When a film includes children, many times it makes the movie more dramatic, especially when the children are in any kind of danger. Sometimes, it seems the audience is more concerned for the child's welfare than that of the adult characters. In order to build the suspense, the right props and perfect atmosphere are needed.
The 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton and based on Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, centers the story on the lives of two children. These children, a girl, Flora (Pamela Franklin), aged eight, and boy, Miles (Martin Stephens), aged ten, appear to be innocent but are soon thought by their governess, to be haunted by ghosts. The ghosts, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), are anything but innocent. During the film it is unclear if the children are possessed by the evil or if their Governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), is just crazy. These situations, as well as some of the scenes and props, are consistent when introducing haunting phenomena and characters in other films.
While viewing The Innocents, I was reminded of two such films. These were the 2001 film The Others, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, and the 1982 movie Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper. The children in these films were victims due to a past tragedy, and the other characters were in denial of the situation. However, despite character similarities, it is interesting that each film took place in an old house and used similar imagery such as lengthy staircases and flickering lights to indicate a haunting.
I noticed that The Innocents and Poltergeist had a scene involving a clown, which appeared to move without intervention. These clowns are both located in dark rooms. The clown in The Innocents is shown during the attic scene while Miss Giddens and the children are playing hide and seek. Although seeing a toy clown is not particularly scary, in this situation the clown's head was moving; and nobody seemed to be inside the room. In the movie Poltergeist the clown is located in the boy's bedroom, as he is getting ready to sleep. This scene is somewhat different given that. during one moment, his clown is sitting in a chair, and when the boy looks again, the clown is gone. Clearly, these similarities prove that certain phobias still evoke fright.
The movie The Others was similar in that the Mother, played by Nichole Kidman, exhibited many of the same reactions and traits as Miss Giddens. Each had the same suspicions and responses when encountering the unknown in the dark house. It is as if there is a sequence to follow when presented with the supernatural. Most times the characters go through denial or insist that there must be a reasonable explanation. The classic reactions to the mysterious are anger, fear, acceptance, or willingness to help, then understanding.
Nearly everyone at one point has experienced fear, and most are curious about the unknown. Thus, movie makers who effectively employ these symbols can create exciting and successful cinematic ghost stories.