Published on October 17th, 2018 | by Padraic Coffey


My Favourite Things – Mike Muncer

Mike Muncer is the host and producer of podcast The Evolution of Horror.

The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

The Night of the Hunter is such a unique film. I remember seeing it when I was a kid. I’d always been really into horror, and I think it was one of my gateways into the genre, because there’s nothing overtly graphic or adult about it. They played it on TV in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, and it absolutely terrified me, because it is a scary, dark movie, but all of the darkness is suggested. It plays out almost as a dark fairy tale, and I like movies like that, that are fun and light on the surface, but have a lot of interesting subtext underneath which you can discuss.

Robert Mitchum is a terrifying character, but he’s also very charismatic and funny. The story is like that of a child’s nightmare, where these kids lose their parents, lose all their money, and are chased by a horrific man, completely on their own. It’s scary and exciting on a very primary level when you’re a child. Then, when you watch it as an adult, it’s scary in an entirely different way. There’s this weird, psychosexual subtext in the relationship between Robert Mitchum’s character and the children’s mother, and it’s set, of course, during the Great Depression. There are comparisons you could make to America now, even though it’s a period-set black-and-white movie. The central character is a very charismatic guy who preaches about good, religious, Christian values, who actually happens to be a money-hungry, lying monster. That’s not unlike certain people in power in America right now.

Across generations, the film only seems to get more relevant and more interesting, as well as being really fun and exciting. It was the first film Charles Laughton directed, and his only film. It was quite negatively received when it first came out. It is a very weird film – again, you don’t know whether it’s a kid’s fairy tale, or an adult drama, or a horror. Something doesn’t sit right with you about it, but I love things like that. I think it’s a tremendous feat for this actor, Charles Laughton, to have had one go at directing a film, and made a timeless masterpiece.

There are definitely shades of The Night of the Hunter in the films of David Lynch, particularly Blue Velvet. It’s the myth of America, or the lie of America, as a wholesome place where dreams come true. The way Blue Velvet starts with the music and the white picket fences, while everything under the surface is very dark, is quite similar to the way The Night of the Hunter starts like a fairy tale with Lillian Gish reading a story to these children. It’s happy and cheesy, like the opening of a kid’s film, but there’s all this dark, twisted stuff going on beneath the surface.

If I had to pick a favourite scene, it would be the incredible sequence in the middle, where the kids are running from Mitchum’s character. They get into a riverboat and the whole film suddenly changes. The tone shifts and it becomes this dreamlike scenario, which again links it to David Lynch. The movie slows down and the action suddenly grinds to a halt, as this little girl sings this song. Structurally, the movie is very unusual. I can see why a lot of audiences didn’t get behind it, but that’s what makes it so fascinating.

The Witches (1983, Roald Dahl)

The Witches was a book I read repeatedly. Roald Dahl just seemed to capture something, a little bit like The Night of the Hunter, where he straddled this fairy tale, or child fiction, with true horror that would scare adults. I thought it was such a daring story. There are some truly dark things that happen in the book, and in the film adaptation as well. I don’t think many children’s stories would get away with it now, like the stories at the beginning about the child being kidnapped and locked up.

What’s so daring about the book is that it had the guts to end on a bit of a downer. With the film adaptation directed by Nicolas Roeg, I don’t know whether there was pressure from the studio to make it a bit more upbeat for kids, because the film is very, very dark for the most part. They don’t try and downplay the horror in the film, if you think of the moment when the baby in the pram is being pushed off the cliff, or the child is trapped in the painting. All the make-up and costume effects on Anjelica Huston are terrifying, so maybe they felt it was too much to endure a downbeat note. I love and respect the book for never taking the easy way out.

I think it’s important for kids to get a bit of darkness in their fiction, whether it’s films or books or whatever. I don’t agree with the idea that it will mess kids up. It was a big part of my growing-up experience. Also, Quentin Blake’s illustrations are part of what makes the book so brilliant. It’s hard to think of a Roald Dahl story without thinking of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. They’re both fun and creepy in their own, and they suit the story perfectly.

Rumours (1977, Fleetwood Mac)

Rumours is thought of by a lot of people as one of the all-time great albums, and I still think it’s probably the greatest pop music album of all time. What’s so interesting is that it’s not just the great songs, it’s the myths behind them. Everyone is familiar with the stories behind the album. Fleetwood Mac are such a volatile band. They’ve changed formations about six or seven times, and the only people that have remained constant across these fifty years are the drummer and the bassist, Fleetwood and Mac.

The incarnation of Fleetwood Mac which made Rumours – with Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham – was the peak. They were at their best. What’s brilliant about the album is all the stories of what was going on with these people whilst they were writing it. They all hated each other, there were marriages breaking down, there were affairs, and all of them were writing their own songs about each other. Even though they’re part of the same band, they each have their own musical style. Stevie Nicks has a great California folk feel. Lindsey Buckingham has a more rocky, electric guitar sound. Christine McVie is more classically trained – she’s got a beautiful voice and she plays piano. All of these sounds come together in a weird kind of dissonance because of the fact that they hated each other. It’s a really interesting collection of songs. They’re the kind of songs you can listen to over and over again, and get more out of them. You think, “Okay, that was definitely a song about her, or definitely a song about him.”

My favourite song is ‘The Chain’, which I think is the only song where all of the members of the band perform. It’s that perfect idea that the band or the music is the chain that holds them all together. There’s the kind of drum solo from Mick Fleetwood, and there’s the iconic bassline that mixes in. They all kind of beautifully go together, and it sums of Fleetwood Mac. These are people from all very different backgrounds, they don’t really like each other, but the music is what keeps them together.

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About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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