I love scary movies. Well, I like good scary movies. I am not a big fan of the Scream trilogy or other movies with predictable plots that are only scary because something jumps out and startles the audience. I like scary movies that make me afraid to take a shower alone in my apartment and convince me to look in my backseat before I get in the car. Those are scary movies.
I had never read a scary book until this semester. Reading Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw was an interesting experience. It did not make me afraid to be alone or look in the backseat of my car, but it did build up the suspense. I found that I could not put it down toward the end of the book. I was breathing harder and harder as the plot unfolded. I really liked the way the book built the suspense and left me with so many questions after it was over.
Then I watched the 1961 movie version, directed by Jack Clayton. I was disappointed in the movie, titled The Innocents. Though I thought it was a good scary movie, I could not say that it was better than the novel for two reasons. They are small reasons that made a big difference to me.
The first reason is the portrayal of the ghosts. While I only saw flashes of ghostly images in my head while reading the book, the movie version of the ghosts disappointed me. I found that, though ghosts in movies can be very unnerving, the ghosts that flashed in my own imagination were scarier. I think that this is the case because an individual's imagination can play more tricks on his or her mind than a movie ghost ever could. This also plays along with the story. Did the governess really see ghosts, or is it her imagination?
This question leads me to my second reason. The existence of the ghosts is a constant struggle that the reader must deal with while reading the book. The way that one takes the entire development of the plot is affected by whether or not he or she believes the ghosts are real. The book never says for sure. Part of the mystery of the book is based on this question. I believe that much of the suspense that builds during the story is also a result of this question that the reader is constantly asking.
The movie does not build this suspense nearly as well. While there is suspense, it is not based on the question of the ghosts' existence. In fact, there is not much of a question at all. The movie audience is lead to believe that the ghosts (Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop) are real and that the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), is not crazy.
I thought the film The Innocents was a good scary movie in its own right. However, I do not believe that it lived up to The Turn of the Screw as far as suspense and overall scary factor.