Charles Laughton’s iconic 1955 serial killer thriller “Night of the Hunter” is getting a remake from Universal Pictures. The news was first reported by Variety. The studio has tapped “Operation Finale” screenwriter Matt Orton to pen the script, which is believed to be a contemporary reimagining of the storyline and not a period piece. Amy Pascal is producing the project through her production banner Pascal Pictures. Additional producers include Peter Gethers and Jay Polidoro, the latter of whom is Universal's senior vice president of production. Pascal recently had a major hit with Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” which grossed over $200 million worldwide and picked up Oscar nominations for Best Picture and more. Universal is coming off box office success for genre title “The Invisible Man.”
The first iteration of “Night of the Hunter” was Davis Grubb’s 1953 novel of the same name. Film critic turned screenwriter James Agee adapted the book into Laughton’s 1955 film adaptation, which is one of the most acclaimed thriller films ever made. The 1955 film starred Robert Mitchum as a former minister who becomes a serial killer and attempts to con the widow of his latest kill into giving him the location of her dead husband’s hidden money. The original cast included Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, and Billy Chapin.
Remaking “Night of the Hunter” is bound to be a controversial decision given the lofty reputation of Laughton’s 1955 movie. The title is a favorite among world-renowned directors such as Guillermo del Toro, who once said Laughton’s direction was so dark and so beautiful that it “truly made me weep in awe.” David Gordon Green, who directed Universal’s most recent “Halloween” and is behind the camera for sequels “Halloween Kills” and “Halloween Ends,” has called “Night of the Hunter” his favorite horror film of all time.
“'Night of the Hunter' is the film from my youth that really opened the door,” Green said back in October 2018. “That was a stepping stone into the more gratuitous genre horror. I guess you'd probably call it more of a thriller, but that was a movie that really affected me in terms of everything from the music and songs Robert Mitchum's character would sing, and Charles Laughton's amazing camerawork. It got under my skin, it really disturbed me as a kid, and then I used that as a stepping stone into more obvious genre work.”
Universal has not yet announced a director or a cast for its “Night of the Hunter” remake. IndieWire’s Anne Thompson has already made her pick for an actor to take on Mitchum’s role: Tom Hardy. Visit Variety’s website for more first details on the “Hunter” remake.
Who should play the Robert Mitchum villain in Universal’s planned remake of Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter”? I’ll go with Tom Hardy, who’s closest to that dark and sexy Mitchum vibe. pic.twitter.com/AFDzLeGsEs
In 1955, Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton, who appeared in films like Witness for the Prosecution, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Spartacus, stepped behind the camera as a director for the first and only time. The result was The Night of the Hunter, a dark, moody thriller starring Robert Mitchum as a serial killer, and a movie that is beloved by cinephiles and has influenced generations of filmmakers and storytellers. It’s a stone-cold classic: not just one of the best films ever directed by an actor, but a movie that many including the revered film magazine Cahiers du cinéma consider to be one of the best films ever made, period.
So while it’s not exactly surprising to learn that Universal is developing a remake, the news does arrive with the same exhausted sense of, “But…why?” that always accompanies stories like this.
The Night of the Hunter Remake
Variety broke the news about the remake, which is described as “a contemporary version of the original thriller, rather than a period piece.” Screenwriter Matthew Orton is developing the movie for Universal Pictures. Orton only has one produced credit to his name thus far: he wrote a 2018 spy thriller called Operation Finale which I have not seen but it looks pretty good. Peter Gethers Lay the Favorite and Amy Pascal Spider-Man: Homecoming, Little Women will serve as producers. Still, knowing how great this movie is makes news about a remake tough to swallow. There are thousands of middling movies with solid premises from the golden era of studio filmmaking – why mess with a classic?
The 1955 film, which is based on a novel by author David Grubb, follows a sociopathic preacher who travels the country marrying women for their money, murdering them, and then moving on to the next town. During a stint in jail, the preacher learns that his cell mate has $10,000 stashed somewhere; after the cell mate dies and the preacher gets out, he goes looking for the money, conning the cell mate’s widow into a relationship and trying to coax the location of the cash out of her two young children.
Mitchum’s preacher becomes increasingly unhinged as his patience wears thin, and his menacing performance scared the hell out of an entire generation of moviegoers, and many people have called The Night of the Hunter one of the scariest films they’ve ever seen. Here’s the very old-fashioned trailer with an introduction by Gremlins filmmaker Joe Dante explaining how it scarred him as a child, followed by a spoiler-heavy video in which Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro talks about how much the film means to him because of the way it blends horror and beauty on screen: