Top Horror Films – #28 – The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter
1955; directed by Charles Laughton; screenplay by James Agee, from the novel by Davis Grubb

Allen: A haunting masterpiece. Charles Laughton’s first and only directorial feature, the film was not a success at first, but over the decades has become acknowledged as one of the best and most visually stunning films ever made. Robert Mitchum plays the iconic preacher Harry Powell, a psychopath with the famous “Love/Hate” tattoos burned in to his knuckles, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even going to the point of killing his own wife.

Brandi: The recent ex-con and self-appointed preacher Harry Powell, intensely portrayed by the great Mitchum in one of his most iconic roles, is the kind of real-life bogeyman all of us, child or adult, should be terrified of. Determined to uncover the location of a stash of stolen money he learned of from his cell mate, he manipulates and marries the hanged man’s widow (Shelley Winters) to get close to her son, the only person who knows where the money is. His relentless campaign of intimidation and brutality leads the boy and his little sister to seek help from an old woman who cares for orphans (Lillian Gish). She and her shotgun become their only defense against the madman.

Dramatically and beautifully stylized in its visuals, the film calls back to the best of German Expressionist horror films, among other Gothic genres. It disturbs in a sensual way. Every performance is perfect, and watching Gish, one of the most famous stars of silent cinema, play off of Mitchum, a bad boy of 1950s Hollywood, is a singular treat. As not just a favorite horror film, but one of my favorite films of all time, I consider it one of the greatest losses in film history that the poor initial reception caused Charles Laughton to never helm another film.

Team Rankings:
Brandi – #8
Allen – #9


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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