Sunday, August 22, 2010

VHS Review: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)


RUN TIME: 100 Min.
DIRECTOR: Frank De Felitta
CAST: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Lane Smith, Tonya Crowe, Larry Drake

SUMMARY: In a rural town a man with the mind of a child is wrongfully accused of a child’s death. After his demise at the hands of a lynch mob, it is realized he is innocent, and in fact, saved the girls life. Afterwards, the men responsible for his death start dying under mysterious circumstances.

THE FILM: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW was a made-for-television horror film that aired on the CBS network the week before Halloween 1981, what great timing, truly a classic Halloween film. I was 8 at the time, and the film affected me deeply. Much like in the film, I grew up a rural area that was blanketed in fields of corn and agriculture. Afterwards I had quite a few nightmares about scarecrows and cornfields, and I hadn’t even seen THE CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984), yet. The film is directed by Frank De Felitta, the author/screenwriter of AUDREY ROSE (1977), also reviewed on the blog.

The film opens with Bubba (Larry Drake, DR. GIGGLES), a 36 year old man with the mind of a child, as he plays with Mary-Lee (Tonya Crowe), an adolescent girl and his only friend. They are watched by Otis (Charles Durning, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), a mean-spirited mailman who disapproves of their relationship despite its innocent nature. Soon thereafter Mary-Lee is attacked by a vicious dog. Otis takes the child’s seemingly lifeless body to her mother, trying to explain the situation, and she panics and accuses Bubba of murdering her child. A lynch mob is formed by Otis, armed with rifles; track Bubba with bloodhounds to his mother’s home. She sends them away, but the hounds are onto his scent, which leads them to a scarecrow on a post in a field. Otis walks-up to the scarecrow to investigate, it’s a chilling sight. Bubba’s eyes stare out of the eerie burlap mask, his eyes tearing up and trembling with fear. The men open fire, executing him in a hail of gunfire. Right on cue the truck radio gurgles to life, informing the men that the search for Bubba has been called off, the girl is all right, and Bubba may have saved her life. Otis, acting quickly, takes a pitchfork from the track and places it in Bubba’s hands, thereby claiming self defense. There’s a short trial afterwards and the men are cleared of murder charges. Soon thereafter the men are dispatched one by one in a series of chilling revenge killings, each preceded by the sight of a scarecrow in a field outside their homes.

I don’t want to spoil the film so I won’t go into much detail about the murders. This is a TV film, as such it is absent of gore, but high on chills and atmosphere. The pace can be a tad slow, but with that we get some decent character development. The culprit is not visually revealed until the end and it works fantastically. I love the entire film, but the last 10 minutes are above and beyond amazing. The cinematography is pretty standard for an 80’s made-for-TV-film, not too imaginative, but it works and has few moments of inspiration. The score is eerie, tense and really enhanced my viewing experience. As TV films go, this is heads and shoulders above KILLDOZER (1974), and a good bit better than another childhood favorite GARGOYLES (1972).

DVD: Dark Night of the Scarecrow is set to be released on DVD for the first time by VCI Entertainment on September 10th, 2010. The film will be presented in its original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio with a newly created 5.1 surround sound audio. Special features will include Director & Writer Commentary, Original World Premiere Trailer, Rebroadcast Trailer and World Premiere Promo. Sounds great, can’t wait to check it out.

VERDICT: I can’t say enough great things about Dark Night of the Scarecrow, it’s pretty awesome, and any fan of horror should seek this out.
 ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)