Nothing ages worse than horror, they say. And they’re not wrong. So when I popped in a copy of The Innocents a while back, knowing absolutely nothing about it, I was expecting a fairly low-key evening. After all, gothic horror is by definition old-fashioned, and how scary could a haunted house movie made in 1961 be?
Two highly disconcerting hours later, it turns out that the type of horror movies that age are the ones that revolve around a very contemporary type of shock. But aim for the subconscious, and you get something timeless. All you really need are lights, shadows, the right pacing, a good actor’s face, a subtext that corkscrews its way into your mind, and a director—like the estimable Jack Clayton—who knows how to use them. The Innocents has all of these in spades: its total death toll is one, and I suspect it will continue to be scary long after our jaded, bratty grandchildren find Eli Roth torture porn boring and tame.
The plot is about a repressed governess sent to a remote manor to look after two small children. Only, as isolation sets in, she begins to suspect the children are possessed by some horrifying evil force. The atmosphere is exquisitely frightening and irrational, full of weird choices, like casting the 40-year-old Deborah Kerr as a sexually repressed 20-year-old, that make you question your sanity. It’s enduring triumph is asking if ghosts exist only in mind—and that if they do, maybe that alone is enough for a haunting.
Halloween Countdown is an annual, personal, and highly unoriginal tradition where I write fast, extemporaneous reviews of 20 prominent but random horror movies during the month of October.