Dark Night of the Scarecrow

10/26/2017 19:45

Film: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Year: 1981

Director: Frank De Felitta

Writer: J.D. Feigelson

Starring: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons and Claude Earl Jones



This film is one that I never heard of until I got into horror movie podcasts. It went on my list and checked this out originally one October. I’m now giving it a second viewing as part of a couple movie challenges once again. The synopsis here is in a small Southern town, four vigilantes wrongfully execute a mentally-challenged man, but after the court sets them free, mysterious ‘accidents’ begin to kill them off one by one.

We start a man by the name of Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake) playing in a field with a little girl Marylee Williams (Tonya Crowe). Bubba is a full grown man that is mentally slow. He is picking flowers with her and she tells him that he has to be gentler as he crushes one. She makes a couple of lays and states she has to kiss his cheek. He is against this, but does relent after coercion from her.

We then cut to the mailman of Otis P. Hazelrigg (Charles Durning). He is watching them with binoculars. He should be doing his job of delivering mail though. Otis stops off to talk to Harless Hocker (Lane Smith), who is working on a wood chipper. Otis doesn’t like Bubba and wants to kill him in so many words. Harless is against it and states he will rough him up, but won’t go farther than that without good cause. They do have concerns with him playing with a child like he is.

Bubba and Marylee are walking home. On their way, there is a yard that catches her eye as the person put in a fountain. She wants to check it out. They look through the fence and learn there is a broken board. It is a nice backyard with vegetation, gnomes and the new fountain. Marylee decides to go in and Bubba refuses, not wanting to get in trouble. There ends up being a guard dog there and it attacks the little girl. Bubba busts through to help her. He then takes her home and her mother, Mrs. Williams (Ivy Jones). She freaks out when she sees them.

Harless rushes over to the post office, where he tells Otis what happens. He states that Bubba killed the little girl. He takes out a handgun, puts it in his belt and tells Harless to get the dogs and the guns. They head off to pick up Skeeter Norris (Robert F. Lyons) and Philby (Claude Earl Jones).

Bubba runs home when his mother comes out. Mrs. Ritter (Jocelyn Brando) tells him to go and hide, just like a game they play. The four men then soon show up and ask to see him. She tells them that he isn’t there and she hasn’t seen him. Otis tells her that the dogs think otherwise. She goes back into the house and they follow the scent. This brings them to a scarecrow in the field. Otis realizes that it is Bubba in disguise. They kill him like a firing squad. Immediately after they learn the search is called off as Marylee isn’t dead, she was just hurt.

There is a trial and the D.A., Sam Willock (Tom Taylor), tries to convince the judge that Bubba was killed in cold blood. He doesn’t see it that way and they are acquitted of the charges. They go off to celebrate while Sam continues what he can to prove the truth.

This doesn’t end here though. Harless while working outside notices a scarecrow much like the one at the Ritters is in his field. As the synopsis states, they start to die in different ways, but Otis believes a multitude of different things that could be happening here. They have to figure it out before it is too late.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie. What struck me the first time was that this starred character actor Drake. He is one that I knew from Dr. Giggles. From what I’ve learned, he’s been in quite a few things, just not always as the star. I think that his performance as Bubba is quite interesting. Him playing with Marylee is different, but he is also mentally disabled. He has the mind of child. It is also a different time and a small town in the south. It does feel a bit like the place I grew up if I’m going to be honest.

Where I’ll shift next is the group of men that are our villains. To be honest though, Otis is the real villain here, he just pressures the other three and they go along with it. There is an interesting scene with Otis and Mrs. Ritter where she points out her son has never done anything wrong, but the man that hates him has issues. It is hinted he could be a pedophile, which would make sense. Aside from that, the other three are good old boys that make a bad decision. A bit of that is mob mentality, but they’re still guilty.

What I really like about this film though, is there is a chance that it isn’t supernatural. We see the scarecrow, but it is possible that someone, like Sam or Mrs. Ritter, could be using this to scare and then kill them. There is a scene at the end that rebuffs this, but it is a solid concept. I like the revenge aspect of this film. When Bubba dies, there is a high wind that picks up. This happens a few different times. It works for me to question if someone is actually getting revenge for Bubba or is his spirit doing that.

The acting is good as well. Now he isn’t in the film long, but I thought Drake did a great job at portraying his character realistically. I’ve seen him in other things and he normally does well as I’ve said. I was impressed. Durning is great at portraying a character I absolutely hated. It was well done so I’ll give credit to get a reaction. Lyons and Jones were good, thinking that something was up, but being weak enough that they could be pushed around. Smith plays a farmer very well. It is funny that I know him as the dad from Son in Law, which is a similar character. I also liked Crowe and Brando, who seem to know what is killing them. It is an interesting angle there. I also respected Taylor in the small amount of screen time he had. I’d say the acting was solid across the board.

Now this film was made for television. I actually thought it was really well done despite that. The editing of the film is tight. It moves quickly through its 96 minute run time, building tension all the way through. It is one of those films where you are rooting for the killer to get his revenge. The effects of the film are good. The kills are all done off screen though, but the effects used were practical. I would give credit here to the cinematography as well to hide things while still making this enjoyable. There is very little blood. The score to the film fit well and helped to set the scenes.

With that said, I would recommend seeing this one. This is back when made for television films were still high quality. I think we are seeing a little bit of that again, but I was impressed with this one. This is a fun revenge flick that takes place in a country town and something we could see even done today. The acting of the film was solid. The editing of the film was well done and the little effects used were also. The score helps to set the scenes and to build tension. If you want to see an above average revenge horror film, then I would recommend giving this one a viewing.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10