Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Night of the Hunter

Every christmas my brother and I exchange movies. Usually a film from the most specific categories, something you wouldn't be able to find easily, and have probably never heard of. This annual tradition has yielded some of the greatest films I have seen. One of my favorites to come out of this exchange was a film called "The Night of the Hunter"directed by Charles Laughton (one of the two films he directed). As usual with these gifts, I wondered how he could have possibly found this and why he selected it as this years gift (we always do extensive research before making our purchases). He said "I read the description and it seemed horrifying". And it was. But not in the way that a horror film is scary, but in the way that it builds an eerie suspense that leaves a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach.

The story goes something like this: A man goes to jail for robbery, and leaves the money he'd stolen hidden somewhere with his children. The only person he tells about this is his cellmate, Reverend Harry Powell, a serial killer with the words love and hate tattooed on his knuckles. When the man gets executed for his crimes, Powell decides to try and seduce his wife in order to get the kids to spill the beans. This may not sound like that horrifying of a film, compared to today, but it really really is.

Like with most great films each frame tells the whole story. Just look at how terrifying these images are, even without know the story, they are chilling:

The expressionistic lighting and cinematography (done by Stanley Cortez) builds the unsettling mood. Sound is also a big part of this film, in the same way that the music in Jaws, lets the audience know that something is off, the Rev. Powell's singing acts as a warning that things are going to get ugly. Watching this horrible, creepy man terrorize these children, chasing them into attics, and pursuing them down the Ohio river, is more suspenseful and terrifying than any slasher film. This is one of those films that really gets under your skin, and makes you feel ill. It depends on all of the elements of film to bring out the horror, something I wish more films would do today.

Here's a clip that shows what I mean. The extreme dramatic lighting in this scene really makes it. It heightens the mood and the suspense, and without it the scene would not be nearly as successful.

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