Ghost Movie of the Month: The Innocents

The Innocents (1961)
Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw
Screenplay: Truman Capote
Starring: Deborah Kerr

If you’re looking for the perfect babysitter ghost movie, here it is.

Actually, it’s embodiment of a babysitter’s worst nightmare. An isolated house. No power. Polite kids who periodically turn creepy. Ghostly figures. A guardian who doesn’t show up when he says he would. I was mesmerized by this atmospheric tale of child care gone terribly awry.

I was, in fact, babysitting the first time I saw this movie. I was under18—I abandoned the care of strangers’ kids after I started college at 17—and I don’t remember what poor kid had been commended to my care for that evening, but I’m quite sure I didn’t miss any moment of this movie.

In the late nineteenth century, Miss Giddens (played by the great Deborah Kerr) is hired to care for Flora (Pamela Franklin) and her brother, Miles (Martin Stephens). The mansion in which she is sent to work is a bit out of the way, a bit bleak, and inhabited only by Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper (Megs Jenkins), and one or two servants . . . and Flora, a bright, young girl. Mrs. Grose welcomes Miss Giddens warmly, and Flora seems charming, beautifully behaved, a willing student.

Miss Giddens cannot believe her good fortune.

Than, a short time later, Flora’s brother, Miles, is sent home from school for an incident of moral turpitude that is never clearly explained and which both Miss Giddens and the housekeep dismiss as a misunderstanding on the part of the school staff.

And at first this seems to be the case. Miles is as cheerful, well-behaved, and charming as his sister. The children frolic in the house and gardens, attend their lessons, and all seems well.

Of course, occasionally Miles says things that are . . . well, odd. And Miss Giddens begins to believe the siblings are engaged in a giggling, whispered conspiracy to keep secrets from their governess.

Much worse, however, is the appearance of figures who seem to come and go at will. In the garden, birds suddenly fall silent, and a man appears whom, later, when told of the incident by Miss Giddens, the housekeeper identifies as Quint, a valet now dead who was believed to have exercised a corrupting influence on Miles. Quint’s lover, Miss Jessel, dead of suicide, appears on the small island in the ornamental lake, still and observant. In fact, with one exception, these revenants are seen only from a distance. We cannot see them clearly at first, nor do we know where they will turn up next, and the uncertainty heightens the sense of foreboding.

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Ghost Story of the Month: The Paranormalists, Case 1: The Haunting of Apartment 101

Who says a ghost story has to (a) be long to deliver a few chills and decent character development, or (b) be peopled with sympathetic protagonists? Not me. And certainly not Megan Atwood, author of The Paranormalists, Case 1: The Haunting of Apartment 101.

I came across this 2012 book in my favorite way, browsing through library shelves and taking a chance. I immediately liked the tone of the blog entries that lead off the story: brash, defiant, and funny. My enthusiasm dipped, however, in the next chapter, as Jinx, principal protagonist, made an entrance that wobbled wildly. One moment she’s humorously critical and the next she descends into an unoriginal, whiny, pain in the ass, and while one might say teenagers—and adults—do, in fact, run this gamut, I found myself wondering if Atwood meant this wobbling to last throughout the book, or if, in writing this quick book, she occasionally went for easy moments of characterization rather than working for a consistent wit and self-awareness within her principal protagonist. What saved Jinx in my eyes, and kept the book from being thrown across the room, was the compassion she shows for her faithful from-childhood-friend, Jackson, still grieving the death of his father.

I read on.

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The Paranormalists, Case 1: The Haunting of Apartment 101 Book Cover The Paranormalists, Case 1: The Haunting of Apartment 101
Megan Atwood
Juvenile Fiction
Darby Creek Pub

When popular, pretty classmate asks best friends Jinx and Jackson, high school sophomores, to investigate a haunting at her father's apartment, Jackson is sympathetic and convinces Jinx to trust him, despite her skepticism about Emily's true intentions.

Cemetery of the Month: Graceland, Chicago, IL

Founded in 1860, Graceland Cemetery boasts the graves of the well-known (Alan Pinkerton, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marshall Field, Jack Johnson) and the relatively obscure (Augustus Dickens, the younger brother of Charles, and Kate Warn, the national’s first female private detective, employed by Pinkerton).

Sadly, there are no ghosts. None, at least, whose stories are the least credible. Oh, there are rumors of a little girl, Inez Clark, whose statue is said to disappear from its glass case every so often, but the debunking of this story has been discouragingly thorough. For one thing, the body underneath the statue is a young boy named Amos Briggs (although this is disputed), and the statue itself is thought to have been an advertisement, placed in the cemetery by an enterprising sculptor and monument maker, Andrew Gagel.

Advertising in cemeteries . . . an idea whose time will no doubt roll around again. Which is why the body of Ogarita will be tossed into the flames of the nearest crematory, then scattered to the winds or, if possible, in the direction of George Clooney.

In Graceland, one can also visit a delightful statue, Eternal Silence, that stands atop the aptly named and long-deceased Dexter Graves.

Chicago, Illinois Eternal Silence1

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