Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (Frank DeFellitta)

Pity to the simple minded giants in a horror movie for death or injury at the hands of a bloodthirsty mob is never far behind. Frankenstein’s monster just wanted some human companionship, but unable to process his full strength, he unexpectedly tossed a poor little girl to her death. In the made for TV, but surprisingly suspenseful and bloody, movie, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, slow witted child’s mind-in-a-man’s body, Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake), actually saves his young friend’s life, but is not sparred from the wrath of a small town gaggle of men, spurred on by voyeuristic, and possibly perverted minded, postal worker Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning).

Bubba’s best friend, a ten year old flower obsessed girl named Mary Lee decides to take a peak over the fence of a neighbor’s yard, but before we can cutaway to ominous looking gnomes, a German Shepard pounces on her. Bubba brings the unconscious child to her mother, but wires are crossed, and Otis, thinking that there’s no other explanation than Bubba must have finally snapped, gathers a posse to implement a little small town justice. Scared, Bubba, at the insistence of his mother, hides from the men, in their field, disguised as a scarecrow. But the posse discovers the ruse and kills Bubba, shooting first and asking questions later. Planting a pitchfork on Bubba, the men get off of murder charges by claiming a self-defense plea. Shortly after, the men responsible for Bubba’s death have scarecrows mysteriously appear in their own yards and are systemically killed. Is this the work of Bubba’s mother? The D.A. who swears for justice? Or has Bubba returned from the dead?

While a little padded for the simple nature of the film (probably to fit a 2 hour block of time with commercials), and prone to the occasional disinterested shot composition and technical aspects that one generally associates with the made for television films of the era, Dark Night also is very effective, both emotionally and suspense wise. The film was originally conceived to be made independently and then sold for theatrical release, so while some scenes of gore may have been edited for broadcast, it still has its share of bloodshed, and is more suspense than gore based either way. The scene where Bubba’s disguise is revealed is particularly harrowing and well executed. I would have liked one of the members of the posse to have misgivings about their participation, but really appreciated Durning’s, reveling in playing the villain, Otis becoming more power hungry and obsessive after getting away with murder. The film serves as a prototype for the Final Destination series, as it keeps the source of the mystery ambiguous, and each person dies in a Rube Goldberg-inspired method that could be explained away easily via circumstances.

3 comments:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Saw this last year for the first time. Pretty dang good, if you ask me!

le0pard13 said...

I'm definitely intrigued, Colonel. Putting it into the queue. Thanks.

Mummbles said...

I love the scene in The Dark Knight when he gets the Scarecrow, oh wait...this is something else! I think I have seen this VHS at the flea market once.

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