Night of The Hunter

To describe Harry Powell would send chills down my spine. Albeit an older movie, 1955 to be exact, Harry Powell makes even the meanest, ruthless killers shiver and quake in fear. As if his tall, intimidating stature is not enough, his bone chilling voice blends nicely with his icy glare enough to freeze you in place. To make matters worse his manipulative personality allows him to work and twist your mind into believing that he is a genuine human being. Then, in the blink of an eye, you are dead, and just another victim of his venomous killing spree. What makes Harry Powell so special is not just his uncanny ability to lure you into a false sense of security, but his overpowering tactics that allow him to do what he does best.

To try and describe how Powell is able to strike fear into those around him one would simply have to look at his knuckles, which have the words “LOVE” and “HATE," inscribed on them. His unquenchable thirst for money leads him to woo a widow just so he can manipulate the children into telling him where their father’s secret stash of money is hidden. Once introduced to people he always kicks the conversation off by telling the story of love and hate, easily deceiving his listeners into a false sense of security. His ability to use his powerful stature and ominous tone of voice is simply too much for any of his listeners to handle and they become entranced in his character.

The other part of Harry Powell that makes him such a legendary murderer is his religious hymn that he sings to himself throughout the movie. However, he does not just sing the hymn just for the sake of singing it, he sings it when he is about to kill another person. The hymn is an altered version of a Christian hymn, and it goes something like this:

“Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms. Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all wrongs.” (Laughton, Night of the Hunter)


While on paper it seems like nothing but a simple religious saying, Powell’s delivery of the song makes any listener suffer feelings of helplessness and hopelessness as their bones freeze in terror.

Finally, the last component of what makes Harry Powell such a frightening character to watch is his personal drive. He does not stop. He will not stop until he gets what he wants, even if it means killing multiple people. Even if it means harming innocent children guarding their father’s secret, he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. He goes so far as to slit the throat of the mother of the children because she overheard him interrogating the children on the whereabouts of their father’s money. Even though the children escape, he follows suit and does not let up until the end, where he runs into an even stronger person, not of stature, but of will and determination.
An older woman who takes in lost children easily stands up to Powell not because she is stronger physically, but her will is too strong even for a heartless killer like him to break. Therefore she manages to keep the children safe even with him outside the house singing his murderous hymn. In the end, he is defeated as are all killers, but not before forever changing the lives of the two children he mercilessly chased, and he was forever enshrined as one of the most terrifying killers of all time, not just his generation, but all time.

Harry Powell is such a unique killer in that he is so calculated in his plans. Then once he has his plan he fires into action, taking down anything and anybody who attempts to stop him from achieving his goal. His cold, paralyzing stares in unison with his overpowering will is something you never truly witness in any of the killer or slasher films we see today.





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