Owen Hughes’s review:
Apparently, at the time of release, the film wasn't received very well at all, which is shocking! It's utterly brilliant. Apparently it's the first and only film that Charles Laughton directed himself; it was quite clearly ahead of its time as it is much more appreciated now than it ever was back then seemingly.
I've seen a few reviews of this film say it's like a fairytale story, with its children remaining innocent and earnest throughout, whilst the big bad bogeyman hunts them down, and that is absolutely what it felt like. The use of songs, nursery rhymes and church hymns as background music ramped up the eeriness to terrifying levels at times and just worked so fantastically well. The fact it's also played out like a noir thriller adds to the tension, coupled with Robert Mitchum's phenomenal performance as the charismatic, dark, twisted serial killer and Preacher makes it even more tense. He really is perfect in that role. His screams like a madman... chilling.
The visuals in the film too are striking and memorable; without spoiling anything, the reeds underwater, the flick of the knife, the singing on the porch with the shadowy figure.. wow. Apparently, "Laughton drew on the harsh, angular look of German expressionist films of the 1920s", which I would love to be able to reference but the only one that springs to mind that I've seen is Nosferatu, and at a push (but probably not) Pandora's Box. I can see how it draws on something like Nosferatu, with its use of the shadows appearing on walls etc, but I think it probably draws more on films I haven't seen! Still, it looks stunning. The whole film is very much like a nightmare, in the same way that Nosferatu is, though.
Minor criticisms would probably centre around the childens performances swaying from believable and very good, to a bit shite actually. The gasps as the camera is pointed directly at them, or the facepalms etc, a little bit OTT and jarring. The mother/widow character is a little too naive and easily led, which seems a convenient way to continue the plot without giving her a lot of credit. She seems quite happy to give up everything for a man she only just met, but I suppose that could just be attributable to Mitchum's character being so charismatic. Some people also seem to dislike the "happy ending" thinking it feels out of place, but I didn't think so. It had an aura of being fairytale like throughout, so a happy ending was quite fitting. It's still quite a tragic story, and it's not really a feel good ending as such, but it's just the best you could hope for I think. It's quite risqué too at times (for an older film.) Not so much in what is shown on screen, more for the dialogue between characters that is either in direct reference to, or more subtly alluding to, sex. Mercy me!
I loved it though. I'd definitely, definitely recommend it.