A Movie A Day: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981)
Bubba didn’t do it!!!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
I’ve been hearing about this TV movie, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, for a long, long time. I’ve heard it referenced by movie geeks, those nostalgic for the ‘80s and the like for easily half my life.
When I saw it was hitting DVD via one of Big Red’s DVD Picks and Peeks column I figured it’d be a perfect addition to my October run of AMAD.
And boy am I glad I’ve finally seen it. In an ideal world the column would be 31 days of movies like this. Even though the production value is limited by it being a TV movie there’s a surprisingly quality to the entire production, from cast to script to direction to overall tone this is a film that could have easily been a theatrical film. If it had a little more movie money instead of TV movie money it could be something we talk about in the same breath as Something Wicked This Way Comes.
And it’s harsh. Really harsh.
Basically the flick is set in a small town where the Postman (Charles Durning) organizes a lynch mob when the town idiot, a slow Forrest Gump-like manchild named Bubba, brings a bloodied little girl back home to her mother crying and repeating over “Bubba didn’t do it!” Naturally, things don’t look good for Bubba.
Bubba, by the way, is played by a young Larry Drake… yes, that’s right. Dr. Giggles himself. You’d think it’d be creepy with Durant from Darkman playing the dimwitted overall-wearing manchild, but Drake imbues the role with a soft childish sensibility that comes across as sweet, not creepy.
And creepy it could have been… in fact, it’s a small miracle that Larry Drake sitting in a field with a little girl in a cute dress that keeps trying to kiss him on the cheek didn’t come off as creepy.
No, they save the creepy for Charles Durning, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
So, when this little girl wanders into a neighborlady’s yard despite the warnings from Bubba and gets attacked by the neighbor’s dog, Drake bumbles in to save her. The dog attack happens off screen, but it SOUNDS vicious, with her high pitched screams mixed with the angry dog mauling sounds.
The next thing we know, Bubba’s at her mom’s door, holding her crying. She looks dead, covered in blood.
Now, Durning and his pack of good ol’ boys have never liked Bubba. They have vague reasons for it, but I think it boils down to post-high school jock mentality. Bubba is different, weaker in their eyes and they’re very little but grown bullies.
Durning however has ulterior motives. When we first see him in the movie he’s looking at Bubba and the little girl playing in a field. My impression was that he was a nosey character, always trying to inject himself where he doesn’t belong… or perhaps an overly protective respected member of the community.
But a little later in the movie it’s insinuated that he’s a pedophile. They don’t exactly spell it out, but Bubba’s mother says something like “I see how you look at that little girl” and from that point on everything that character does has a gross edge to it. It also has a retroactive effect. Thinking back to the first scene I get the feeling that Durning wasn’t spying on Bubba, but had his binoculars with him regularly to view this girl from afar.
So Durning has another motive to tar and feather Bubba. In many ways Durning’s character is jealous of Bubba and wishes he was in the man’s place, although his intentions are the exact opposite of Bubba’s.
Pretty crazy stuff for the heavy of your family friendly TV movie, yeah?
So, Durning organizes a four man mob to chase down Bubba. Bubba’s mother hears the car approaching and tells her crazed son he needs to “play the hiding game” like he did the last time he was blamed for something bad that happened in the town.
His hiding place is in the scarecrow in the middle of his family field. Unfortunately for him, this time Durning and Co bring dogs who sniff him out. With a terrified Bubba dressed as a scarecrow, up on a post, Durning essentially sets up a firing squad and executes the man. The others aren’t as gung ho about killing him, but react by firing their weapons when Durning starts shooting, making them all complicit in the murder.
It’s only after they shoot him that they get a radio call telling them that the girl isn’t dead, but has just woken up at the hospital and told them that she was being attacked by a dog and Bubba saved her. Now they can’t get anyone to look the other way and plant a pitchfork on Bubba which ends up being the key to getting them off the hook for the killing later. He had a deadly weapon and they had to defend themselves, right?
From here the film turns into a bit of a mystery. You have the four wrongfully freed men, Bubba’s furious mother who screams out in the courtroom that there other forms of justice than the law and a pissed off District Attorney who vows to find any shred of evidence that the men are lying.
When one of the men, Lane Smith who you might remember as Perry White on Lois & Clark or from his work on From the Earth to the Moon, Son In Law, The Mighty Ducks or the original V TV series, sees a mysterious scarecrow planted in his field another player enters the mystery. Could it possibly be the spirit of Bubba seeking revenge? The little girl claims to still talk to him and that “he’s only playing the hiding game.”
Then the men start dying in ways that could be accidents (including one particularly horrible wood chipper death) and Durning and crew get more and more panicked.
What is it? Well, the cover kinda spills the beans a little, but it’s still unknown until the last few moments just who’s in the scarecrow outfit.
I will say I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more creepy scarecrow action. Almost everything we see up until the end is either off camera or a glimpse of a shadow here or there. But the final few moments of the film are so eerie that I forgive them for not going crazier with the scarecrow action.
