Kindertrauma Classic:: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

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.

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bdwilcox
bdwilcox
1 month ago

Saw this when it originally aired and, even as young and dumb as I was, I realized it was a masterpiece and have never forgotten it. Not until The Green Mile did I see a movie as profound and lyrical in telling the age-old tales of persecuted innocence and righteous justice. I agree it is perhaps the best made for TV movie ever made during those golden years of the genre.

Last edited 1 month ago by bdwilcox
SmallDarkCloud
SmallDarkCloud
1 month ago

It’s a terrific movie. Something I love about the movie is the mystery of who is targeting Otis and his pals. Is it Bubba, somehow? The movie doesn’t give you an answer until the very last two shots, and even then, there’s still some ambiguity.

One very disturbing element of the film is the subtle suggestion that Otis’ concern for Marylee’s welfare might be, let’s say, less than pure. I didn’t catch this the first time I watched Dark Night of the Scarecrow. It took a second viewing before I picked up on it.

The movie’s easy to see now on blu-ray, from Kino, I think.

Ghastly1
Ghastly1
1 month ago

This is an enjoyable little film and it makes me wish there were more good killer scarecrow films out there (I like that premise) but unfortunately there is a dearth of them. I have to credit the story “Harold” in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the Goosebumps book, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight with cultivating in me my love for scarecrows as a kid.
Unk, Scissors is a very cool film, as is -to an admittedly lesser extent- Sliver.

SmallDarkCloud
SmallDarkCloud
1 month ago

Ghastly1 – I have a film for you, if you haven’t watched it yet. Scarecrows is a regional horror movie, shot in rural Florida in 1984 but not released until 1988, on VHS (though it was given a token one-week run in a theater in Nebraska. of all places, in 1987).

It’s a good little thriller about a group of criminals (also military veterans) who steal 3 million dollars, then hijack a small plane in order to fly to Mexico. One of their crew parachutes out with all of the money, mid-flight. The rest land the plane, with the hostages, to find him and get the money back. The thief of thieves landed near a swamp, with a small cabin and three scarecrows nearby…

The movie had a very small budget, and it doesn’t always make sense (why would anyone build three scarecrows in swampland?), but the action and suspense is very well-done. Scream Factory released this one a few years, but let it fall out of print. It might be on YouTube, though.

Last edited 1 month ago by SmallDarkCloud
bdwilcox
bdwilcox
1 month ago

YellowBrickRoad has a rather disturbing scarecrow element to it.

Ghastly1
Ghastly1
1 month ago

SDC,
Scarecrows is really the only other good killer scarecrow film, at least to my knowledge. That’s why I say there is not a dearth of killer scarecrow films (there are quite a few actually) but most of them are garbage. I’m thinking of stuff like Scarecrow (2002) Scarecrow Slayer (2003), Dark Harvest I & II (2004) & Psycho Scarecrow (1996). The only other even halfway decent killer scarecrow film I can think of is Night of the Scarecrow (1995) and it’s not great.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ghastly1
harrywarden69
harrywarden69
1 month ago

Ghastly1 there was a pretty good episode of the Friday the 13th tv show with a killer scarecrow
https://youtu.be/lxiiV48FRU8

julianne606
julianne606
23 days ago

A classic!