Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Frank De Felitta
Cast: Larry Drake, Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones
Dark Night of the Scarecrow may often be viewed as a slasher film, but it’s really a revenge film, when you get down to it. However it’s also got some extremely sensitive subtext at work throughout the picture, so if you’re a little sensitive when it comes to child abuse or the mentally handicapped, it might be best to skip Dark Night of the Scarecrow. This one has a field day with both extremely sensitive topics, somehow narrowly avoiding crossing any game changing boundaries and keeping things as close to classy as can be expected from a horror film.
The story sees a grown, mentally retarded man find himself tangled up with an innocent little girl. But Bubba Ritter (you probably guessed our challenged fellow’s name to be something along those lines, right?), the man involved with the youngster, doesn’t do a thing wrong. He never touches this young lady in any inappropriate way, shape or form. His only fault is following the young girl to a nearby neighbors’ house, where a rickety fence offers just enough space to squeeze through. The girl does just this, and in turn gets herself mauled by a dog. She’s not dead, but she’s damn near it. When Bubba tries to save the girl, the narrow minded townsfolk assume it was he who injured the girl. The following can be expected: a modern day witch hunt, that doesn’t end on the uplifting side. It ends with the extermination of Bubba. But Bubba may not be done with this world, and he may very well take up personal issue with the ignorant rednecks that executed him.
This movie is as old as I am – 35 years old (hot damn I hate to think about that) – and it is still, without the hint of doubt, one of – if not the very best scarecrow movie ever made. It’s got a charming yet familiar quality that brings to mind pictures like Friday the 13th and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. But it does its own thing. It breaks a few minor rules, and the passion we, the viewer feel for the victimized character turned vengeful murdering machine changes the dynamics of how we perceive the villain and the conflict as a whole. It is, in truth, a pretty brilliant piece of work.
Director Frank De Felitta (who passed earlier this year, God rest his soul) really deserved a world of praise for turning a made-for-television horror film into an intense, emotional trek through believable terror. Dark Night of the Scarecrow still has a great number of followers, and that fan loyalty is entirely justified. The movie, which serves as a strong platform for the late Larry Drake (who, unbelievably, also passed away earlier this year) to display his stunning versatility as a thespian, invokes a number of emotions from the viewer. We really do feel legitimate fury, sadness, compassion and redemption while watching. There aren’t all that many genre films out there capable of accomplishing such a feat. But Dark Night of the Scarecrow certainly does.
Even after all these years the picture still looks fairly crisp (there’s an impressive Blu-ray of the film now out there, and that comes very highly recommended!), and performances that should probably feel hokey actually work well in the context of the story. There are a number of chilling sequences and the look of the “scarecrow” is terrific. Dark Night of the Scarecrow remains a must-own for any genre fan, even if you were never aware it even existed!