The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Directed by Charles Laughton 

Who’s in it? Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish

What’s it about? Number 71 on Empire Magazine’s 500 Greatest Films list and influential for maverick directors like Terrence Malick, Martin Scorcese and David Lynch, the brooding menace and undeniable power of Charles Laughton’s brilliantly bewitching thriller is all the more palpable in this brand new digital restoration. When Robert Mitchum’s enigmatic and beguiling scripture-spouting serial killer, Preacher Powell, comes to a small southern town in search of a hidden stash of stolen cash, the innocence in the children of the family he adopts mingles like oil on water with the seemingly sincere and ruthless rigour with which his pitiless predator plays the pious preacher, with an eye on an altogether more worldly prize. Nearly seventy years after deliberately discomforting its first American audience, the film, adapted from a novel of the same name, retains its uncanny ability to unsettle with a mesmerising mix of good and evil in a simple story about morality and vulnerability.

Memorable Moments? The film’s uncompromising 1920s German Expressionist styling is at no point more affecting than when Mitchum’s money lusty killer stalks two young children after dark during the famous river boat sequence. His imposing silhouette, shadowy and sinister, appearing on the horizon as the children try to escape down the river never fails to enthrall and unsettle in one fell swoop.

Look who’s talking: ‘An overlooked gem in the history of American film, this creepy curio incorporates elements of horror, noir, thriller and fairy tale.’ – Film4

Like that? Try this: Remade in 1991 by Martin Scorcese with Robert DeNiro in the lead role, Cape Fear (1962) sees Mitchum as deranged ex-con Max Cady terrorising the prosecutor who put him away, perfecting his previously honed predatory prowess in the process.

Trivia Pursuit: The film is inspired by real life serial killer Harry Powers, hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and several children.

Ronan Wright is a graduate in Film Studies from The Queen’s University of Belfast. As well as contributing to MercatorNet as a film critic since March 2011 he has run Filmplicity, a Belfast-based film...