Affable mentally challenged Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake) enjoys an innocent friendship with a sweet little girl named Marylee Williams (Tonya Crowe). The two spend autumn days in their small Southern town singing songs, playing games, and making flower chains. Unfortunately, their creepy postman Otis (Charles Durning) projects his own ugly thoughts upon them and declares to anyone who will listen that something untoward is going on. One day, to Bubba’s horror, a dog ravages Marylee, and when he carries the girl’s bloody body to safety, her hysterical mother assumes Bubba is responsible! Thinking his worst assumptions have been proven true, obstinate Otis gathers a bunch of his knuckleheaded pals who form a vigilante mob. Meanwhile, Bubba’s mother, who is used to incriminations against her child, suggests he hide in plain sight dressed up as a scarecrow until the mess blows over. Otis, along with his henchman discover poor Bubba’s ruse and assassinate him just before Marylee regains consciousness and reveals what really happened. When Otis and his cohorts go free due to lack of evidence, Bubba’s mother warns, “There’s other justice in this world besides the law” and oh how right she is. As Halloween season commences, all those responsible for the unjust demise of Bubba will come to horrible deaths as an ominous scarecrow is seen haunting the fields.
Directed by novelist Frank De Felitta (Audrey Rose, The Entity), the 1981 made-for-television film DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is a simple, yet deeply poetic morality tale rife with atmosphere and suspense. Larry Drake’s performance as innocent Bubba is outstanding and if there has ever been a more detestable villain than Charles Durning’s unscrupulous mailman Otis, I’m not aware of said monster. The impeccable cast also includes Jocelyn Brando who shines as Bubba’s mother and the voice of reason and righteousness within the unfortunate chaos. It’s difficult not to get roused by the bigotry and fragrant injustice imposed upon Bubba and his mother and to gleefully luxuriate in the well-deserved comeuppance inflicted on those who deserve it.
Anyone who was lucky enough to capture this perfectly constructed film on the night it premiered, caught its frequent re-airings, or rented the sometimes hard-to-find Key Video VHS tape can attest that DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is not only one of the best made-for-TV horror movies out there but also one of the greatest supernatural revenge films of all time (I honestly feel like marching down my street with a “Bubba Didn’t Do It” picket sign as we speak). Loaded with many a memorable moment and a deadly force as sympathetic as it is chilling, this is one uniquely cathartic horror film in which every murder feels absolutely justified.