Thursday, January 14, 2010

Film #8: The Innocents (1961)

Children are friggin' creepy.
I mean, just look at ‘em.
They’ve been creepy from the start. Squirming and growing inside a woman’s abdomen!? Like some sort hybrid Alien creature? Ewww. After birth (now THAT is horror), babies take to snot covered upper lips and constant ear-piercing screams. Unsettling, to say the least.
And even if you are the nicest, most kind parent, who’s to say your spawn won’t spaz one day and stab you in your sleep -- merely for denying them late-night ice cream? After all, they have access to your unguarded bedroom.
See -- Creeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy.

Still, most tykes aren’t nearly as frightening as the chilling children featured in the 1961 movie “The Innocents.” Now these kids will make you mess your underoos. In the flick, middle-aged spinster Miss Giddens is hired by an insanely wealthy Londoner to take care of his eeire niece and nephew, Flora and Miles, in a beautiful countryside mansion. The brats’ parents kicked the bucket, and were forced upon richie in spite of much protest. Not wanting anything to do with children (smart man), the uncle sent his wards away to his country home. But after their first nanny mysteriously croaked, a replacement was needed to look after the innocent cubs. Cue Miss Giddens, a woman who had always wanted children but could never trick a man to sleep with her. Now all of a sudden look what she’s got. Two seemingly perfect angels under her care. The run of a huge mansion on a beautiful estate. All the tea and crumpets she can shove into her wrinkled face. Big pimpin’, right?!

Wellllllllllllllllll, this is a horror movie after all. Soon those little angels start to show their true colors, and we aren’t talking petty arguments over bedtimes or tracking mud in from the garden. Spooky ghost sightings begin, horrific tales of past deaths in the mansion are reveled, and Miss Giddens soon suspects those tiny humans under her care might just contain more than one devilish soul. Weirdo kids abound in the 1961 mind-freak “The Innocents.”

The Low-Down:
This one is ahead of its time, for subject matter alone. The RDHP is just gonna put it out there, right now, and let it sit on your mind like a fat man on a bicycle seat. This film features twinges of woman-boy love. And we are not talking Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher oh-you-go-miss-moore-gettin’-yo-self-some-young-man-meat cougar action. This is middle-aged woman and nine-year-old boy action. Yikes.
Now, let’s be fair. This is not the main subject of the movie, just a side plot that makes perfect sense in the context of this ghost story. This is also 1961, and nothing graphic is shown or even suggested. We hate to give away spoilers, so we’ll just have to leave you wondering how this film's context can shape pedophilia. But it does. And that is one of its greatest qualities.
The Innocents should be a cliché ghost story. The premise seems so worn. Somewhat unstable woman takes care of children in a haunted house. Screams ensue. Roll credits. But this one is much more complex. The cinematography and direction make the film enchanting to watch. Gorgeous English countryside doesn’t hurt either. There were sections of this film when various images of the ghosts gave some in the RDHP literal chills.
Setting goes so far in horror films, and this is no exception. The sometimes painfully slow build of tension as Miss Giddens figures out “What the fudge is up with those kids” is complemented by atmospheric visuals and excellent acting by all. Child actors usually make the RDHP puke their popcorn. But the performances by the actors who portray Flora and Miles is perfect, with just the right mixture of innocence and drama that is called for in the script.

The movie itself is not perfect, however. Some of the dialog was trite and awkward. The middle sections of the film needed a swig of 5-Hour-Energy, and the “why” certain things were happening to the children could have been spelled out in a clearer way.
The movie is good, but what makes it near great is the last 30 seconds, which overshadows the first hour and thirty minutes. Those 30 seconds surprise you, shock maybe. It was an ending that had the RDHP saying “Oh no you didn’t!?” We think they did, and we think Miss Giddens might just be the founding member NAWBLA (North American Woman/Boy Love Association). Talk about creepy.

RDHP Ratings:
C-Rating: 4.4
Chris Dimick cries: “Leave it to the early 1960s to knock my socks off with a surprisingly fresh, cutting edge and enthralling horror film. The Innocents made me long for the days when movie makers didn’t sacrifice art and substance for effects and sleaze. Just let me get out my soap box here, ugh, UGH, okay, I’m up and ready to rant: New horror films too often rely on gore, violence and shock to ‘scare’ viewers. This has been the case since the early 1970s, but the problem is films like Saw XXVI push the gross gauge further back each time, and we’ve gotten to the point that there is nowhere left to go in torture porn. That crap has just stopped being scary. The older films, like The Innocents, instead relies on atmosphere, tension and plot development to render screams. All those things you learned about in English literature class. And this one still shocks, but for much more subtle reasons. Not perfect, a little slow. But wow, what an ending!”

N-Rating: 3.5
Nick Rich cries: "The thing that made this one all the creepier to me is that my wife wants to have some of these!!! I too enjoyed this flick and while its ending totally redeemed the snails pace that is the first third of the movie, I couldn't bring myself to go quite as high as Chris did in his rating. FYI Chris ain't lying - little British kids in the 60's could act! This film had a constant trickle of creepiness thanks to the tots who were always just a bit off... their behavior felt like a splinter in your mind that you couldn't quite reach to pull out, making Miss Giddens' mounting desperation all the more palpable. Throw in some disturbing spook sightings, interesting camera shots and wild speculation as to what's going on and you have yourself a rodeo! Yee-haw! The Skinny: check this flick out if you're in the mood for a twisted Disney movie, cause Pollyanna takes the gloves off in this one!

Quote of the Viewing:
[Scene: First time caregiver Miss Giddens' actions have driven a girl insane and killed a young boy. She holds the dead boy in her arms, frozen in shock.]
Nick: “I think she is gonna have a hard time finding another job as a nanny.”

Appetizer Clip:
Here's a quick scene to give you a flavor for the deliciousness that is this feature film.
Note: When kids start to sing freaky tunes, you know the hurt is comin'!

Other Children the RDHP Find Creepy:
- The Olsen Twins (You still waiting for them to turn 18, creeper?)
- Zack and Cody
- Dakota Fanning (She carries on the tradition of The Innocents by being a disturbingly articulate child)
- Rahm Emanuel (he’s a kid, right?)
- The Grady Twins
- Tweens (All of them. Hormones, yuk!)
- That Jerry Macuire kid (Why do parents dress children up like adults? CREEPY!)
- Any of Michael Jackson's "kids" (Like father like son? Dear heavens, let’s hope not)

Things the RDHP Learned from “The Innocents”:
- Facing your demons is more than just an expression. It literally works!
- Domestic violence is not something that should be openly discussed
- Children will try to kill you during hide and seek
- Daytime ghost sightings are even scarier than nighttime - you can't ignore/rationalize them!
- If God doesn’t like you, and you die, you become a ghost
- Rich city men HATE orphans
- Never accept a job where your boss says you can never leave their employ (they don't end well!)

Nick's True Story Corner:
One enchanted summer night in my youth, two friends and I decided to watch some horror films in a trailer located in the middle of the woods in northern Michigan (great idea right?). After a few films and well beyond the witching hour, we decided it would be a great idea to take turns sitting in the woods alone on a stump for 20 minutes apiece. Left alone with only our thoughts, the thick night air and fog curling over the moonlit landscape, we unanimously decided thereafter what the most horrifying thing to encounter in that moment would have been: singing children.

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