Friday, December 08, 2023

The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb

The Night of the Hunter, Charles's Laughton's only film as a director, is a masterpiece. But it's wonderful Southern Gothic atmosphere is all there in the novel by Davis Grubb on which it is based.

A post at Thoughts on Papyrus examines the novel's appeal:

To instil a sense of horror, Davis Grubb relies on atmosphere, general eeriness and the persistent sense of danger, rather than on explicit scenes. When reading the novel, there is a feeling that danger is ever present all around, lurking somewhere very close and waiting to strike. # 

The horror is almost subtle, and it helps that children are involved since few great effective horror stories can bypass children (for example, see Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw). 

The sense of horror comes from one charismatic character – Harry Powell – The 'Preacher'. When his character comes to the scene in the very first chapter when he talks to Ben Harper in prison, there emerges one terrifying image of a man so psychopathic and ruthless it will be the substance of everyone’s nightmare. 

One of the most disturbing aspects of Powell’s personality is that he can present the appearance of normality, decency and respectability, and he relies on his own twisted logic and reason (including the word of God) to justify his every action. 

There are two sides to Powell’s external presentation, just like his tattooed fingers, one arm spelling L-O-V-E and another – H-A-T-E. When Powell gets the hint from doomed Harper than his children may know where their father hid the money, Powell finds himself released from prison and gets close to Harper’s widow, trying to make friends with Harper’s children. 

Will the children be able to see through 'Preacher‘s' fake smiles and friendliness, not disclose their father’s secret, and finally make their escape? The deadly game begins.

It happens there are three copies of the novel in Waterstone's, Market Harborough, at present. I'd get down there and grab one.

And the film? Go on then.

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