The Innocents (1961)

The scariest horror film I’ve seen in some time. It follows all of the elements of your typical Gothic horror feature (spooky old house, creepy kids). What makes this one so striking, however, is that in this movie, things go bump in the night, day, and everything in-between. We never get a moment of rest.

From the very first scene, the exposition detailing the film’s premise (an uncle’s niece and nephew need a new governess in his house in the country), we can immediately tell something is wrong. The dialogue is all rather twisted (co-written by Truman Capote), and the plot goes in a disturbing, semi-incestuous direction.

Additionally, all of the scares are well-thought out and built up. No cheap “jump” moments in this classical horror movie. We don’t even get many close-ups of the scary action (so to speak) going on, which almost makes it scarier; it makes the events that much more objective, making it that much more plausible that you could also be watching it live, but from slightly afar.

Beyond simply the solid storytelling, we also get some stellar performances, especially from the two children. (And I usually hate kid actors, so that’s saying something!) The film is also shot beautifully and rather strangely; as seen above, we often get shots with characters in the foreground and background, both in focus. This is a fairly uncommon technique, rooted in medieval artwork, giving the film an additional layer of other-worldliness. Which, for a house full of spooks and spirits, fits perfectly.

While it is a bit of a slow build-up, this is a wonderfully effective and genuinely creepy horror movie. The ending was so shakingly haunting that I actually re-watched the last half hour or so. This is not as good as some other classic horror from this era (one could make countless comparisons to The Haunting, which came a few years later) but this certainly helped set the stage for a newer, smarter style of horror.

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