography further elevates this frightening, brilliantly acted ghost story to high art.

 See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 1960s here.
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