“We must try to  learn what it is these horrors want.”

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) has applied for a job as a governess, her very first position of this type. Luckily for her, the wealthy bachelor in need of her services (Michael Redgrave) seems unconcerned by her lack of work  history.

(Image via Animation Resources)

Left to raise his niece and nephew after they were orphaned, the man will take any chance to regain his freedom, leaving the kids in someone else’s care. So, with little effort, Miss Giddens is hired, taking over the job of Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), who previously cared for the children but died suddenly.

Arriving at Bly, Miss Giddens meets young Flora (Pamela Franklin), but Miles (Martin Stephens) is away at boarding school. Miss Giddens and Flora instantly get along, but things get complicated when Miles returns home. While most of the time they’re polite and sweet, occasionally Flora and Miles seem secretive and behave oddly. Miss Giddens and housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) begin to believe that something very dark is going on.

The Innocents was inspired by The Turn of the Screw, and was named by Martin Scorsese as one of his 11 favorite horror films of all time. The film was directed by Jack Clayton, with a screenplay by William Archibald and none other than literary icon Truman Capote!

This film is eerie from the very beginning, with a spooky song playing over the Fox logo, followed by the introduction of a crying and clearly very distressed Deborah Kerr.

Kerr gives a phenomenal performance in this film. She gives her character somewhat of a nervous disposition from the opening. She interviews for her job as governess, and seems so nervous and awkward that it’s a wonder she’s able to hold a job at all. Her fearfulness picks up in intensity as the story progresses.

(Image via Classic–Movies)

It’s unclear throughout the film whether the spirits in the home are truly evil, or the governess is simply losing her mind. Miles and Flora teeter between charmingly, joyously juvenile and pretty strange. Are they truly possessed?

With Kerr’s performance and collection of other odd characters (Quint, Ms. Jessel) and happenings (Flora humming in the night and delighting in watching a spider eat a butterfly), the film doesn’t need to rely on big jump scares or gore to be effectively spooky. There are many frightening and suspenseful moments, plus more that are just plain creepy.

It’s clear that the house and its inhabitants have plenty of secrets, adding to the film’s feeling of dread. The expansiveness of the house itself, with all of its dark corners, is used to great effect, even further enhancing the film’s mood.

(Image via BFI)

After giving The Innocents a second look, it’s most memorable to me thanks to its wonderfully-built atmosphere and that stunning performance by Deborah Kerr. I’m not sure I’d place it on my own top 11 horror list like Scorsese, but it’s definitely an effective film, and one that would land among my longer list of favorites.