The Night of the Hunter (1955) is a basic good vs. evil parable, shown in a way that is tense, fascinating and terrifying and unique.

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Often categorised as a film-noir, this film although adopting many elements from that genre; is far from a genre stereotype. It incorporates the best parts of many other genres including thriller, drama, romance and horror into a eerie film with religion at its heart.

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The film opens with a biblical quote about the danger in worshipping of false idols and that you shouldn’t trust a wolf in sheeps clothing. This idiom sums up the basic plot of the film; as shortly after this Robert Mitchums character, Harry Powell is introduced to the audience as a murderous, religious psychopathic ‘wolf’, who travels the country marrying women and then killing them in the name of the Lord.

Powell soon finds himself marrying a naïve young woman and must attempt to persuade her children John and Pearl to give him the whereabouts of $10,000 that their natural father stole. Tension soon starts to mount as the children refuse and Powell’s temper shortens, leading to the wolf being revealed.

Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter

The entire film is tense from the first second to the last, it is the type of film that draws you in completely and you feel that it could all come to a head at any moment. It is well-paced, dramatic and takes you on an emotional trip with the young children. Robert Mitchum gives a fantastic performance as a character who deserves much more recognition as a horror villain. His non-sleeping, gentleman who is just plain insane and is extremely reminiscent of Christian Bale in the much later American Psycho (2000).

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The cinematography in this film is also amazing as Charles Laughton creates a haunting atmosphere with larger than life shadows and some amazing uses of light. It is very German expressionist and that fits the film perfectly. A scene where Powell rides a horse across an empty field being particularly daunting.

This film really surprised me as although I was expecting it to be good, it exceeded my expectations with its originality and deviation from any genre. Although it takes from many of films and has inspired dozens more; I cannot think of a film that it would be far to compare it against. A truly unique piece of cinema, that is now a contender to be in my personal top 10 of all time.

9/10