|Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
|Frank De Felitta
|Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones, Lane Smith, Jocelyn Brando, Tonya Crowe and Larry Drake
“There’s other justice in this world besides the law!” – Mrs. Ritter
Bubba Ritter (Drake) is a man is his thirties with the mind of a 10 year old. The big man is best friends with young Marylee (Crowe) and that induces the wrath of local postman Otis (Durning) and his redneck buddies Skeeter (Lyons), Philby (Jones) and Harless (Smith). One day a tragic accident occurs; Marylee is attacked by a dog and Bubba manages to save her. He brings Marylee all bloody and injured home to her mother who immediately gets hysterical. Word gets out the Bubba harmed the girl and Otis gets a taste for vigilante justice. Bubba hides inside a scarecrow but is found and is executed by Otis and friends.
The law sets them free but Bubba’s mother (Brando) promises them that they will taste bitter justice. Not long after a strange apparition stalks the land and seeks them out…and the legend of the Scarecrow begins.
Although never very scary this is nonetheless a hugely atmospheric and involving tale of vengeance. The complete injustice of Bubba’s execution strikes a chord with the viewer and the perpetrators are completely deserving of what’s about to happen to them. But that doesn’t mean they’re one-dimensional SOB’s as there’s top notch thespians in this low-budget TV effort. Charles Durning (“When a Stranger Calls” – 1979) didn’t have a lot of leading roles but when he got them he made the most of them and US Postman Otis P. Hazelrigg is perhaps his finest hour (I know he was up for an Oscar for “To Be or Not to Be” (1983) but he’s much more memorable here). Completely repulsive but oddly intriguing; Otis shows a fair amount of intellect and concern for social status as he gradually realizes he’s being targeted for past crimes. His buddies are equally repellent but marvellously played by character actors Lyons (“10 to Midnight” – 1983), Jones (“Bride of Re-Animator” – 1989) and Smith (“My Cousin Vinny” – 1992) and they’re performances elevate the already gripping material. Bubba is played by the magnificent Larry Drake who was alarmingly good as the mentally impaired Benny Stulwicz for seven seasons in “Law Law” and he was also excellent as the baddie in “Darkman” (1990). And finally Jocelyn Brando (yebb -she’s Marlon’s sister) is pretty forceful as Bubba’s mother.
Director Frank De Felitta doesn’t have a lot of credits and all but one are for TV but he certainly wrings the utmost tension out of the material and maintains a good pace. The atmospheric photography by Vincent A. Martinelli (from TV series like “The Bionic Woman” and “The Incredible Hulk”) is expertly handled and there are a few choice images here that will linger in the viewer’s mind. The music score by Glenn Paxton (who worked exclusively on TV efforts) is also very chilling and adds immensely to the proceedings.
“Dark Night of the Scarecrow” aired on TV in 1981 and has been a horror favourite ever since. It’s quite low-budget and was shot in 17 days but veterans of old time television schedules worked fast and competently. TV movies were also with many built-in limitations (not too much violence, no obscene language, no nudity, no gore to speak of etc.) so creators had to use other things to convey terror and leave a lot for the imagination. All that works in the film’s favour and class-A acting and scripting combined with some really atmospheric and chilling imagery make sure that “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” is a winner.