48. “The Night of the Hunter”, Charles Laughton (1955)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter

dir. Charles Laughton scr. James Agee based on the novel by Davis Grubb cin. Stanley Cortez with Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lilian Gish, Billy Chapin

In 100 words: There’s something so perverse about Robert Mitchum’s serial killer Reverend Harry Powell that nags at me—his preaching is so out of step with his murdering instincts, yet oddly fits with his religious nonsense. Laughton’s singular horror classic strikes a similar chord: its expressionistic use of space and design recalls Weimar cinema, while his ideal American small-town community looks and feels artificial. All of these though work to create a claustrophobic atmosphere—Laughton heightens Mitchum’s treacherous presence and the noirish lighting and play with shadows as an ever-encroaching danger to the kids and the community. Brilliant, absolutely terrifying, and unforgettable.

Other Movies for Context: William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) plays with the same light and dark themes that this movie did, with its interesting angles and lighting. Another similarly odd movie is Touch of Evil (1958) by Orson Welles, which has the same ambiguous ideas about right and wrong, and even a similar style as well. The Night of the Hunter, however, recalls The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) by Robert Weine and Nosferatu (1922) by F.W. Murnau–both sensational films that derived its terror from the expressionistic use of design that Hunter takes its cues from.

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