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Night of the Hunter (1955)

By Courtland Hopkins

 

The best horror movies are where the horror is not the monster that lurks at night but something more universal and relatable, like human fragility and the uncaring ways of the world. They are tales of the thin line between light and darkness.

Night of the Hunter is one of the best horror films I have seen for some time. I was genuinely scared and on the edge of my seat. It is the tale of two children, Pearl and John, growing up in the West Virginia during the Great Depression. If that wasn’t already horrid enough, evil comes into these two children’s lives in the form of a seemingly benevolent preacher named Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). He hates women and has a penchant for violence and greed. Powell met the childrens’ father in prison, who was hanged for armed robbery, but not before stashing the loot in a secret place. Powell figures only the children know where the stolen money is hidden. When their mother is murdered, Pearl and John run away with Powell in relentless pursuit. They are taken in by Rachel Cooper, played with remarkable goodness and tenderness by Lillian Gish. An almost mythological battle is waged between Mrs. Cooper and the crazed preacher. Powell uses people’s faith to exploit and murder people, the biblical wolf in sheep’s clothing, while Mrs. Cooper, inspired by her devout faith, acts as a shepherd to her orphans. This battle between good and evil is compelling and thrilling.

This film is thrilling, entertaining and beautiful. It is great because it is about people we could know dealing with evil face to face. Horror movies tend to be morality tales. The Night of the Hunter is a beautiful film because it talks about something we don’t usually think about in our day to day lives. It tells a story that matters. Evil exists and that there are people inspired by virtue who must oppose it like Mrs. Cooper. That is the ground where all great tales are told. In tales of reluctant people who must rise to the challenge in the face of evil, the horror is that the good man may lose. We fear the dark and what may be in the dark: the dragon, the monster and all that’s ugly. Harry Powell is bloody man, a killer with no conscience. He is the darkness. Spinning lies and deceiving, the only one who doesn’t believe him is the stern but loving Rachel Cooper, who will do everything in her power to defend Pearl and John. There are a few lines of dialogue which date this movie but it holds up very well. I was scared. I was thrilled. I was entertained by this tale where beauty suspense and terror sing in one voice. I give it my highest praise. See it I say.

 

 

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, The Classic Movie Series.

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