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Friday, December 5, 2008

Night of the Hunter (1955): The psychotic horror

Horror is not only about things that creak in the night, or about other such stuff that is tried to scare you. The concept of a crazed human being, who otherwise looks perfectly normal, and who kills and terrorises others, can be very scary. Especially, when this is done by someone who takes their time over this, willing to wait for a certain period of time before carrying out their mission. No matter that it takes time, the mission is uppermost in the mind of this individual, and he or she does not care about the feelings of others, or that if necessary, other human beings can be killed.
The Night of the Hunter is a movie acknowledged to be a 'film noir' movie, although there are people who absolutely love the movie, and there are others who cannot understand why the movie is so liked; after all, the characters are not really daily life, the story may not be so plausible, and the acting is considered by some to be over-done.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

When the movie was released, it was not met with rapture by critics, but over a period of 4 decades, the movie has been shown on Television multiple times, and has acquired a cult following (to the extent that the movie is now believed to be a top 100 movie; it is also regularly listed among the most scary movies of all time). The movie was directed by a one-time director, Charles Laughton, who was much more famous as a Academy Award winning actor, and screen-writer. The movie stars Robert Mitchum in the main role as the demented killer.
Night of the Hunter was based on a book of the same name by author David Grubb, and both were based on the real life story of Harry Powers (executed in 1932 for being the main accused in the murder of 2 women and 3 children). The story was powerful, but the style of the movie - it combines religious overdone, a Brothers Grimm type fairy tale in the middle, and a stalker who is most ruthless.
The movie is about the self-styled preacher, Harry Powell (Mitchum) who is sharing a prison cell with a man Ben Harper (Peter Graves) who is sentenced to hang for his part in a robbery in which killings happened. He alone knows where the money is hidden, and only tells his children (John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce)) where the money is located. He does not tell anyone else, not even his wife. Powell tries to get Harper to tell him where the money is located, but no dice; however he does get an elusive clue from Harper in the manner of a quote uttered in sleep "And a child shall lead them". This is enough to convince Powell that the children know where the money is located.
Once he is out, there is a single minded quest to get the money, and to be near the children, he manages to get Harper's widow Willa to marry him. However, even on questioning, the children do not trust him and do not tell him anything. Willa eventually finds out, and Powell then kills her. After Willa, Powell uses threat and manages to get them to tell him the location, but then escape with the money on a boat ride (a most fantastic ride) and find sanctuary with Rachel Cooper (Lilian Gish). Powell searches for them, and finds Rachel, but she manages to hold him off, and then the police arrive.

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