Scare Tactics

     Throughout cinema history, film makers have used certain tactics and techniques to establish an element of fear in audiences. In the 1961 film The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton and based on Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, film makers were able to scare audiences without the aid of fanciful technology or special effects.

     The opening shot of the film shows that the film makers knew exactly what they were doing, and what they wanted the audience to feel. It is a highly contrasted image of Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) hands folded in a praying pose. The sound of a frantic voice rises as the hands begin to shake violently until they fall out of frame. This was the film's `first impression' upon the viewer, causing tension, mystery, and a "chillfull" presence. The domineering landscapes are used in the establishing shot for the film. The forests, gardens, and open stretches of land help to both show setting of the story, and set the mood of the story. The idea of large, open, and untamed landscapes gives an overwhelming feeling to the audience. When there is much to explore, there is much that is unknown. This idea of vastly eerie landscapes is also applied in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 The Shining, a horror film that contains a dramatic chase through a garden maze. Jack Clayton's The Innocents could have been an influence on Kubrick for such scenes.

     One scene, in particular, struck me as extremely well edited. As a cinematic tool and necessity, editing can be a useful tool for scaring an audience. In Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 movie Psycho, the infamous shower murder scene was a combination of over one hundred individual shots, not a single one showing the blade of the knife penetrating the victim's body. In The Innocents, such masterful editing is applied to a scene in which Miss Giddens finds a music box in the attic. The scene quickly follows up with a series of shots of hallways, trees, children, and insects, all of which are made scarier by the musical score. Attics, too, are generally frightening locations in film, as proven by Clive Barker's 1987 Hellraiser.

     The last thing a viewer sees when leaving a movie, is also the first thing the viewer remembers. Making a lasting impression, The Innocents closes with a paranoic shot of Miss Giddens confronting fear. What makes this scene successfully scary lies not in any cinematic element, rather in the story itself. The final moments can be seen as one of two things: One, the scene suggests that the ghosts are in fact real; or, two, it suggests that Miss Giddens was mad all along. Such an inexplicable, yet successfully eerie tactic of non-committing, makes the film The Innocents a delightful ghost story, from opening shot to closing queries.

Brandon Smith

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