Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW
WRITERS: Teleplay by J.D. Feigelson
Story by J.D. Feigelson and Butler Handcock
DIRECTOR: Frank De Felitta
STARRING: Charles Durning as Otis P. Hazelrigg
Robert F. Lyons as Skeeter Norris
Claude Earl Jones as Philby
Lane Smith as Harless Hocker
Tonya Crowe as Marylee Williams
Larry Drake as Bubba Ritter
Jocelyn Brando as Mrs. Ritter
QUICK CUT: After a man is wrongly killed, he returns from the dead to put the wrong things right, and get vengeance upon those who killed him.
Bubba - A man with developmental issues and the mind of a child, who runs afoul of typical jerkbags that end up killing him when they think he's killed his best friend. A gentle soul, until he comes back from the dead with a taste for revenge.
Marylee - Bubba's best friend, as much an innocent as he was, with an innate curiosity that gets her in trouble, and a streak of loyalty that extends beyond life.
Otis - The ringleader of the mob that goes after Bubba and tries to keep the truth covered up. A postal worker that fancies himself as a rural Patton. The rest of Otis's group are fairly unremarkable, and largely just easily manipulated local yokels.
THE GUTS: And we're back! This time out, Trisk is continuing with some good-time harvest movies, and watching Dark Night of the Scarecrow!
Wait, what? Didn't I...? No...there was no Dark there... Yeah, talk about weirdly similar titles, right? This is actually an entirely different movie from almost 13 years before our last review. So why am I reviewing it *second? Well, because I liked the progression from Night to Dark Night.
Someone stop me before the jokes about Batman Begin. Oh no!
After some brief credits, this was the 80s, and a made for tv movie after all, we find Bubba, played by genre legend slash character actor Larry Drake, and Marylee picking flowers in a field. Drake is playing a character type he'd become known for in other roles, the big oaf that's not too bright.
It's also a genre trope to pair up that kinda guy, with a little kid. It also seems really common in rural farmhouse settings, and I am reminded of the pair in the original Leprechaun. Which was probably giving a nod to this film.
Meanwhile, they're being spied on by the local postal worker. You gotta watch the government, man, they're always watching you.
Our helpful postal worker heads off to a nearby farm and informs his pal Harliss that Bubba is hanging out with the kid, and they should do something about it. Oh. We're going to be one of THOSE movies, where the big oafish guy is constantly seen as dangerous because he's not as smart as everyone else, and can hurt people. Sigh.
While the townsfolk plot against the otherwise harmless Bubba, he and Marylee come across another house and she wants to check out the backyard full of garden gnomes. Bubba doesn't want to go in, afraid he'll get in trouble. Marylee insists that she'll go in anyways, and he thinks that would be...just fine.
While Marylee is having fun harmlessly goofing around, that's when a dog shows up to cause some trouble, because the movie sorely needs some.
Before Harlan from "Dogs" can show up and not do much of anything, Bubba crashes through the fence to save the girl, like he's Kool-Aid Man.
On the one hand, this is a tv movie, so they don't show what happens at all. We just hear a lot of barking and screaming, while the gnomes all stare at us, judging us. We next see Bubba at Marylee's house delivering her injured body to her mom and trying to explain he didn't do it.
Yeah, this is gonna go over GREAT with the farmers just itching for a reason to hang the poor guy up by a rope.
Perry White heads to the post office to get Otis, saying the cops are ready to take Bubba into custody, but NO! The postal worker has a gun RIGHT THERE and is all set to go on a Bubba hunt. Ahh, there's nothing like small town mob justice, is there?
Bubba runs home, being chased by the small mob of locals that have been gathering to seek their inappropriate revenge. And the looks of glee on these men as they get picked up by Otis and his friend is just...disgusting. I am actually angry at how quick these people are jumping on the LITERAL bandwagon to go after Bubba.
The mob shows up, and run into a bit of difficulty thanks to Bubba's mother, and that whole issue of coming onto private property. She sent her son off to hide, but unfortunately the mob has dogs, and his scent.
Bubba's scent leads them to a scarecrow, FINALLY, and they are just about to leave it behind thinking it's JUST a scarecrow. Otis, however, looks into the mask and sees the terrified Bubba inside.
The mob takes a few steps back then pump an excessive amount of lead into the innocent man. And I presume this is our 'warlock back from the dead' stand in, out for revenge. Man, this series is weird...
At that moment, Perry gets word over his CB (Ancient car phone, kids) asking where he's at. The voice on the other end says the manhunt was called off a half hour ago, because Marylee's okay, and it's all been a huge mixup. Not only that, it's because of Bubba that she's alive.
