Last month, I breezed through what could be the most enjoyable book I’ve read to date: Stephen King‘s Danse Macabre. Written back in 1981, Danse Macabre is Uncle Stevie’s exhaustive, witty and informative breakdown of all things horror from 1950 through 1980, encompassing film, television and literature. I figured it’d be a fun read, but what I didn’t anticipate was how brilliant the book could be used an encyclopedia of sorts for a knowledgeable but still growing brain-wise horror head such as yours truly. From Danse Macabre alone I now have 17 books saved in my “Books To Get/Read” file, as well as a slew of films and the complete The Outer Limits DVD set in my Amazon saved list; also, heightened awareness and excitement for next year’s release of the entire Thriller television series, considered one of the best TV anthologies ever (that I’d never heard of Thriller before is something to be ashamed about).
One of the novels that King put me on to in Danse Macabre is Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, a classic bit of supernatural heeby-jeeby. It’d regard with nearly as much acclaim as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which says a ton. I was all set to pick James’s book up a couple weeks back, but then I happened across a list of Martin Scorcese’s favorite scary movies, somewhere online, and right smack in the center of Scorcese’s list was The Innocents, a 1961 film adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. Further research showed that The Innocents (directed by Jack Clayton) is praised across the board. And since my stack of backlogged books is now tipping over in my bedroom, I figured that I should watch the film rather than add James’s page-turner to the ever-towering pile.
A tad slow in the beginning, The Innocents patiently “turns its screws” (*sigh* for that pun) and eases into a great feeling of paranoia. A pure mood piece, and anchored by some subtle shots that are more forceful than I’d expected. The story (as in the source material/novel) pits a live-in nanny-for-hire, Miss Giddens (played with class by Deborah Kerr), against the two strange kids, Miles and Flora, that she’s been employed to look after, while their uncle/guardian is out of town. They live in your standard spooky-old-mansion, but how this plot approaches the haunted house motif is quite clever—–is it all in the nanny’s head, or is the place really grand central for ghouls? The kids appear to be possessed by the spirits of the family’s previous caretakers, but are the rugrats simply messing with the heroine’s head? Slick use of emotionless figures far from the camera and reverberating voices pad the film with ample creeps. And the performance of the boy who plays Miles—-then-child actor Martin Stephens—-is magnificent.
If you’re a sucker for haunted house films, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than The Innocents, in terms of overall quality and sophistication. For this edition of Scenes of Mine, I’ve chosen a sequence that comes late into the film; watching this alone with the lights off last night, I admittedly shook a good amount as this part commenced. The losing-her-shit nanny hears the requisite sounds, grabs a candelabra (which every haunted house film should have, by the way) and investigates the premises. The sound design that greets her is something else. See/listen for yourselves [Scene after the jump]: