Start October off right with a classic noir film inspired by a real West Virginia serial killer.
Kick off your Halloween fun on Thursday, October 7, in Arthurdale with a viewing of The Night of the Hunter.
Released in 1955, The Night of the Hunter tells the story of a corrupt West Virginia minister and serial killer imprisoned with a bank robber whose time is up on death row. Back on the streets, the minister woos and marries the robber’s widow, then kills her in pursuit of his real goal—the loot.
It’s a must-see movie for film lovers, widely considered among the best of all time.
The screenplay was based on the 1953 debut novel of West Virginia author Davis Grubb. And the novel, in turn, loosely followed the true story of 1920s serial killer Harry Powers, who lured women through lonely hearts advertisements then killed them for their money. Powers was arrested at his home in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, in 1931 and served time at the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville before being executed by hanging in 1932. He’d killed at least five people.
The Night of the Hunter screens in the New Deal community of Arthurdale, a half-hour from Morgantown, as the second of four in Arthurdale Heritage’s “Appalachia on the Screen” film series. The film will be followed by a discussion led by acclaimed West Virginia author of Appalachia-centered writings Ann Pancake.
“We chose this film because we wanted a drama—the other three films are documentaries—and because this film is considered one of the best films of all time,” Pancake says. “I also wanted to bring more attention to the author, Davis Grubb, originally from Moundsville.” Grubb would have been 12 when Powers was hanged. “He needs to be better appreciated as a West Virginia writer and artist. The novel is terrifying and captivating, and Grubb’s ability to inhabit the point of view of a terrorized child is unforgettable—it’s just all-around phenomenal writing.”
Pancake points out a surprising moment in the film. “Watching this, we learn where Spike Lee got the “LOVE” and “HATE” four-finger rings for his classic Do the Right Thing,” she says. “Grubb apparently saw this in a Clarksburg pool hall and put the tattoos on his novel’s villain, and the rest is history.”
This film asks us to examine the ways evil can masquerade as righteousness, Pancake notes: “Certainly a relevant lesson for 2021.”
So take the drive out to our very own local New Deal community, see a classic noir thriller with West Virginia roots, and enjoy a thoughtful discussion with Pancake. And mark your calendar for the third and fourth films in the “Appalachia on the Screen” series: Harlan County, USA on November 4 and Rosemary on December 2.