With The Innocents on DVD, we can give this beautifully eerie (and eerily beautiful) British ghost story the repeated viewings it demands and deserves. We can finally match our memories against its layers of teasing images and sounds to explore its more conversation-starting elements.
In so doing, I've discovered something I hadn't noticed previously: The hands. The prayer-clutched hands in the opening credits. Deborah Kerr's prim but high-strung governess repeatedly reaching out and disrupting the roses. A ghoulish garden statue clutching a pair of broken stone hands in its own (before an insect scuttles out of its mouth).
Then finally, at the moment where the film's slowly built dread could not squeeze any tighter, a shot of a single hand wrenches everything we think we know and, perhaps, puts the film's famous central question — are the ghosts real? — to rest for good.
My vote for one of the most intelligent and evocative ghost stories ever filmed, Jack Clayton's adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw is cryptic in ways that force us to find clues insinuated in single lines of dialogue, or in the spaces between the lines. It's a movie that speaks in ellipses, not exclamation points. It sneaks under your skin, subtly and suggestively portraying something sinister and perverse that may exist only in the protagonist's head, but that doesn't mean it can't mess with yours. Last October at The Daily Beast, Martin Scorsese placed The Innocents on his personal list of 11 scariest movies.
The longer she loses herself in the house's solitude, and the more she interacts with her strange and precocious charges (instant standouts Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin), the more she suspects that the dead couple are "abominations" still corrupting, even possessing, the two orphaned children who adored them.