Friday, October 14, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #18 Night of the Hunter

Why I like it: There are a few reasons and I should probably premise this with the fact that I saw this movie quite young (as I was when I saw a lot of slasher films). This one attached itself to me. Some movies scare you for about 24 hours. According to Hideo Nakata, these are effective horror movies. Some movies stay with you your entire life. That is what I define as effective horror.

Charles Laughton masterfully directed this 1955 thriller which has a deranged crook/preacher coming after the family of a man he was imprisoned with in order to get his money. Incidentally, Laughton was so upset with the lack of success of this movie he vowed never to direct again. And stuck by it (somewhere in here there's a Battlefield Earth joke)!

I have to admit that this is a last minute entry into the list. I had initially penned Robert Mitchum's 1962 masterpiece Cape Fear into this humble spot until I remembered this movie.

Mitchum is a more terrifying character in Cape Fear but I think Night of the Hunter is better directed and had a more lasting impact on me. We see the surreal nature of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari creeping into this film. Not overtly, but with the sharp black/white contrasts, use of shadows, over-the-top acting and painted two dimensional backdrops it is a little uneasy. It isn't made to seem real like so many other horror movies.

Mitchum is hunting this family as he knows one of them knows where a large amount of money is hidden. I can't really remember if he knows it's the boy or not but that is almost secondary to the imagery you are given in the film.

The message of "HATE" and "LOVE" tattooed on Mitchums knuckles is only another aspect of the "smash you over the head" message. In the pictured scene he is sweet-talking Shelley Winters (his ex-cellmate's widow) with "LOVE" so prominent but there is always "HATE" lurking in the picture. We see "HATE" pictured more often than not in the film if my memory serves me correctly.

Those who know me well know that I am not a religious man. In fact, I am quite distrusting of religion and its influence on society. This movie is full of it from the false Rev. Powell to every other character spewing scripture but religion is nowhere to be found in a desolate, almost hopeless, film. It is a dark fantasy that is only used to serve the minds of even the trustworthy and "good" characters in the film.

I will be the first one to say that religious horror only works if you are religious. Exorcist is only scary if you think that the devil could do something similar to you. So, this is one of the few "religious horror" movies I know that works.

I can't help but wonder if this film helped form my opinion of religion or if my opinion of religion informs this film?

Check these out:
-The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-As I mentioned earlier, this one has the same surrealist thing going for it.
-Cape Fear-The 1962 version or the remake. They have a similar theme as this one.
-Journey into Fear-Shelley Winters is in this 1975 thriller with Vincent Price about oil.
-Psycho-This film's got a very Hitchcockian feel to it so really any of the Hitchcocik thrillers will do.
-Exorcist III-Adapted for film and directed by William Peter Blatty from his novel Legion, this is the only one of the series that actually works for me as a horror film. Mostly due to the fact that it takes place in a mental asylum. Oh yeah, and it's got George C. Scott yelling a lot.

3 Bitching, Moaning and Praise

Blogger Rick Geerling said...

Great movie and a great post, amigo! I'll second the Caligari reference -- I'm a big fan of the surreal sets and backdrops that are used in this film.

And no one pulled off roles like this quite like Robert Mitchum.

I would also reccomend Strangers on a Train if you haven't seen it. Not Hitchcock's best, but still one of my favorite outings from him. While it doesn't have Mitchum, it does have Robert Walker, who pulls of a surprising Mitchum likeness.

2:28 am  
Blogger Justin Cognito said...

"Exorcist is only scary if you think that the devil could do something similar to you."

Not particularly true. On this message board I went to, a fair number of atheists said they found The Exorcist scary because if something like that happened to them, not only would it violate all they had believed in, but it would do so in the most violent and frightening manner possible. One of them also cited this as the reason why The Rapture creeped them out, also.

12:11 pm  
Blogger Des said...

Rick: Strangers on a Train. Awesome movie. Never thought about Walker like that but from what I remember I guess you're right on the money.

Justin: Interesting point. I guess that was more of a personal statement of how I feel about religious horror.

5:08 pm  

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