Jack Clayton’s The Innocents may be the best horror film ever made. I don’t say that lightly, as I’m a huge horror film fan in general. Still, I find myself returning year after year to Clayton’s masterpiece and always discovering new little details that make me fall in love (or is it fear) with it all over again.
Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and adapted by Truman Capote, the film stars Deborah Kerr as a governess hired to oversee two children at a remote estate in England. Once there, she notes that not only are there whispers of ghosts, but the children themselves seem—off. That’s the rough outline, but like with a lot of James’ writing, this is really a story about perspective and whose do we trust? Is the governess a reliable narrator? Is she telling us the whole story? Because any moment can be viewed outside of the whole to depict her as someone rather mad.
Cinematographer Freddie Francis deserves special recognition, as well. Also known for films such as The Elephant Man and Glory, Francis allows the corners of the frame to drift into darkness. In fact, they used painted glass to achieve the effect. Apparitions fade into view and just as silently disappear again. From plot to what actually fills the screen, it stands as a film counter to almost everything we expect from modern horror films.