Eloy de la Iglesia’s 1985 adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, Otra Vuelta de Tuerca, is almost forgotten today, and about as difficult to find as two critics who agree on the meaning of Henry James’s novella. The print of the film that is surreptitiously passed from collector to collector over the internet comes from a rare TV screening with home-made subtitles added. Despite the occasional drop out in picture and/or sound, it is seemingly the only version out there in circulation, and so rather precious.
Not only is the film largely unknown, but so is de la Iglesia himself. Perhaps his best known works outside Spain are Forbidden Love Games (1975) and Murder in a Blue World (1976). Both are rather over-the-top dramas with more than a dash of exploitation movie thrown in for good measure. A handful of de la Iglesia’s late 1970s and early 1980s queer dramas were released in America on DVD at one point, but from poor quality prints, with even poorer subtitling, and have long been out of print. His adaptation of The Turn of the Screw seems to be a mix of his two earlier styles – thoughtful drama mixed with elements of sex and sexuality.
This 1985 adaptation of The Turn of the Screw borrows a great deal from The Innocents, as perhaps would be expected. However, some significant changes are made. Firstly, the governess at the centre of the story is now a male school master and, secondly, the children are portrayed as older than in the previous, acclaimed adaptation. Asier Hernández was fourteen when he played Mikel (Miles in the original) in the film (and looks older), whereas Martin Stephens was twelve in the 1961 version.
The change in gender within the central role is key to de la Iglesia’s vision – the repressed sexuality in the first film is now repressed homosexuality, and the back story involving the teacher having recently failed to become a priest only encourages that reading. The older age of Mikel provides added threat to the naïve and out-of-his-depth teacher, with him seemingly attempting to seduce the teacher at every opportunity, but in a way that appears to be more plausible than in the earlier film. However, as with the ghosts themselves, is this “seduction” all in the mind of the teacher or actually happening? By the end of the film, the viewer is not any clearer, but that’s hardly surprising in an adaptation of James’s tale.
What is perhaps most surprising here, especially to those who have seen the director’s other work, is how low key the film is. While not as subtle as The Innocents, de la Iglesia takes his film at a stately pace and avoids the pitfalls of trying to scare the viewer – or shock them. We find out even less about Quint and Miss Jessel here than in other adaptations, and certainly know very little about their supposed corruption of the children. Despite his early work involving elements of exploitation cinema, de la Iglesia avoids that kind of material here almost completely.
What perhaps is most surprising about the film is that I like it nearly as much as The Innocents. That, to some, may be sacrilegious. However, the gender change of the protagonist is an interesting twist, but not used as a cheap gimmick. Instead, it allows the director to explore his own themes and motifs. Forbidden Love Games, from 1975, sees a teacher effectively kidnapping two teenaged students and corrupting them with the games of the title until they actually like what they are being made to do. The film has shades of Salo, but also of Michael Winner’s ludicrous prequel to The Turn of the Screw, The Nightcomers. Otra Vuelta de Tuerca is not as explicit as Forbidden Love Games, but the same motifs seem to lurk within the back story, even if they are rarely seen with the exception of the bathroom scene involving the two children.
In short, de la Iglesia’s adaptation of the James novella finds the director reaching maturity within his filmmaking. No, it’s not as subtle – or as scary – as The Innocents, and the cinematography isn’t as beautiful, but the movie is a fine effort within its own right and not when viewed as just a remake. If you can find a copy, it is well worth a watch…with the lights out, preferably.