The Haunting of Helen Walker, a 1995 made-for-TV gothic horror movie

turn of the screw by henry james - famous ghost story on which many horror movies are basedThe Haunting of Helen Walker, a 1995 made-for-TV movie, is based on a novella by Henry James: The Turn of the Screw, which is often studied by literature buffs. Another famous horror movie based on The Turn of the Screw was The Innocents (1961, U.K.).

The Innocents is generally regarded as the strongest film based on The Turn of the Screw.

Synopsis of The Haunting of Helen Walker
Helen Walker, a young American woman, is hired as a governess for two English children, a boy and a girl, whose parents are dead. The children live with their many servants in an old English mansion. Gradually Helen notices the weird behavior of the children and finds out that some strange events from the past seem to be haunting the present and concentrating on the children…

Which movie adaptation of Turn of the Screw is best? – The Straight Dope

Quint at the Window: A comparison of 4 different film versions of The Turn of the Screw – YouTube

Resources: The Haunting of Helen Walker, 1995 made-for-TV gothic horror

Magic, 1978 psychological horror film

poster from Magic, a psychological horror film from 1978 starring Anthony HopkinsCountry:
Directed by: Richard Attenborough
Writer: William Goldman
Horror themes: Insanity/madness, failure, fear, ventriloquism dummy, murder
Verdict: 7/10… As a TV ad way back when, the trailer scared me and my young friends to death. Ventriloquism dummies have creeped me out ever since Magic and a certain Twilight Zone episode.
Tagline: Keep telling yourself it’s only a movie.
Reception: Magic 1978 received positive reviews from critics: It received a certified fresh 83% on Rotten Tomatoes; the New York Times wrote, “Magic is neither eerie nor effective. It is, however, very heavy of hand.” Gene Siskel (of Siskel & Ebert) gave the film a very positive review, ranking it #9 on his list of the 10 best films of 1978.

Trailer #2: Magic, 1978 – A terrifying love story (YouTube)

Plot summary: Magic, 1978 psychological horror film

Charles “Corky” Withers (Anthony Hopkins) is a spectacular failure in his first attempt at professional magic, gradually finding himself increasingly at the mercy of Fats (voice of Anthony Hopkins), the ventriloquism dummy. Corky’s agent, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith), is on the verge of signing Corky for his own television show, but he seeks refuge from his new found fame, dodging the possibility he’ll have to take any kind of psychological test. Corky heads for the isolated mountain retreat in the Catskills run by his high school love, Peggy Ann Snow (Ann Margret), in hopes of starting a new life; but finds that Fats, who has developed a mind of his own and wants to control his master, has no intentions of letting him off so easy.

Resources: Magic, 1978 psychological horror film

The Innocents, 1961 psychological horror

Country: Britain
Director: Jack Clayton
Verdict: 85/100… Excellent, chilling horror classic
Until now, I’d found it rather unlikely that I could be creeped out by a so-called horror movie as old as 1961… Not that I think that pre-70s horror always fails to be frightful; I was scared half to death on more than one occasion by Twilight Zone episodes and the like. But now, at age 42, I am a bona-fide horror movie junkie – I have a real addiction to movies featuring those things that go bump in the night – and as such, sometimes I feel a bit jaded. Well, suffice to say that 1961’s The Innocents retains its creepiness, even today.

The Innocents, 1961 horror: Scariest scene (2:46, YouTube)

Plot summary of The Innocents

In late 19th century England, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) becomes governess of Flora, a young, orphaned girl living in a lonely stately gothic mansion inhabited only by the child, the housekeeper, Ms. Grose (Megs Jenkins), along with a small contingent of servants. Her initial misgivings allayed by the child’s angelic nature, her anxieties are once more aroused when the girl’s brother, Miles – equally captivating, but oddly clever and flirtatious for such a young boy – is sent home from boarding school for serious misbehavior of an unknown sort.

Eerie apparitions and inexplicable behavior on the children’s part cause her to wonder about the house’s history, especially about the fate of the previous governess, Miss Jessel and the former valet, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde). She fears for the children’s souls and for her own sanity. Miss Giddens comes to believe that the spirits of Jessel and Quint are possessing the children. Convinced that there is an unnatural force at work, perverting the innocence of her charges, she sets out to secure the children’s salvation by wresting them from its power. Though her struggle reaches a resolution of sorts, the real nature and outcome the the clash ultimately remains ambiguous, as intended by the film’s director.

The Innocents, 1961 horror: Scary scenes (9:36, YouTube)

Miles’ poem from The Innocents

This was the poem recited by Miles, the young boy in the psychological horror film The Innocents. It’s beautiful and even more than that, it’s creepy as hell. . . you simply must watch The Innocents to receive the full effect of the poem. (Thanks to YouTube and embedded HTML code, you can watch it here, now – just scroll down a bit…)

At first, the governess is smiling, impressed at the cute little boy reciting this poem; however, by poem’s end, she’s no longer smiling. . .

