Thursday, October 7, 2010
The Goosebump Moment -- The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Most times, the haunting scenes that stay with you the longest are those you see as a child. I was a huge TV-head growing up and watched as many suspense and horror movies as I could. I think I had a pretty high tolerance for fright, at least when it was on the safety of the TV, but there were a couple that scared me...well, you know what they say....
The Night of the Hunter was one of them. I distinctly remember watching it on Money Movie 7, which was the daily movie they showed from 4:00 - 5:30 on Channel 7 before the news came on. During commercial breaks, the host (who I don't remember, but he was some local TV anchor I think) would have some type of contest (trivia questions maybe?) where viewers could call in and win the weekly jackpot. Money Movie 7 tended to show films that fit easily into the 90 minute slot, and if they didn't...well, some editor made...it....FIT by trimming whatever scenes he deemed necessary (plot be damned!). Occasionally, they would show some color epic and they would have to split it up into multiple days (once they showed El Cid and it took all week long, and I'm pretty sure they still had to cut it).
Anyway, the following scene disturbed me as a little kid so much that I wouldn't watch the movie again in its entirety for years.
Here's the setup: Robert Mitchum is pretending to be a minister, but how anyone falls for it is beyond me -- he is pure walking evil -- he has LOVE tattooed on the fingers of one hand and HATE on the other. Anyway, he had previously been bunking with Peter Graves in the State Pen and had learned that Peter had stolen a bunch of money and hidden it somewhere, presumably at his home with his wife and two small children (which Peter stupidly describes in great detail before meeting his untimely end).
So, knowing that the recent widow (Shelley Winters -- a lifetime before she became the blowsy overweight grandma on Roseanne) is a devout Christian woman, he knows the quickest way to insinuate himself into her life is to be a Bible-thumping Man of God.
And boy does she fall for it.....but the kids sure as hell don't!
The scene leading up to this one is really good also -- when Shelley, bathed in a heavenly glow, finally figures it out and realizes her fate.
But this one is the one that gave me nightmares. In fact, most of the movie after this scene is filmed like a child's nightmare come to life. You have to see it -- there's really no other movie like it. The one-shot director was Charles Laughton who had played the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and who was married to the Bride of Frankenstein herself -- Elsa Lanchester...so that's a pretty good pedigree for a horror movie.