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John’s Old School Horror Corner: The Innocents (1961)

September 5, 2013

MY CALL:  Not scary, not even a little bit, not even to a child.  I would recommend this to no one who has seen and enjoyed a horror movie that released after 1970.  As far as horror goes this is lifeless; regrettably stagnant.  However, there’s an okay story behind it all.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHThe Good Son (1993) for kinder-horror and The Conjuring (2013) for a classic-style horror story involving kids.

Okay.  So, normally I’d normally never watch a movie this old.  I typically stick to the 70s for my “really old” horror.  Why?  Well, as someone who grew up in the 80s I was never–NEVER–impressed by the dated “classics” of the 50s and 60s with Christopher Lee and Vincent Price.  I think they’re lame. They probably once were scary, back before people came up with much more scary stuff in the films of the following decades.  But know this.  It’s not about CGI or effects for me.  It’s that these old movies were made in a time when people were soft to the likes of suspense and scares (in my opinion).

I took a long shot chance on this film because someone wrote that The Exorcist (1973), The Visitor (1979) and this film were the three greatest horror movies he’d ever seen.  I agree with the status of The ExorcistThe Visitor was truly awful, but so weird it was funny (unintentionally, that is, and not in a good way).  And that leaves The Innocents to be judged…

A wealthy man inherits two young children.  Wanting nothing to do with them, he hires a governess to replace the deceased governess before her to raise them.  When we first meet the children, Flora is an angelic delight and Miles has just been expelled from school, but seems quite polite and charming all the same.

Like any modern spin on this story, weird things start to happen around the governess.  Only, in this dated medium, the transpiring events and the uninspired camera angles filming them are in no way creepy.  She sees figures, hears voices and the housekeeper slips and says a few suspicious things.  But it never feels urgent or forewarning–even though I know it’s supposed to.  Other things that would be terrifying or off-putting in the hands of a director today strike me as mundane…the boy asks if the governess’ house is “large enough to hide secrets,” unidentified figures pace in the shadows, Miles gives the governess a long and overly mature kiss, and the kids play a game of hide and seek (see The Conjuring to see this done well).  Once we graduate to hints of violence and temper in the children, it’s not a fraction as eerie as it should be.

The housekeeper plays the role of the enabler.  Like the children’s acolyte, she attempts to dismiss or belittle the governess’ increasing concerns regarding the children. It’s as if she wants the governess to question her own senses.

The #1 Amazon review stated “The Innocents is as scary as anything that’s come out of Hollywood in the last twenty years.”  I couldn’t disagree more.  Basically, EVERYTHING in the last 20-30 years of horror has been far scarier than this.  For this, held to modern standards, is not at all scary or suspenseful.  This feels no more “scary” than a drama about an overwhelmed single parent on the Lifetime Network or the Hallmark Channel.  I struggle to believe that in 1961 this was considered scary until I realized how little of a horror education people had at the time, with no PG-13 or R-rated movies trying to push the envelope for the biggest scare, shock, reveal, tension or twist.  No.  Like the picture, this is black and white and just as plain.  Even the attempts at jump scares were completely ineffective as if someone turned the horror dial to “mute.”

The only good thing I have to say about this was that the two child actors were spectacular!  Not scary, but quite talented.

I would recommend this to no one who has seen a horror movie that released after 1970.  As far as horror goes this is lifeless; regrettably stagnant.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gina permalink
    October 11, 2013 1:32 am

    You hit the nail on the head here. Too much is given away. If you know exactly what is happening, there can be no suspense. Also, how is it that Deborah Kerr’s character was able to draw such precise conclusions about what was happening and why? I don’t think this was very well thought out and it certainly wasn’t scary.

    • johnleavengood permalink
      October 11, 2013 6:58 am

      Times were so simple and few films were complex back then (compared to the greats of today). It’s as if the audience should be scared because they’re “told” that Kerr is scared…

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