Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a 1981 made-for-television horror feature film directed by veteran novelist Frank De Felitta (author of Audrey Rose) from a script by J.D. Feigelson. The latter’s intent had been to make an independent feature, but his script was bought by CBS for television; despite this, only minor changes were made to the original screenplay.
In a small town in the Deep South, “Bubba” Ritter (Larry Drake), a large but gentle mentally challenged man, befriends young Marylee Williams, (Tonya Crowe). Some of the townspeople are upset by the friendship between Marylee and Bubba, and the brooding, mean-spirited postman Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning) harbours the most animosity.
When Marylee is almost killed by a vicious dog (Bubba saves her) and lies unconscious at a doctor’s office, Otis promptly assumes that Bubba has murdered (and likely carnally assaulted) her. Otis and three friends – gas station attendant Skeeter Norris and farmer-cousins Philby and Harliss Hocker – form a lynch mob. They chase Bubba to his mother (Jocelyn Brando)’s house. She believes her son and they play “the Hiding Game”: disguising Bubba as a scarecrow and posting him in a nearby field. Otis’ bloodhounds sniff Bubba out, however, and all four vigilantes empty multiple rounds from their guns into him, killing him.
Afterwards, they discover that Marylee is in fact alive, thanks to Bubba, whom they have just murdered. Acting fast, Otis places a pitchfork in Bubba’s lifeless hands to make it appear as if he were attacking them with a weapon.
A day later, Harliss finds a scarecrow in his fields like the one Bubba was hidden in. Neither Harliss nor his wife can figure out how it got there as neither of them placed it. That evening, the scarecrow has disappeared…
“Dark Night of the Scarecrow is simple but effective. The movie isn’t quite horrific as it could be (granted a man being sent through a stump grinder is pretty graphic), but it is relatively low-key in the horror building atmosphere instead of jumps and gore.” Basement Rejects
“Feigelson’s script is deadly serious about the communal malignant spirits his scarecrow, who is only actually seen three times during the film, is exorcising. The townsfolk, as characterized by Otis and the gang, are petty, self-satisfied tyrants that need to punish difference in their community with fear and suspicion.” Slant Magazine
“Dark Night of the Scarecrow transcends itself from being just another TV movie of the week, but rather, something that could easily have been an acclaimed theatrical release. Smart direction and writing which builds up the suspense nicely, along with a cast full of accomplished characters actors make this one a gem.” DVD Drive-In
“Scarecrow hasn’t lost an ounce of its power, and if it weren’t for the five fade-to-black commercial breaks, I would have never guessed this debuted on TV. It’s simple in its scope and story (Of Mice and Men may have been a partial influence), but writer J.D. Feigelson and director Frank De Felitta have put their own fresh stamp on this instant Halloween classic that proves genuine scares come from mood, not mayhem.” DVD Talk
“J.D. Feigelson’s script is carefully constructed and never overplays its hand in terms of shocks. He uses the power of suggestion to great effect, never showing the phantom killer and keeping the ultimate revelation carefully concealed until the last few moments. Better yet, he uses his tale as a vehicle to comment on how so-called defenders of morality often barely have a rein on their own personal demons.” Schlockmania!
“It’s a testament to the film’s quality that a ‘meagre’ TV film packs more unsettling content than a dozen big budget features with ten times the cash injection. Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a real product of its time: it would bore a modern audience to death were it new but for jaded oldies who thought everything good from the 80s had already been on DVD for a decade might find something nostalgically great here.” Vegan Voorhees
Cast and credits:
- Charles Durning … Otis P. Hazelrigg – When a Stranger Calls and sequel; The Fury
- Robert F. Lyons … Skeeter Norris
- Claude Earl Jones … Philby
- Lane Smith … Harless Hocker
- Tonya Crowe … Marylee Williams
- Larry Drake … Bubba Ritter – The Secrets of Emily Blair; Darkman; Doctor Giggles
- Jocelyn Brando … Mrs. Ritter
- Tom Taylor … D.A. Sam Willock
- Richard McKenzie … Judge Henry
- Ivy Jones … Mrs. Willams
- James Tartan … Mr. Williams (as Jim Tartan)
- Ed Call … Defense Attorney
- Alice Nunn … Mrs. Bunch
- John Steadman … Mr. Loomis
- Dave Adams … Deputy (as David Adams)
96 minutes | Aspect Ratio: 1.33 : 1