After our class finished watching Jack Clayton's The Innocents, a 1961 film adaptation of Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, Professor Roulston asked us if anyone thought the film was frightening. I was surprised at the question because up until that point I was unaware that the film was supposed to be frightening. "I seriously doubt that anyone thought it was scary," I quickly said out loud. "I thought it was scary!" one girl retorted. "Well, you're the only one then," I snarled back. Open mouth, insert foot: Two more students then spoke up, exclaiming that they thought it was scary.
It is my belief that these students are quite strange, however, because despite its slightly eerie opening depicting Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) with her hands clasped, knelt in prayer, there is nothing scary or frightening that takes place in The Innocents. Why is that so, you may ask?
That is so because nothing happens in The Innocents.
There are no monsters encounters. There are no things that go bump in the night. There are no ghosts, no apparitions, no demons walking the earth. No demented humans or murderers, either. No one dies, except at the end, suddenly, in a very non-frightening way. To put it quite simply, there is nothing scary that happens in The Innocents.
But that does not mean there was not a lot of potential.
The Innocents is a film that takes place in a countryside manor that is isolated and home to only a few. It is much too big for that many people, and that in itself can be a terrific setup for a scary movie. Miss Giddens could also have been very frightening as a character that slowly becomes insane, but her potential is sadly unrealized. Instead of going "insane," Miss Giddens merely prances around and worries aloud about the children.
The Innocents could have been a frightening movie, and a realistic one at that. People turning insane is a realistic phenomenon that we rarely see in horror movies--we instead see them only after they've became crazy. Realistic horror movies have the ability to truly haunt us, because they have the potential to remind us that the most frightening things on this Earth are not in books or movies, but in real life. It is just too bad that The Innocents reminded me of an overprotective mom instead.