- David Thompson

Welcome to the blog for FROM OUT OF THE SHADOWS a season of films celebrating the Gothic on film. Below you'll find more information on the films themselves, and why we think they're worth your attention. Click on the titles in the 'WHAT'S ON' section to see write-ups on each of the films that we're showing, while if you look back in the Archive Section, you'll find a little more about the Gothic in relation to the city where we're screening and the odd extra tidbit that we couldn't quite fit in anywhere else. Have a good look around. We hope you find it interesting. With any luck we'll see you there... it's going to be a lot of fun.

Monday, 21 September 2009


DIR: Jack Clayton
UK/US 1961 100mins (12A)

THE INNOCENTS (1961) is probably the finest ghost story ever put on film.

Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING (1963) runs a very close second (Mario Bava’s KILL BABY... KILL! (1966) and Guillermo Del Toro’s THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001) are fighting it out for third).

Between the two of them you can pretty much see where Kubrick stole everything that works about THE SHINING (1980). That is, everything that’s actually spooky, unnerving or scary.

Kubrick however is too much the rationalist to fully embrace Horror as a genre. It’s the irrational that scares us most here. The unknown. The dark. Primitive fears perhaps, but ones that remain despite centuries of intellectual probing.

It’s the dark, the shadows that are so beautiful and so terrifying in THE INNOCENTS, filmed in glorious black and white by Freddie Francis. But even more terrifying are the moments when our fears step out of the shadows, to stand before us in the daylight, staring back at us unblinking. Such are two of the key moments in THE INNOCENTS, as a dead woman is seen standing at the far side of lake amid the reeds/rushes watching us. And in the school room, when Miss Giddens – our protagonist, played by Deborah Kerr – hears weeping from behind her and turns to see the same dead woman sitting at a desk, crying.

A moment later the dead woman is gone, perhaps was never there. Perhaps, was little more than a shade on poor Miss Giddens’ mind; a trick of the light; a momentary daydream... but as she approaches the desk to clear away the slate the children left behind, she finds it wet. The tiny splash mark of a single tear [has been left behind]...

It is one of the most beautiful scenes in horror, one of the most perfectly filmed. And let us make no bones about it, this IS a horror movie. It is trying to scare you. But it is not one of the baser examples of the genre. It is Horror at its most refined, its most adult. It is terror. It is goose bumps on your arms, it is the tightening of your scalp, it is the small but audible and entirely uncontrolled gasp of realisation that what you fear is real. It is the cinematic equivalent of the short stories of M.R. James. It is every bit as good as THE TURN OF THE SCREW, the Henry James novella on which it is based. It is one of the most refined, most intelligent, and most perfectly realised horror films ever made.

You’re in for a treat.

It was made in 1961 by director Jack Clayton – best known at the time for Social Realist picture ROOM AT THE TOP (1959) – from a script by John Mortimer and Truman Capote, though it was Capote who added the final layer of Gothic detailing, the multitude of watchful cherubs that sometimes crawl with insects; the flowers in the house that are always shedding petals, especially when touched by Miss Giddens.

It takes some of the hoariest of Gothic clichés and breathes life into them by playing them as absolutely serious, absolutely real. Miss Giddens exploring the darkened house at night, candelabra in hand, dressed in flowing white nightgown is – out of context – surely the most clichéd thing imaginable. But in the hands of Jack Clayton and Freddie Francis, as acted by Deborah Kerr and Peter Wyngarde, and in the context it is given in Capote’s writing, it is superb. It is everything it out to be. Everything the genre CAN be. Wonderful, and magical, and terrifying.
But Clayton and Capote take the film beyond the usual clichés, even those they’ve brought new life to.

They play up the ambiguity. Is this real? Or is it all in Miss Giddens’ mind? A haughty uptight governess of religious upbringing, probably a virgin, alone in a rambling house with only a house keeper and her two charges... and the memory, the taint of something wicked, something sexual in the figures who haunt the place, literally or metaphorically; it’s left almost entirely for you to decide.

The performances are pitch perfect all around. Deborah Kerr is absolutely at the top of her game, while the children are nuanced and understated, Clayton being sure to portray them not as demonic, but merely as children. Only the circumstances and inferences surrounding them begin to make us think they might be more than they seem...

And here again is the brilliance of Clayton’s approach. He resolutely refuses to take the easy route, to go for anything like cheap thrills. As a result, the inference is so much darker, and stranger. Have the children been abused? Are they in fact possessed? Are they simply shadows/reflections of the former governess – Miss Jessel - and wicked valet Peter Quint? Both of who are dead, but whose influence and character continues to pervade... tainting the isolated splendour of Bly House.

Do their ghosts still walk these halls, and perhaps inhabit the children’s flesh?

Or is Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) losing her mind? Is her repressed Victorian facade beginning to crack?

Is she, ultimately, the villain of this piece? Or the victim? Watch and see. There’s very little certainty. The ball is in your court.


Text by Neil Snowdon

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