The looks. The looks on the mob's faces, especially Otis, are Priiiiceless. Holy potatoes, they are just, so shaken with what they've done. AND THIS IS WHY MOB JUSTICE IS BAD.
Otis does some quick thinking and shoves a pitchfork into the cold, dead hands of Bubba, an item which turns up later in a courtroom scene as their justification that he was armed and attacking them.
The trial does not go well, since there's no real evidence, and it's the four's word against...no one else, really. They get away with it, and Bubba's mom is dragged off howling about how there's other justice that they'll have to face. There better be...
Meanwhile, Marylee has yet to hear the news, which means all that has happened since she was attacked. Man, that's fast. But I digress. Her parents haven't said anything, and she doesn't know what happened, so sneaks out late at night to go looking for her friend.
She proceeds to break into the Ritter house, and sneak around. This is a pretty open friendship.
Bubba's mom finally finds the little intruder and tells her the bad news. Or rather, that he's gone someplace they can't hurt him. Marylee asks when he's coming back, and let me tell you, it better be soon!!
Life goes on in the small town, as Perry White gets invited to a Halloween party, and discovers there's a strange scarecrow in his currently barren field. Rather than oh, checking the scarecrow out, he goes to ask his friends about it.
Of course, they're not the ones who put it up as a prank, which begs the question; if you thought it was a prank, why would you leave it up there, and not go take it down? And then discover it's a dude.
Maybe he did though, since when they find Otis and clue him in, they say it was filled with straw. That's not something you could tell from the far-off view they gave us earlier.
Otis figures its just the district attorney messing with them and tells everyone to go home. Perry heads out into the field and kicks down the scarecrow pole, but then hears something in the barn.
He wanders into his barn and finds one of his machines running. He still hears noises, and goes investigating the hay loft. He gets spooked and falls backwards into the machinery.
Man, this series is all out of original ideas, already reusing the same death by farm equipment in a barn scene!!
The terrible trio start their own investigation, and discover that the machine's gas tank is still almost full, meaning someone must have shut it off immediately after it was used to make ground Perry. Meaning that it wasn't an accident. Dun dun DUN.
Otis pays Momma Ritter a visit to deliver the mail, and accuse her of being the culprit. She then throws out the veiled accusation that he's a pedophile and has a thing for Marylee. That...came outta nowhere. It's not like we needed MORE reason to despise him.
Another of the mob heads home, and while he's grabbing lunch, he sees the scarecrow has decided to put in an appearance in HIS fields today. I guess that means he's next.
Still on the case, Otis visits Marylee at the church's Halloween party, and tries to make her tell him about Mrs. Ritter's revenge scheme. She reveals instead that she knows what he did to Bubba. Because Bubba told her.
The scarecrow's next target crashes the party, and drags Otis and their last remaining friend out to his farm, where the...scarecrow no longer is.
Otis wants all this to stop, and heads to his prime suspect's house again, to give her a bit of a scare. Sadly, he does the job too well, and Mrs. Ritter dies of a heart attack. Because we needed MORE reaosn to think he's a terrible human.
As if that was not enough, as Otis is leaving the scene of the crime, he spies the stove. He turns the gas on high and walks out, leaving the gas and the fireplace primed to make Ritters' fall down and go boom.
Once we deal with a quickie arson investigation, it's back to the actual plot later that night. Our soon to be victim hears noises and tries to escape, but oh no! The car won't start! So let's go hide in the grain silo! What's the worst that can happen?
With their numbers dwindling, Otis goes to find the last of his friends, and tell him that it's all Bubba's doing because now he's a believer. I guess you could say he's eating crow.
Anyways, the pair head to the cemetery to dig up Bubba's grave, I presume to burn the bones. Because that's what you do in times like these.
Or, maybe just to make sure he's in the grave. And he is! So, Otis comes to the conclusion that it must be Marylee doing all the killing.
They decide to cover the body, and while the other guy is in the pit, Otis uses the shovel and kills the only other witness to what really happened.
So, just to be clear here, Otis is the real monster of this movie, got it?
Continuing his history of bad decisions, Otis gets in his little mail car, and drives off. While drinking. The terrible driving all over the road is making me twitch.
As he drives along, he finds Marylee standing in the middle of the road, and even manages to not hit her in his drunken state.
She runs off, he chases her in the car, creating his own shortcuts, but soon crashing into a tree, or some brush. She runs off again, and having nothing else to crash, he follows on foot.
He catches her in the fields, Marylee calls for Bubba, and a nearby bulldozer starts up. I wonder if Danny and his friend are driving it, and will then crack open a mystical cistern releasing another scarecrow!
Scarecrow fighting scarecrow!
Er, where was I? Right, actual plot of the movie.
