Insomnia File #58: The Haunting of Helen Walker (dir by Tom McLoughlin)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night, you could have gotten on YouTube and watched 1995’s The Haunting of Helen Walker!

What’s it about?  Read on but stop me if this sounds familiar.

In Victorian-era England, a somewhat neurotic young woman is hired to serve as the governess for two children who live in a foreboding estate. Once the governess arrives, she discovers that the children — especially little Miles — can be a handful. She also discovers that there was a governess hired before her, a governess who died under mysterious circumstances. At night, the new governess hears strange noises and soon, she becomes convinced that she’s seen the ghosts of both her predecessor and the old governess’s lover, Peter Quint. Everyone else may think that the new governess has allowed the isolation of the estate to get to her but she’s convinced that the ghosts have possessed the children! She becomes determined to save the children, even at the risk of their own lives….

If that sounds familiar, then you’ve either read Henry James’ Turn of the Screw or you’ve seen one of the several movies that were based on his novella. The Haunting of Helen Walker, which was made-for-television and initially broadcast in 1995, reimagines James’s unnamed governess as Helen Walker, an American woman played by Valerie Bertinelli. The Haunting of Helen Walker also differs from its source material in that it leaves little doubt about the fact that the ghosts are real and the children have been possessed. While the novella is deliberately unclear about whether the governess is correct or if she’s just hallucinating, The Haunting of Helen Walker has little use for such ambiguity.

Still, if you can accept the changes to the source material, The Haunting of Helen Walker is an entertaining and atmospheric ghost story. Director Tom McLoughlin doesn’t waste any time getting to the action and Christopher Guard makes for an appropriately brooding and dangerous Peter Quint. At first, it’s a bit jarring to hear Valerie Bertenelli’s American accent in what is essentially the epitome of a British ghost story but she gets better as the film progresses and she does an especially good job during the film’s dramatic climax. Finally, Diana Rigg does a great job playing the estate’s intimidating housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. She’s skeptical of Helen from the minute she arrives and the fact that Helen says she can see ghosts doesn’t do much to improve Mrs. Grose’s opinion.

In the end, this is an entertaining, if hardly definitive, take on Henry James’s novella. Having been made for 90s television, it actually has to be rather restrained in its shocks but that actually works to the film’s advantage, forcing the movie to rely on atmosphere over jump scares. The Haunting of Helen Walker is currently on YouTube and it’s fine viewing for a rainy night.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud
  55. FTA
  56. Exterminators of the Year 3000
  57. Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster

2 responses to “Insomnia File #58: The Haunting of Helen Walker (dir by Tom McLoughlin)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 10/24/22 — 10/30/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Insomnia File #59: True Spirit (dir by Sarah Spillane) | Through the Shattered Lens

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