There are obviously things wrong with it: the cloying little girl; having Lillian Gish address the camera when no one else does; the frequent beating over the head with metaphors from nature; not ending when it should — when Billy Chapin breaks down under the burden he's carried and Gish carries him off; and, frankly, a good portion of the soundtrack. But so much of it is beautiful, terrifying, and dreamlike.
I watched it last night on my computer (thanks Netflix) somewhere over Denver in an airplane. We'd just passed over an impressive line of active thunderstorms and it only seemed fitting to watch an equally beautiful and terrifying picture during what I was certain were my last moments on earth. Robert Mitchum turns in one of the best representations of evil ever and Shelley Winters isn't all that bad. Yes, she winds up under water — AGAIN — but that was kind of her "thing."
Varden's character goes nuts (and drunk, apparently) with the guilt of not protecting her friend, Shelley Winters, from the evil Robert Mitchum and the possible destruction of her children. See? Giving crappy advice to a friend has consequences!
And speaking of sibling attachments, my sister and I apparently share a seasonal inclination to watch The Night of the Hunter. Here is an exchange from a blog post to my Daily Earworm that took place almost exactly this time last year.