Horror Director Scott Derrickson Is Remaking A Classic Noir Thriller

Well, here's news you don't see every day.

Director Scott Derrickson and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, the same horror filmmaking duo that gave us "Sinister" (read /News's oral history here) and "The Black Phone," have confirmed their next project: "The Night of the Hunter," adapted from the 1953 novel by Davis Grubb. The project is being developed at Universal.

"The Night of the Hunter" follows Harry Powell, a faux-preacher, and misogynistic serial killer, in the 1930s Ohio River Valley. After Powell is arrested for stealing a car (from one of his brides-turned-victims), his cellmate is Ben Harper, who's on death row for armed robbery/homicide. Harper hid the stolen money in his daughter Pearl's doll, intending it to be her and his son John's birthright, and took that secret to his grave. Once Powell is walking free, however, he makes his way to the Harper family, seducing Ben's widow Willa so he can search for the money.

Grubb's novel was famously adapted to film in 1955, starring Robert Mitchum as Powell. Though shot in crisp black and white like a Noir film, it's structured more like a Grimm fairy tale (especially "Hansel and Gretel"). Mitchum's performance was as scary and buffoonish as you'd expect from the monster in a child's nightmare, while he weaponized his in-demand leading man looks to play a devil in a reverend's clothing. Famously, "The Night of the Hunter" was the only film directed by Charles Laughton before his death seven years later in 1962 (he'd had a storied career as a character actor beforehand). You might call me a fan of the original; I wrote my senior thesis on it.

Remaking The Night of the Hunter

As with their previous pictures, Cargill will write and Derrickson will direct "The Night of the Hunter." Amy Pascal (of Pascal Studios) and Peter Gethers (of KramMar Delicious Mystery Productions) will produce; the project was first announced with their involvement in 2020.

This is a gutsy move from Cargill and Derrickson. I like "Sinister" and "The Black Phone," but "The Night of the Hunter" is in a different league as a bonafide masterpiece. It's also a more subtle type of horror than the two usually tackle. I hope they're aware they can't eclipse Laughton's film and don't try to.

Reports (and Cargill's comments on Twitter, see below) do seem to be stressing "The Night of the Hunter" as a new adaptation of the novel rather than a remake of the 1955 film. That's probably the best way to approach this.

Derrickson has shown a talent for directing child actors, which is very important for this story since John and Pearl are at its heart. This is pure speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if the pair recruits their usual leading man Ethan Hawke to play Harry Powell too; have him combine his creepy performance as the Grabber in "The Black Phone" and his righteous, histrionic, and spacey one as abolitionist preacher John Brown in "The Good Lord Bird" and I think you've got something.

"The Night of the Hunter" does not have a release date scheduled yet.