Resurrecting an Unsung Horror Gem


It’s 1961, and Brit New Waver Jack Clayton makes a lavishly
appointed 20th Century Fox movie version of Henry James’s The Turn
of the Screw
, using a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote; it
garners a few mild salutes, does its business, and no one’s paid it
much mind since. But is it the finest, smartest, most visually savvy
horror film ever made by a big studio? Deborah Kerr is the sexually
straitjacketed governess subject to either the ghastly duplicity of her
dead-eyed charges (Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin) or the
threatening ghosts of the estate’s previous servants—or both—and it
might be the most unforgettable performance by a British actress in its
decade. Clayton’s filmmaking, mustering frisson by both candle and
blazing daylight, could serve as an object lesson in its genre. Only
Robert Wise’s The Haunting, out two years later, came close to
its edge-of-sight menace, repressed gothic angst, and all-suggestion
creep-outs. Fox is also releasing eight other seasonal, bargain-priced
library titles, including William Castle’s penny-wise carny show
House on Haunted Hill (1958) and the very odd, Robert
Bloch–written The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), a Rod Serling–era
remake of the German expressionist classic by way of cheap-modernist
decor and psychoanalytic disorientation. It’s something of an obscure
sister film to Carnival of Souls—a woman’s interiorized
dreamsong of aimlessness and persecution