The Innocents (1961)

“You’ll get the shock of your life!” As far as atmospheric horror films go, The Innocents simply ranks among the best of all time. In fact, the ghostly image of “Miss Jessel” across the lake dressed in black in the rain still scares the living shit out of me – how about you? Based on Henry James’ classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, this fascinating and disturbing British psychological horror film was directed and produced by Jack Clayton (Room at the Top). Deborah Kerr stars as repressed Victorian governess “Miss Giddens” who is hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to take care of his orphaned niece and nephew, Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens), in a creepy gothic mansion. Miles returns home after getting kicked out of boarding school for unknown reasons. Strange things start to occur to Miss Giddens – she believes the kids are sharing secrets, she starts to hear voices and also sees ghostly visions of two dead former employees of the estate, “Miss Jessel” (Clytie Jessop) and “Peter Quint” (Peter Wyngarde). Apparently the couple had carried on some sort of kinky relationship, according to housekeeper “Mrs. Grose” (Megs Jenkins). Miss Giddens soon becomes totally obsessed with the idea of saving the children from being possessed by the spirits of Jessel and Quint. Freddie Francis (Glory) was responsible for the brilliant cinematography. Martin Scorsese placed The Innocents at No. 10 on his list of the “11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time,” calling the film “beautifully crafted and acted, immaculately shot … and very scary.” Franklin went on to star in other quality films such as And Soon the Darkness (1970) and The Legend of Hell House (1973), among others. The film’s title was actually taken from William Archibald’s 1950 stage adaptation of James’ novella. Archibald, along with Truman Capote, wrote the screenplay.

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