Saturday, March 15, 2014


DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981) (UR) Dir. Frank De Felitta
96 mins.

Long before Darkman and Dr. Giggles, Larry Drake portrayed a mentally challenged thirty-six year old in the CBS TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Drake is Bubba Ritter, an large fellow with the mind of a child, and he spends his days playing with his close friend, Marylee, picking flowers in the fields and exploring the neighborhood. This comes much to the chagrin of some of the locals, most notably the postman Otis (Charles Durning), who suggests to the others that Bubba will eventually harm, or even rape her. When Marylee is mauled by a dog in a neighbor's yard, Bubba saves her and brings her to her mother, but he can't properly explain himself. Bubba is quickly blamed for her injuries, and a lynch mob is formed by Otis and his three dim-witted cohorts, Skeeter, Philby, and Harliss.

Mama Ritter, knowing of the incoming danger (as these men have been tormenting Bubba for years), has her son disguise himself as a scarecrow in the field behind their farm. Unfortunately, Otis and company have with them bloodhounds, and soon discover the rouse. All four men unload a flurry of bullets into the Bubba scarecrow> Shortly after, they are informed over their CB radio that Bubba had actually saved Marylee and was not responsible for the attack. Panicking, the men swear absolute secrecy, and by planting a pitchfork in Bubba's dead hand, attempt to pose the murder as an act of self defense.
A trial is held, and the men are found innocent due to a lack of evidence. The district attorney swears vengeance, and Mama Ritter swears vengeance, but the men laugh it off and go about their lives. That is, until one day a mysterious scarecrow shows up in Harliss' wheat fields... and Harliss suspiciously dies. The police are convinced it was a drunken accident, but Philby and Skeeter are convinced it's a murder. If so, was is the district attorney? Bubba's mother? The mysterious Marylee is claiming she still plays with Bubba... what else does she know? Has he returned from the dead seeking justice?
For a TV movie, this film is fantastic. I was a bit skeptical at first and didn't know what to expect. Yet although it starts on Bambi legs (feeling like a Wonderful World of Disney special), Dark Night of the Scarecrow eventually gains its momentum and delivers a ghost yarn with a tight and tense atmosphere. All this, despite the miniscule budget, awful soundtrack and lack of any on-screen violence. The story is spooky and classic, (a murder/revenge from the grave plot), the acting is solid (especially by Larry Drake), the stalking/death scenes are anxious and well executed, and the final reels are definitely spiked with a few shots of nightmare fuel. There are even a few twists. Recommended to enthusuiasts for its earnestness and its creep-factor, and also as a testament to the legitimacy of made for TV horror. 6/10

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