From time to time I stop and ask myself, "Have I watched too many horror films? Have I seen it all, is there nothing left to scare me, to freak me out, to disturb me? And if so, what hope is there of entertaining me, much less scaring me, for any film made in 1961?" If you add to that the fact that "period pieces" generally nauseate me (I'm talking to you every-film-adaption-of-Jane-Austin-or-EM-Forester) with their ornate and flowery costumes and language, their slow and sleepy pace - well, things were looking gloomy for 1961's The Innocents. Luckily, I am generally wrong about most things (not really) and my expectations around this were quickly dashed.
Based on Henry James' short novella "The Turn of The Screw" (as is the only good movie Nicole Kidman has ever been in - The Others), The Innocents centers around a young woman who has taken a job as a nanny for two creepy little kids. The children's uncle is not only detached from their care, but intentionally and, in plain spoken language, totally uninterested in them which is why he hires the nanny. The children live in an enormous Victorian mansion out in the English countryside complete with all the comforts the high class of the late 19th century would enjoy: private lakes and ponds stocked with swans and geese, endless gardens and Greco-Roman statues. But, the Master away and never to return, the mansion has fallen into disrepair leaving a creepy, shadowy and cavernous shell of what it once was - a perfect set piece for a classic ghost story.
The nanny soon learns that the cheery little kids she has been employed to care for can be quite a handful. The little girl is prone to drifting off into spaced out trances where she mechanically hums the same tune over and over while the little boy oscillates between sweet and charming and spooky and slightly masochistic. Eventually the nanny comes to discover that the mansion holds some secrets that most would rather keep hidden away and that some of these secrets are taking the shape of ghosts.
There are some scenes here that are remarkably creepy - the figure of a gaunt and emaciated ghost-woman in black standing perfectly still amongst the reeds from a distance (picture the cover of the first Black Sabbath LP), the wispy figure of a woman slowly moving down a hall or the sweaty and menacing face of a man slowly appearing in the window behind the nanny. And the story is well written and, despite it's slow 1961 pace and high-brow, literate style, maintains it's grip on the viewer until the end. There is a scene where the little girl goes into an extended fit of mania and screams repeatedly for minutes on end. The way it's dragged out is remarkably effective and creepy.
- Complaint Dept