Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Innocents (1961) - Jack Clayton

Children and horror, horror and children. Now they should be like oil and water shouldn't they? They're not though, since there is a whole horror sub genre totally devoted to the little tykes. Normally they are split neatly into two categories, firstly where the children are the victims (The Shining, Sixth Sense), which is all well and good, but the far more interesting category is the second one where the little bleeders are the horror. Think about it for a second. At the top of the heap there's The Omen and The Brood, in the middle somewhere you have Village/Children of the Damned and then right at the bottom about as low as it gets there's Pet Sematary and the Children of the Corn series. Far better than most of the above though are the recent slew of hoodie horrors, such as Eden Lake and best of the bunch Ils.

But anyway what has all the above to do with The Innocents I hear you scream at your Hello Kitty stickered laptop. Well it's funny you should ask, since as we all know British horror is a genre unto itself, and as such it has had it's fair share of children doing what children do best, i.e. evil nasty things. The best two for me are Nothing But the Night and Unman, Wittering and Zigo. Now I can add The Innocents to that list. This isn't a horror film that will make the nighttime dash along the hallway from the bathroom to the bedroom, a near heart attack experience. It's far more subtle than that. In fact it reminds me a little of Robert Wise's The Haunting, in as much as very little happens but there is an atmosphere hanging over the whole film like an icy mist.

The two children, let's call them Miles and Flora since that's what they're called in the film, are perfectly mannered Victorian (did I mention it was a period film? No, oh well I have now), kids. However they have an air about them of weirdness, that propels the film ever onwards towards it's grim ending. Now I don't really want to write too much about the plot or anything like that, since it's gossamer thin as it is and you don't need me ruining it for you.

Safe to say Deborah Kerr is wonderful as Miss Giddens whom the whole story revolves around, as is Michael Redgrave as the childrens uninterested uncle. Both the child actors do a great job too, I particularly found the kissing scene between Kerr and Martin Stephens (Miles) to be creepy in the extreme. Miles' little smile afterwards really sealing the scene. The other noteworthy mention has to go to cinematographer Freddie Francis who makes this film look like one Bergman's better efforts. It really is beautiful to watch. There is a scene that is supposed to be lit by only a candle, now as most people will be aware these are the sort of things that take you right out of a film if not handled properly. Since if it looks too fake then you start thinking about the lighting and not what is happening on screen, and well you know the rest. Now when you have a candlelit scene and said candle is hand held and moving from room to room, then you need a really great DP. Freddie Francis is that DP. It's no wonder he went on to work with both Lynch and Scorsese.

One last thing, and this might be purely because I'm English but I love it when actors that I've grown up with on TV, turn up in films and you realise that they can act. I'm thinking about Ian McShane for instance, I just thought he was Lovejoy and that's that. But he had a great string of roles before that (and after too). Now even though he's hardly in this, Peter Wyngarde (he of Jason King fame) is a revelation. One of the creepiest entrances in a film ever. Anyway to wrap this all up, it's always great to discover a gem of a British film, even more so if it's a horror. And that is precisely what this is, an until recently for me undiscovered diamond.

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