The bulldozer chases Otis through the field, as he thinks it's STILL the lawyer seeking revenge, and the mailman runs straight into the scarecrow, with his waiting pitchfork. Which he promptly impales himself on.
Otis finally sees the scarecrow in his final moments, finally knowing it was Bubba, and he falls over.
Leaving us with pretty much everyone dead, and no one to ride the bulldozer off into the sunset.
OH right. The kid's still alive. And in the field. So that's someone, I guess.
And she's still got her undead scarecrow friend, so someone gets to live happily ever after, after all!
So the bad guy's dead, and we end with the undead scarecrow pal giving the girl a flower, and her promising to teach him a new game tomorrow. Weirdest friendship ever.
Video: So, a made for tv movie from 1981...this looks surprisingly good. Someone cared enough when transferring it to disc, and you get some good video. The colours are a little muted, but that's due more to when it was filmed, and the medium. Everything is easy to see, and there's even some good variation to the blacks in some scenes.
Audio: Again, based on what this is, it's pretty good.
Sound Bite: "Bubba didn't do it!" Hey, sometimes you gotta go with the iconic lines. It's also great how this declaration by Larry Drake at the start of the movie is completely reversed by the end of the movie, when it IS Bubba who did most of the killing.
Body Count: It's a small, but impressive body count this time out, especially for a tv movie. Also, kinda freaky how a fair number AREN'T by the 'monster' of the movie.
1 - 22 minutes in, Bubba is killed by an angry mob for something he didn't do. Quick, call LA Law!
2 - And it takes another entire half hour before the revengening begins, and Perry White falls into his own farm equipment.
3 - Mrs. Ritter dies of a heart attack because Otis scared her. It's not a good day to be a Ritter.
4 - Another of the mob cronies gets buried in his own grain silo.
5 - Otis kills the last of his friends to bury the secret forever.
6 - And finally, Otis himself is killed when he stupidly runs into Bubbacrow's pitchfork. Which he kinda put there in the first place. Ahh, symmetry and irony.
Best Corpse: Ahh, Otis's death is EASILY the most satisfying, but I kinda love one of the cronies getting buried by his own feed in the grain silo.
Blood Type - D: It came close to getting a fail, but they did include some shots of Bubba after he was shot. Again, it's a tv movie, so I kept that in mind. Also, while the scarecrow's look wasn't any makeup effects, it IS an effective look, and I only wish there had been more of him.
Sex Appeal: And moving on...
Drink Up! every time the movie reminds you that Otis is a terrible human being, and the REAL monster of this story.
Sights and Sounds: This was a tough one to grab stuff for, and I ended up settling randomly on the weirdness of the judging gnomes, because it's weird. If anyone has any other suggestions, I'll gladly consider them!
Movie Review: I gotta say, this is a pretty good movie. It's nothing great, but it's perfectly above average, and entertaining, and AGAIN for a tv movie from 1981? That was probably made to be done quickly and forgotten about? Oh yeah, absolutely worth seeing. The cast is okay, mainly due to familiar faces. The plot is a classic, although done up in a pretty interesting way, and I like that they never REALLY answer the question of who the killer is until the very end. But c'mon, we all knew Bubba DID do it. The pace is a little slow to start, and while this movie does fill itself with what I normally complain about, this time the whole POINT is that the mob is horrible. This is about justice, and is a VERY interesting inversion of a lot of horror tropes by making the 'monster' actually be a good person who ended up getting the short end of things, and coming back for revenge. Where have I heard that plot before? But it's still cursed by low production values (But they still did a great job with very little, don't get me wrong), and tied down by their tv masters. I genuinely liked that this was a bloodless movie, and let so much play with your imagination, though. It especially works with the mystery of the creature. This won't burn up your thoughts, but it is ABSOLUTELY worthy of watching, and is a great cult film that I hope I can call more people to. Three out of five pitchforks. And if I gave partial scores, it would be inching SO close to four.
Entertainment Value: Hmm. It's a pretty solid movie yes, but there's really not too much over the topness here. Whereas I said that Just Plain Night of the Scarecrow did the right thing by taking its pretty simple, common story and went absolutely over the top with visuals and deaths, making it something special...DARK Night instead goes the classic route and does the basic story. But it does it RIGHT, and does it simply, and its a well told version of it. Also, they do some interesting things by making the villain justifiable, and almost being a precursor to revenge flicks to come 15 years later. But going the simple route, and just focusing on getting the story right, there's really not a lot of "Whoa" moments, or "What?!" moments here. And that's fine. This movie's entertainment value comes from just being a good story, from a simpler time, told in a simpler format. I certainly don't fault it for that, but don't come in expecting to be baffled or laughing hysterically. Two out of five glaring gnomes.