Friday, October 4, 2013


'Tis the season, so expect at least a few posts on The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown during October to focus on horror (and/or just plain spooky) movies.  That being said, I wanted to start things off with a bang by highlighting a film from my personal top-ten.  Pauline Kael called Jack Clayton's 1961 gothic horror masterpiece The Innocents, "the best ghost movie I've ever seen."  Despite disagreeing with Kael on a few of her more controversial opinions (her vocal distaste for Hitchcock and Shoah being the most glaring examples), we're absolutely cine-buddies when it comes to the creepy atmospherics on offer in The Innocents.

One could certainly quibble with Pauline over the matter of whether or not Clayton's adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" is, in fact, a ghost story at all: Deborah Kerr's governess character, Miss Giddens, is arguably the most sinister thing going on in the film, given her determination to "love people and help them...even if they refuse my help...even if it hurts them sometimes."  Indeed, much of the pleasure of watching The Innocents boils down to the question of whether Miss Giddens supernatural encounters are real or imagined.

With two damaged, young children under her care, Kerr's unreliable sense of the objective steers the film towards a terrifying close, where no viewer can truly know whether the children (and Giddens) are being haunted by the spirits of their former governess and her lover or by Miss Giddens' stringently orthodox notions about morality and humanity's failure to rise to it.  As the college film professor who turned me on to The Innocents noted, there are strong clues present during the opening title sequence, just listen to the trembling prayer being offered up by Giddens.

In addition the central conundrum of the film, The Innocents sports crisply composed black and white compositions by the great English cinematographer Freddie Francis (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Elephant Man), biting dialogue script doctored by none other than Truman Capote, and two of the creepiest child actors (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) ever to have graced the silver screen.  All of which falls under the direction of Jack Clayton, whose later work on Something Wicked This Way Comes spooked an entire generation of Disney fans.

Out of the entire pack of older films that I'll be posting about this month in this "October Chills" series, The Innocents is by far the best of the bunch. 

Highly recommended viewing!

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