Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

As made for TV movies go, 1981s Dark Night of the Scarecrow is as good as it gets.  Previously available only on a long OOP VHS, VCI recently released a stunning looking DVD of this horror/revenge minor classic.

Starring the venerable Charles Durning and Larry Drake (Darkman, L.A. Law, Dr. Giggles), Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a slowburn, quiet creeper, less gratuitousness and more skin-crawling tingles.

Bubba (Drake) is the village idiot, and after a girl is attacked, postmaster Otis (Durning) and his cronies make a rash decision to take vigilante justice on the presumed guilty Bubba, and after a tense hunt, they find Bubba hiding in the fields as a scarecrow.  Helpless on the cross, Bubba is gunned down in cold blood by the rage-blinded men.  Soon after, they discover that Bubba had actually saved the girl's life, and their decision to take a man's life was in vain.  However, because of a grudge held toward Bubba, this action doesn't seem to weigh too heavily on any of the men's souls...until they start getting picked off by an unseen force, one by one.

The cast is better than it has any right to be, but Durning is especially sterling as his usual mealy-mouthed, greasy, conniving self.  Drake is wonderfully sympathetic in a sort of Frankenstein's monster role.

The pacing of the film is terrific, and the sense of vindication in the viewer grows alongside the fear felt by the perpetrators of the heinous crime.  There aren't any "cheap scares", and every fear that the antagonists hold is played out in agonizingly long detail.  The last five minutes are truly something to behold, filled with a creeping dread that is so regrettably absent from most modern "horror".  With thumbs up from Vincent Price, Ray Bradbury, Stuart Gordon, and me, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a much appreciated resurrected gem that can be appreciated by the dyed-in-the-wool genre fan as well as Scott.  Watch it.  I'm gonna wear my Fright Rags DNOTS t-shirt (funnily enough, now itself OOP) tomorrow.


La Sporgenza said...

Yes, a terrific film that I must have seen back in an earlier television broadcast, but not since. A little like an extended Twilight Zone episode, if I recall . Larry Drake was excellent. I saw it came out on DVD.

Dropkick said...

i liked it too

Rex said...

Yeah! Magnificently done! I have long been haunted by Bubba's terrified eyes staring out from the scarecrow's holes. The film is one genius scene after another to the last motion on the screen. You are absolutely right about its ending's superiority to most of modern horror films.

I watched it with my kids when they were still young. My youngest, about 10 at the time, when it was over said, "Can we watch something to happy us up now?" They're all fans of it now.

While watching it, "No, don't" is the most often repeated phrase in my head. No one on the screen pays any heed.

Rex said...

Oh, and the great thing about this film, if you think about it as a monster film like Dracula or Frankenstein, is that the main victim is far scarier than the monster. Otis Hazelrig scares the hell out of me.