Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
Starring: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones
Writers: J.D. Feigelson, Butler Handcock
Director: Frank De Felitta
Bubba lives in a backwoods town full of assholes who look down on him for being mentally challenged. His only friends are his Momma and a little girl named Marylee. One day, the little girl is attacked by a vicious dog and rushed to the hospital, thought to be dead. A fuckwad of a mailman assembles a couple of farmer boys and a gas station attendant to go serve out some private justice on Bubba, because they are more than convinced that he is behind the little girls death. With a couple of dogs, they hunt poor Bubba down in a field, where he's hiding as a scarecrow. After they shoot his ass to death, news breaks that Marylee was indeed attacked by a dog and still alive, thanks to Bubba. So, they make the murder look like self defense, which ultimately gets them out of doing jail time. Shortly afterward, a mysteriously similar looking scarecrow starts showing up in the fields that belong to the two farmer boys. Does someone know of their wrongful murderous act, or has Bubba himself returned to dish out some of his own private justice?
Anybody out there remember completely weird shit from a movie you've only seen once back when you were a kid? I do. It's always some bizarre scene and it makes no sense to me why I remember it more than anything else. Nevertheless, remembering a scene from a movie you haven't laid eyes on in 30 years usually must mean it's a pretty good fucking movie, right? Not always, unfortunately, but Night of the Scarecrow definitely is quite good. However, I've only come to realize this recently. This gem was playing on Halloween night in '81; I was 4 at the time and had just come home from Trick or Treating. I want to say it played a few more times during the years, but I honestly might be thinking of something else. Or, I may have been a bit older. You'd think a movie like this would embed all the creepy images of the scarecrow in my head. Nope. I remembered a fucking windmill that is on screen for just a bit at the beginning. Why? Who knows, I'm a weirdy. I'm not even sure I got to watch the whole thing, as this may have been the year I got sent to bed for throwing a football into a bowl of popcorn my dad was munchin' on. I never even fucking played football, so I have no idea why I ever did such a thing. Or, it could have been the year I pretended my nose was a space shuttle and popcorn kernels were astronauts, and I started screaming because I couldn't get those sum'bitches out. I got sent to bed for stupidity, hah. I don't remember ever getting those kernels out of my nose. Anyway, I'm rambling.
The 70's and 80's were a great time for made for TV horror. Films that didn't rely on gore or insane violence. Salem's Lot, Don't be Afraid of the Dark, Duel, and Night of the Scarecrow, to name a few. As mentioned, NOTS is mostly minimalistic in violence, but the imagery and suspenseful buildups make it one hell of a winner.
The screenplay is written by J.D. Fiegelson from a story by him and Butler Handcock, and it really helps build the scarecrow into a great antihero. The 4 antagonists literally get away with murder, and the writing lays the hatred for these characters on thick. It's bad enough that these assholes wrongfully spray nearly twenty bullets into Bubba, but they also get out of court scott free, due to insufficient evidence. The courtroom scene is enough to get your fuckin' blood boiling; screaming attorneys, a scoffing crowd, a shoddy judge, it's depressing. Furthermore, they smile it off, get drunk and Otis --the asshole that basically runs the show-- more or less rubs their victory in Bubba's mother's face, as well as the prosecutor. Cinematography is above standard, too. I've seen newer TV films that lack the quality of this. Director Frank De Felitta guides the visual aspect by giving off tons of closeups, a bad ass POV shot next to Otis in the bed of Harless' hay truck, some fantastic menacing shots of the scarecrow, and more.
Larry Drake is only in the movie for maybe five minutes, but he gives a greatly sympathetic performance as Bubba, and his demise is highly uncomfortable. Jocelyn Brando plays his mother, and it's also easy to grasp on to her sorrow and anger towards the lynch mob that walk free. The little girl that Bubba is accused of killing is played by Tonya Crowe, and in the limited scenes that her and Drake have together there's some real tenderhearted shit. The four ass backwards dicks that serve out lynch mob justice on Bubba are Otis, Skeeter, Philby and Harless, played by Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earle Jones (Bride of Re-Animator) and the late Lane Smith, respectively. Otis and Harless are really the two that suck so hard they aren't worthy of eating dog shit; Skeeter and Philby more or less seem like the tag alongs that do whatever they're told to. Durning and Smith are quite good in the portrayal of the jerkwads, and Lyons and Jones pull off the chicken shit combo adequately.
- As previously mentioned, Night of the Scarecrow doesn't contain much bloodshed. Though, when Bubba is hiding out in a scarecrow outfit, the lynch mob turn his ass into swiss cheese, and it was more graphic than expected. There's remnants of a bloody flannel shirt after a wood chipper accident, a suffocation by corn death in a silo, a fairly bloody pitchfork vs. stomach sequence, and that's about it. Most everything is tame and/or implied here, but it's in no way a fault against the film. Sometimes the less on screen carnage there is, the more uncomfortable something can be if handled right with camera work and suspense building music. Night of the Scarecrow certainly works above par with those elements.
Speaking of the music, it's composed by Glenn Paxton, who did one of my favorite TV movies I saw countless times in school, Charlie and the Great Balloon Chase. Here, he pulls off some pretty chilling tunage, sort of in the vein of Manfredini, Friday the 13th 2 & 3 era. Not the disco dance sound of Friday 3, but the synthy low bass type stuff. It's awesome. Fits the film well.
After re-visiting this, there is no question that Night of the Scarecrow will become an annual watch for me around Halloween from now on. Great performances, creepy visuals over a farm setting and solid music; it's an all around awesome tale of revenge that doesn't need to get all no holds barred to succeed.
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