CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The 1955 film “The Night of the Hunter,” directed by actor Charles Laughton, is set in West Virginia and based on a 1953 novel by Moundsville native Davis Grubb. The inspiration for the story came from a real-life serial killer in the area.
The plot revolves around Harry Powell, a menacing character portrayed by Robert Mitchum, who is a self-proclaimed preacher with distinctive knuckle tattoos reading “LOVE” and “HATE.” The story unfolds at the Moundsville Penitentiary where Harry meets Ben Harper, a convicted bank robber on death row for murdering two people.
Upon his release, Harry marries Ben’s widow in a quest to find the hidden $10,000 stolen from the bank. The character of Harry is said to be based on the real-life “West Virginia Bluebeard,” Harry Powers. Powers was a notorious figure who preyed on widows through fraudulent advertisements, leading to multiple murders.
After becoming entangled in multiple murders and a failed attempt to escape, Powers was sentenced to death and executed at Moundsville State Penitentiary. The film, despite its initial lack of commercial success, has gained recognition as a classic in the thriller and horror genres.
Renowned horror directors such as William Friedkin, Robert Englund, and Guillermo del Toro, as well as directors from other genres like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese, have cited “The Night of the Hunter” as influential. Additionally, film critic Roger Ebert praised the film, calling it “one of the greatest of all American films.”
With its timeless appeal, “The Night of the Hunter” remains available for viewing on various rental platforms and in physical Blu-Ray and DVD copies from The Criterion Collection.