What shall I sing to my lord from my window?
What shall I sing, for my lord will not stay?
What shall I sing, for my lord will not listen?
Where shall I go, for my lord is away?

Whom shall I love when the moon is arisen?
Gone is my lord, and the grave is his prison.
What shall I say when my lord comes a-calling?
What shall I say when he knocks on my door?

What shall I say when his feet enter softly,
Leaving the marks of his grave on my floor?
Enter my lord, come from your prison.
Come from your grave, for the moon is arisen.

[Whispers]: Welcome, my lord…

The Innocents, 1961: Miles recites creepy poem (1:13, YouTube)

Psychological horror, supernatural horror – or both?

It’s my take that The Innocents is both psychological horror and supernatural horror – that is, I believe the 1961 film does include a legitimate haunting, that the ghosts were there – not just in the mind of the governess. However, I think it is important to note that the film was designed to require the viewer to make his or her own interpretation on this.

Resources: The Innocents, 1961 gothic supernatural horror film

Originally written Monday, March 16, 2009

Dorothy Mills, 2008 U.K. supernatural horror film

movie posters, covers - Dorothy Mills, 2008 U.K. supernatural horror movieCountry: Ireland
Written and directed by: Agnès Merlet [Agnès Merlet films – Amazon]
Verdict: 7/10… Wow, what a pleasant surprise! Dorothy Mills was a very worthwhile horror movie – one which I’ll probably watch again.

Plot summary of of Dorothy Mills ( clash between science and religion is waged over the fate of Dorothy Mills, a mentally ill teen, in this thriller from writer and director Agnès Merlet. When a gloomy, God-fearing island community is rocked by the murder of a young child, a psychologist is called in to examine Dorothy Mills, the teenager accused of the crime. Despite the villagers’ resistance, the therapist soon suspects that Dorothy suffers from multiple personality disorder. But when the girl speaks in the voice of the woman’s own deceased son, what first seemed like madness may – as the locals believe – be Dorothy channeling the dead. A spine-chilling blend of psychological thriller and gothic terror, Dorothy Mills is eerie, suspenseful, and truly frightening.

movie stills - Dorothy Mills, 2008 U.K. supernatural horror movie

There are two things that stand out the most to me about Dorothy Mills: the nonconformity of the film and the enticing psychiatrist. One of the best characteristics of Dorothy Mills is its originality, a trait that often seems quite rare in the horror genre these days. It did not seem like a rehash or even standard plot device, apart from the broad theme of revenge; the movie felt clever and innovative to this supernatural horror fan.

Second, the actor portraying the shrink – the woman who comes to the remote island to evaluate the mental state of Dorothy Mills – is a real looker. Carice van Houten was unknown to me prior to this film, and it was a pure pleasure to watch this alluring woman onscreen. Having a sexy class act like Carice van Houten in a horror movie almost always adds to the overall experience. Fortunately, Dorothy Mills delivered much more than just uniqueness and eye candy, though.

movie stills - Dorothy Mills, 2008 U.K. supernatural horror movieWhat kinds of scares does Dorothy deliver? Well, you can probably watch it at night without creeping yourself out too much. I was not twisted into a knot on the couch during this movie as I was for Quarantine. In other words, while for me Quarantine was gripping, terrifying, serving up large doses of scream-inducing, edge-of-your seat horror, Dorothy Mills was unsettling, mysterious, and even creepy. Chances are you have not yet seen Quarantine, though, but it’s on the forefront of my mind right now; I finished watching it less than an hour ago.

movie stills - Dorothy Mills, 2008 U.K. supernatural horror moviePostscript: I’ve since watched [REC] and [REC]2: They’re fantastic, and [REC] – the Spanish original – is definitely superior to Quarantine (as originals usually are). But that’s not to disparage Quarantine; I enjoyed that horror film, and more recently, Quarantine 2: Terminal. I thought it was interesting that the [REC] movies had a strong religious/evil theme which was not employed as a plot element in the American remake Quarantine.

DVD cover

Evil Takes on Many Forms in Dorothy Mills“A contemporary take on The Exorcist” (Variety), a teenage girl is accused of trying to strangle her neighbor’s baby with no recollection of the incident in Agnès Merlet’s (Artemisia) thriller Dorothy Mills

Carice van Houten (Body of Lies, Valkyrie) stars as Jane Morton, a psychiatrist mourning the tragic death of her husband and son, who is assigned to work on the mysterious case of Dorothy Mills. When she travels from Dublin to meet with the troubled teenager, she discovers a village plagued by strange events and a horrid past. It isn’t until Dorothy speaks to her in the voice of her own dead son that Jane considers the possibility that the girl possesses powers that exist beyond the realm of psychiatry.

Resources: Dorothy Mills, 2008 U.K. horror movie

Originally written on Saturday, April 04, 2009