The Innocents (1961 film)

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The Innocents (1961), AKA The Turn of the Screw; prequel The Nightcomers (1972); remake/re-adaptations The Turn of the Screw (1974), The Turn of the Screw (1992), The Turn of the Screw (Spanish language Otra vuelta de tuerca, 1985), Presence of Mind (1999), In a Dark Place (2006), Through the Shadow (Brazilian Portuguese Através da Sombra, 2016)

Summary

"Depravity... apparitions... evils... corruptions: Do they ever return to possess the living?" A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house, grounds, and children are haunted.

Details

  • Release Date: 1961
  • Country/Language: UK, English
  • Genres/Technical: Horror (Gothic horror, psychological horror); black-and-white
  • Setting: Gaslight England
  • Runtime: 1 hr 40 min
  • Starring: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins
  • Director: Jack Clayton
  • Writer: Henry James (novel), William Archibald and Truman Capote (screenplay), John Mortimer (additional scenes & dialogue)
  • Producer/Production Co: Achilles, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
  • View Trailer: (link)
  • TVTropes: (link)
  • IMDB Page: (link)

Ratings

MPAA Ratings

  • Rated: (approved) (perhaps equivalent to a modern PG-13 for Adult Content, off-screen Violence, and mild Profanity)

I actually grew up watching movies like this with relatively careful parents for the time, and didn't notice the "adult content" in this one until I was in my teens, though more precocious children and/or sensitive families might catch on and find that aspect more disturbing than I did. In any case, the themes of indiscretion, sexual violence, child abuse, incest, etc. stay mostly buried under a repressed Victorian Gothic haze of euphemism, implication, and indirect reference, except for when they suddenly and ambiguously appear at an ominous distance, half-emerge from menacing shadows, or explode cathartic and violent outbursts like the other "ghosts" in this film, with the film's metaphor resulting in adult content and psychological horror that are all but indistinguishable from a more literal haunting.

Tentacle Ratings

A rough measure of how "Lovecraftian" the work is:

  • Ss___ (One and a Half Tentacles: Debateably Lovecraftian; has almost no direct connection to Lovecraft's work)

This really only has the Gothic, cosmic horror atmosphere in common with Lovecraft's work, but I'll bump this this up to "One and a Half" Tentacles", just for the way that the vague and indirect references to the indiscretions and crimes of the servants work together with the creepy setting, unsettling behavior of the children, unstable psychology of the governess, and unreliable exposition from everyone involved add up to an interpretation from the governess that hints at something cosmically transgressive, outre, and foul occurring with the children; Lovecraft himself mentions the novel that this masterpiece of horror cinema was based on one of the more exceptional examples of cosmic horror penned by authors who normally wouldn't write such a thing... the "ghosts" in the film slowly accumulate an ominous presence and power over the governess' imagination as she immerses herself deeper and deeper into her fantasy that the children are haunted until the invasive presence of the "Things" looms over the story like some alien, Lovecraftian horror, and as a result this film comes a little closer in spirit to Lovecraftian horror than you find in a more pedestrian creepy-kid or haunted-house movie. The result comes across a bit like what Lovecraft might have written had his interests lain with human psychology, rather than astronomy, genealogy, antiquarianism, and archaeology....

Note: This rating is not intended as a measure of quality, merely of how closely related to Lovecraftian "Weird" fiction the work is.

Reviews

Review Links:

  • (review needed)


Synopsis (SPOILERS)

 Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)

Impressionable, unstable, and inexperienced governess Miss Giddens is hired by an unapologetically self-centered bachelor to care for the unwanted orphaned children, "the innocents" Miles and Flora, that were placed in his custody and then abandoned to irresponsible servants in his remote country estate so that he can enjoy his hedonistic and selfish life in the city. Miss Giddens is at first enchanted by the fragile Flora, who she meets at the estate, and by the glowing reputation that her brother Miles has with Flora and the servants, but her enchantment slowly turns to disillusionment and then horror after she finally meets Miles when he is ejected from school for vaguely-described behavior which has profoundly disturbed the other students and the school staff, and arrives home to greet Miss Giddens with an unsuitable kiss. Based on the unsettling and precocious behavior of the children, their references to a previous governess and her charismatic and apparently abusive lover and estate gardener - Miss Jessell and Quint, both now dead from violence - and then gossip from the other servants, the soon terrified Miss Giddens begins to construct an unsettling fantasy that the children are haunted and possessed by the dead lovers, and are being forced to act out their unhealthy relationship. Miss Giddens appeals to the other servants and then to her unresponsive employer for help and guidance, but is ultimately abandoned to "help" the children in her own irresponsible way, and by the end of the movie Flora suffers a breakdown and Miles is mysteriously dead from Miss Giddens' attempts to "save" them. Because we never directly see or hear the whole story of what is going on - the evidence we do get is gained second-hand from "unreliable narrators" who omit important information and disguise the rest through gossip and innuendo from servants who seemed to both admire and hate the dead Jessell and Quint, or hinted at by children who apparently both loved and were abused by Jessell and Quint and may or may not be possessed by their spirits, all of which information is then filtered through to us by the increasingly unstable Miss Giddens - every clue we do get has several possible interpretations, so it's completely open to interpretation exactly what is really wrong with the children, and how much of what we are told is a product of Miss Giddens' disturbed imagination.


Notes

Comments, Trivia, Dedication

  • The story has been adapted to film numerous times; most of the other adaptations push the adult themes across the line from ambiguous and subtle into ham-handed and crass, and few (if any) are as well-regarded as the 1961 adaptation.
  • Much of the screenplay is not actually derived from Henry James's novella "The Turn of the Screw" but from William Archibald's 1950 Broadway adaptation "The Innocents".
  • The film takes place in 1898.


Associated Mythos Elements


Keeper Notes

  • The investigators arrive to sift fact from fantasy after a series of strange and unfortunate events on a remote rural estate leave one young orphan dead, another insane, and their governess convinced that "the innocents" under her care were possessed by the disembodied spirits of a pair of dead servants; the case is not as clear-cut as it seems to be at first, when clues begin to reveal that the dead servants happen to have been Mythos cultists, and the governess herself may also have been acting under the influence of something unnatural....