The Sound of Horror

         Sound technicians know that when it comes to horror in the cinema, the job is of prime importance. This is not to suggest that they are not important elsewhere, just that the creepy, creaky noises are an element that comes with the package of horror. Just as important is the usage of silence, which is a part of a problem I have with Jack Clayton's 1961 film, The Innocents, based on Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw. I think, perhaps, more silence (or more quiet) sounds could have made for a more effective film. There were times where there was such an abundance of loud noises, I was more annoyed than unnerved. Then again, the sounds also seemed to be made more exclusively for surround sound; and, not having the experience in that regard, I may have missed what was fine sound. I just find it kind of hard to believe that it would be all that much better, as surround sound should add dimension to the sound one would hear on 2.1 (or sound using just the front two speakers), rather than being a clutter heard otherwise.

         In Robert Wise's 1963 film, The Haunting, sound is used in a similar way. Both films are, naturally, set inside a house which acts almost as a character itself (and do not even get me to start talking about Jan de Bont's 1999 remake of The Haunting, which is a bad film with some very wasted talent), and the sounds of the house are a part of what is scary. The Haunting is a great, effective horror flick, and an all-around better film than The Innocents, and sound plays a part of it. I never felt overwhelmed watching it and was continually pulled in. I was also amazed throughout of the complete restraint of the film makers in the existence of supernatural forces, and I was constantly wondering what the sounds really were. Are they a part of increased paranoia or odd sounds of the house? Are they really spirits? It works far better.

         One odd thing I noticed is that the sound crew on both films had been involved with different Stanley Kubrick films. One that had worked on The Innocents had also worked on Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and a few on The Haunting had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey. The use of sound was much more skilled in the latter film, though the former isn't hurt by this, as sound is not important in that fullest of regards in it. Nonetheless, that was an interesting fact that I came across, which shows a little further technical expertise on either side.

         This is not to mention that Robert Wise is a better film maker than Jack Clayton (all of this being in my opinion, obviously), and crafted a better story. As far as comparing how either one did in adaptation, I cannot say, as I have not read Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, though I intend to. I did read Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw, and The Innocents did not live up to that and made more direct the existence of spirits. As far as films go, The Innocents is pretty good; but it fails in comparison to the novella it is based on and other horror films. Everything does not have to be the best, but I was overwhelmed by the sounds and underwhelmed by the film itself on some levels. Though I wanted to like it for some fine moments (including an ending I liked, and the moments between the governess, Miss Giddens in the film, as played by Deborah Kerr, and Miles (Martin Stephens) were intriguing, I think it does slightly miss the mark. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the others, which includes Alejandro Amenabar's 2001 film, The Others, which continues the pattern of sharing similarities with the film in better ways. But in the end, I do not think I mind all that much being spoiled by them.

Jesse Gilstrap

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