One of the great intellectual horror films of the 60s, Jack Clayton's 1961 horror film, The Innocents, has recently been released on DVD by Fox as part of their fall horror catalogue. Released a year after Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), The Innocents is one of the most beautifully photographed movies using B&W Cinemascope. Its reputation as a literate, intellectual chiller has grown strong in the decades since it was initially released.
Set in Victorian England, The Innocents tells the story of Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), a young woman who takes a position as a governess. She arrives at a bleak country estate to take care of Flora (Pamela Franklin) and Miles (Martin Stephens), two wealthy orphans whose last governess has since passed away. Outwardly the children appear to be high spirited and angelic, but the governess gradually begins to feel that there's something more sinister behind the children's behavior. When Miss Giddens allows herself to believe that spirits are beginning to possess the young children in her charge, it pushes her already fragile mind closer to the edge of reason. The viewers, and Miss Giddens, are left helpless, wondering whether her visions are a product of hysteria or if the children are truly possessed. Miss Giddens sets out to exorcise the malevolent spirits with tragic results.
Directed by Jack Clayton, the film uses sound to great effect as silences and subtle eeriness pervades the soundtrack. Horror is suggested through these disorienting sounds but the children are arguably what makes The Innocents such a complex horror film. Miles and Flora share secrets and play games amongst themselves, rarely allowing the viewer or Miss Giddens to take part. The terrifying nature of the children results from the ambiguity of the nature of their games. Are they child's play, or are coming from a more dangerous, more perverse place? This, among other visual cues, is what leads Miss Giddens to believe that they are being possessed.
Though there are suggestions of Ghosts and evil spirits, The Innocents is not simply a tale of the supernatural. It is grounded in reality and therefore the horror is far scarier and more effective. If you are looking for something from current horror trends check out this latest release in Fox's fantastic horror catalogue. Although not stacked with extras, Fox's very affordable DVD is well worth the price.