Friday, 11 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 11

Wonderful Use of Lighting
The Night of the Hunter

Todays post is not about a horror film, at least not in the typical sense; The Night of the Hunter is a 1955 thriller but one which features themes and stylistic techniques that are evocative of those found in horror. 

The film is a contemporary fairytale in which a sinister preacher, played by Robert Mitchum, terrorises a pair of young children who know the secret location of money that their father obtained in the robbery that led to his execution. Mitchum, as Reverend Powell, charms and marries the children's mother, becoming an oppressive father figure to the pair, who eventually run away and seek refuge with an old woman who cares for stray children. The film is now widely considered one of the best of the time, but upon its release was a critical and commercial failure which caused it's director, Charles Laughton to never make another film. 

Though the story the film tells is not particularly scary the themes of oppression, murder and good vs evil are familiar to the horror genre and Robert Mitchum's violent antagonist is certainly on par with some of the screens greatest villains. Taking clear inspiration from the German expressionist movement that stark contrast of the cinematography is what inspires a familiarity between this film and the horror genre. Inventive camera work and chiaroscuro lighting effects make both the internal and external spaces seem imposing or hostile. The lighting plays an integral role in exposing the horror of the events and in many cases makes the term 'black and white film' very literal.

The film features two great performances from Mitchum and Lillian Gish and is beautifully shot with a series of unforgettable images. Many horror films are criticised for their reliance on darkness, and The Night of the Hunter shows how a contrast between light and dark is a much more effective way of creating sinister imagery.


  1. Night of the Hunter is one of the greatest movies of all time (IMO). You're so right about the lighting, especially when Robert Mitchum rides along the horizon on the horse, whistling... I get mad chills. I'd give the film Best Picture 1955, I'd give Mitchum Best Actor (tied with Borgnine for Marty), and I'd give Gish Supporting Actress in a heartbeat.

    Great review :) Loved seeing the awesome pictures.

    1. That scene with Mitchum on the horse was horrible, he is so creepy!

      I only saw this for the first time last month. I'd been led to believe it was an actual horror film so I was disappointed to begin with, but it soon won me over. It's a gorgeous film and one of the best uses of black and white. I think East of Eden might just win for me between the two for 1955, but only just.

      I've never seen Marty, I'll have to check that one out!

    2. I couldn't stand East of Eden (having read the book, I wasn't impressed with their adaptation). I'm in the small minority who feel that way though :) Night of the Hunter all the way!

    3. That's fair enough, I haven't read the book so I have no comparison point but I loved it.

      Jimmy D will always win me over though. :)