Posted on October 24, 2011 by Steven Dawes
Available at Amazon.com
There are only a few films from my childhood that fills me with nostalgic glee every time I reminisce about them. The 1981 made-for-TV horror movie “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” is one of those movies. There are a lot of movies that I can sort of remember watching the first time, but I can still recall in vivid detail the first time I watched this one, and it’s a good memory for me.
I was at my best bud Ken’s house, who’d seen DNS a year earlier with his folks, and was so taken by it that the boxer puppy they adopted a few weeks later was named after the main character (Bubba). I recall watching his dad lighting the fireplace (it was a chilly October already) as Ken and I got ready for the movie. We were both sitting on the floor in front of the TV, had had a bowl of popcorn and was semi wrapped up in blankets (partly for warmth, partly for security if needed), and “Bubba” decided to sit in between us. I was on edge within a matter of minutes of the movie starting, and by the time the hauntingly original and unforgettable ending came about; I was a near basket case, blown away by such a great ghost flick!
I’m my opinion, this is not only THE BEST made for TV flick ever made, and it’s one of the better horror films in existence, Period! It all starts with Bubba Ritter, who is the town idiot and a blight according to postmaster and bigot extraordinaire Otis Hazelrigg. At age 36, the mentally challenged but harmless Bubba’s only friend is young Mary Lee. When Mary Lee is nearly mauled to death, Otis becomes the ring master of a gang of crony bigots who hunts down and kills Bubba via mob justice, who was hiding in the guise of a scarecrow in a field. Only afterwards do they learn that not only did Bubba not harm Mary Lee, he saved her life!
After their case is thrown out of court, the group believes that they’ve gotten away with murder. Or have they? It seems that the group is now being picked off in acts of revenge, seemingly by a scarecrow that’s now haunting them! Does someone know their secret and is now taking revenge upon them all? Or could it be the ghost of Bubba, back from the dead and looking for vengeance?
Considering that this scarecrow was a flick that was made for the TV while on a small budget back in 1981, it’s held up remarkably well and is still as chill inducing now as it was to me twenty six years ago! Front and center of the credit goes to director Frank De Felitta, who creates plenty of tension and spooky atmosphere while getting the most out of his actors, and screen writer J.D. Feigelson, who wrote a multilayered, chilling and mystery laden script that even Stephen King could sit back and admire! It’s a script that deserved the feature length movie treatment, and still holds up like an champ when compared to most of the horror crap that Hollywood churns out these days.
Adding to the pile of accolades goes to the actors, who all gave credible to incredible performances. One of the standouts include Charles Durning, who as far as I’m concerned delivered this greatest performance as the vile and bigoted Otis, who’s other dark secrets only make him even more vile as the film progresses. Opposite Charles D. is Larry Drake (whom you might recognize as “Dr. Giggles” or as the villainous Durant in the movie “Darkman”) who plays Bubba convincingly and charmingly; you felt bad for Bubba from the get go and Larry made damn good and sure that you did. Bubba’s mother was played with extreme finesse by Jocelyn Brando, Marlon Brando’s older sister.
The ghost story angle of this flick was handled in a classic mystery “who dunnit” method. Several suspects are considered along the way as the possible killer, all of whom have an axe to grind against the group of killers. In the meantime, the guilty group themselves are running scared, seeing scarecrows in nearby fields that shouldn’t be there, and they’re turning on one another as panic sets in.
The last act of the film plays out its conclusion with a dignity and grace that’s worthy of the incredible production the film started with, and I honestly can’t think of any improvements that could be made on this one. I’m thankful that after all these years were finally treated to a DVD/Blu-Ray release of this gem, including some unexpected goodies like a writer and director commentary.
If you’ve never seen this one, check it out! If you’ve got kids 10 and older, watch it with them as it’s not a gore fest, it least the atmosphere and implied moments do all the chilling. And if you have seen, don’t you think it’s time to spend another dark night with the Scarecrow?
Review by Steve Dawes