DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is one of the most revered made-for-TV thrillers ever made. Originally broadcasted on CBS-TV on Saturday, October 24, 1981, I completely missed out the film’s initial airing (how this happened I honestly can’t recall; I was already a fan of the genre having seen BURNT OFFERINGS on NBC-TV two months prior, so I don’t know where my head was at). Apparently, so did a lot of other people as this became the film that most of us caught up with in the mid-1980’s and 1990’s during our trips to the video store after it was released on VHS on Key Video.
I had seen TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) and DON’T GO TO SLEEP (1982) so I knew that TV terror could very often be far more frightening than theatrical fare. The very fact that home video has made films like DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW available to the ancillary market has given many fans the opportunity to see it for the first time. Thirty years later, the film has thrown out its old, Macrovision-riddled magnetic self for a shiny new optical facelift on Blu-ray.
Written by screenwriter J.D. Feigelson, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is a tale of the consequences of short-sightedness, misjudgment and vigilantism. Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake of DR. GIGGLES, DARKMAN, and television’s LA LAW) is a mentally-challenged adult who is falsely accused of accidentally killing his little friend Marylee (Tonya Crowe) after she is attacked by a dog.
Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning), a postal worker with a hot temper and an air of superiority, rounds up several confederates to hunt down Bubba and administer their own form of justice. Though Bubba may be simple, he is smart enough to hide within a scarecrow’s costume in the middle of a wheat field. The close-up on his eyes hidden under the scarecrow mask is very creepy.
His cover is blown by several bloodhounds who lead the mob to him, and they all fire their guns upon him, killing him instantly.
After the killing, the men are bewildered to discover that not only has Marylee survived her attack, but that Bubba had no hand in it. In fact, he helped save her life by rushing her back to her mother in time. This realization stuns Otis and his gang, and they do their best to hide their guilt and complicity from Bubba’s mother (Jocelyn Brando). Unfortunately, someone begins to knock them off one by one, until Otis is the only one left, and he soon comes to realize that it is in indeed the spirit of Bubba that is seeking revenge.
By today’s standards, the film is very tame. However, I think it was probably a bit violent for 1981, especially the scene where Marylee is attacked by a dog, which is a common fear among children.
Charles Durning gives a terrific performance as the ringleader who tries his best to keep the mob’s actions under wraps, but soon his plan spirals out of control with disastrous results.
This is a movie that is best viewed around Halloween, and its Blu-ray presentation is exceptional. The disc’s extras include:
Commentary track with the director and the writer, ported over from the DVD
CBS World Premiere Promo from 10/24/1981, ported over from the DVD
New to the Blu-ray: Bubba Didn’t Do It – 30 Years of the Scarecrow (31:41)
New to the Blu-ray: CBS Network Re-broadcast from 09/07/1985
New to the Blu-ray: Cast Reunion at the 2011 Frightfest Film Festival in Louisville, KY (46:04)
Behind-the-Scene Photo Gallery
I would love to see VCI get their hands on 1972’s WHEN MICHAEL CALLS (aka SHATTERED SILENCE and based on John Farris’s 1967 novel of the same name), one of the creepiest TV movies ever made that has never been properly represented on home video.
A soundtrack album for DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW has been released as a download and is very creepy, atmospheric and highly recommended.