There’s a quote on the back of the DVD case from Ray Bradbury with the praise “Terrific script… terrific film!” I should have known I was in for a good movie when I saw that and having now watched it, I concur. There’s surprising deep characterization and a terrific small town vibe that you get from the best work of both Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.
The film is also helped by the time period where TV movies can still have some production value, before everything started looking like either a soap opera or a shot-on-video sitcom. While it’s not quite as cinematic as Spielberg’s DUEL it’s not too far off.
Final Thoughts: This is one of the highlights of the 2010 Halloween AMAD run for me. I’m happy with the blind buy on DVD, I’m happy to have finally seen it and I’m happy that it was so damn good. I’m shocked someone has tried to remake this as a theatrical feature. If someone could keep that balance of innocence and horror, cast some great character actors and not turn it into a piece of camp there’s a possibility that a remake could be as good or better than the original. Wait, wait… Nevermind. I’m fine with this one. Rogue Pictures, stay away! Lionsgate, I see you sniffing around here. Forget I said anything!
Currently in print on DVD: YES
Currently available on Netflix Instant: NO
Upcoming A Movie A Day Titles:
Saturday, October 30th: SCARECROWS (1988)
Sunday, October 31st: RAZORBACK (1984)
Playing a little catch up today. Will watch Scarecrows this afternoon and hit you with my review this evening! See you then!
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Previous AMAD 2010’s:
- Raw Meat (1972)
- Ghost Story (1981)
- Two on a Guillotine (1965)
- Tentacles (1977)
- Bad Ronald (1974)
- The Entity (1983)
- Doctor X (1932)
- The Return of Doctor X (1939)
- The Tenant (1976)
- Man in the Attic (1953)
- New Year’s Evil (1980)
- Prophecy (1979)
- The Other (1972)
- The Mummy (1959)
- The Gorgon (1964)
- Mad Love (1935)
- Repulsion (1965)
- The Church (1989)
- The Black Cat (1981)
- The Black Cat (1934)
- The Comedy of Terrors (1963)
- Dolls (1987)
- The Silent Scream (1980)
- Scream of Fear (1961)
- The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
- Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)
- The Evil (1978)
- The Devil-Doll (1936)
Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!
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Oct. 30, 2010, 3:40 p.m. CST
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:41 p.m. CST
by Toe Jam
But what I do remember scared the shit out of me as a kid. That's a bummer that it's not streaming on Netflix, as it would have been great to watch on Halloween.
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:44 p.m. CST
by Toe Jam
Really quality design, especially considering it's just a made-for-TV movie from three decades ago.
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:47 p.m. CST
I made a student film in the late 90's and had the great pleasure of working with Claude Earl Jones. When I was casting the film and first contacted Claude, I told him that I had watched Dark Night of the Scarecrow when I was in grade school and that it had scared the shit out of me. We talked about the production and he seemed to be impressed that I remembered his part in the film so vividly. We hit it off and he shortly thereafter agreed to act in my student film for free. Great guy and a wonderful actor.
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:48 p.m. CST
I posted about a week ago about how excited I was for this article, and I finally got to read and enjoy it. Thank you for writing about this film, which I saw for the first time several years ago, and it has stuck with me. The shot of his eyes in the scarecrow...doesn't get much better.
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:49 p.m. CST
...Because that means no theatrical trailer with that 70s/early 80s vibe with the intense voice over...you know the voice over guy whom I mean..."The Taxi Driver HAS a target..." or "A Nightmare...on..ELLLLM Street...Rated R." I just wanted to hear, "Dark...Night...OF..the Scarecrow."
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:50 p.m. CST
...when they cut from the woodchipper scene to the dinner at the boarding house. Brilliant.
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:51 p.m. CST
Damn! It scared the shit out of the 11 yr old me! I've always been worried about seeing it again, thinking it might not be as good as I remember, but I'll give it another look. For defo. Any chance of The Keep?
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:56 p.m. CST
I never count this on a list of scariest movies because it is a TV movie, but this movie (and Salem's Lot come to think of it) ranks right up there. I was terrified while watching this in my grandparents basement by myself when I was about 14. I dont know what scared me more - the spooky image of the scarecrow bent on revenge, or the way poor Larry Drake was treated by the local bullies. Either way, I was horrified. I just showed my 8 year old Poltergeist, but I'd never show her this Scarecrow movie!!!
Oct. 30, 2010, 3:58 p.m. CST
i caught a screening of this thing at a friend's a few months back and this film will scare anyone out there who is afraid of the dark, extremely effective.
Oct. 30, 2010, 4:06 p.m. CST
I was real little when my parent's were watching it, but wasn't Larry Drake a Developmentally Disabled guy on L.A. Law, too? I seem to recall him being a mail guy or something..
Oct. 30, 2010, 4:09 p.m. CST
This was the movie that would have destroyed my trust in your film opinions, if you hadn't liked it. Nah, just kidding. But I'm glad you dug the movie. <P> When I saw this as a child I could have sworn it was pretty much all scarecrow, all the time. Because that's what stuck with me.
Oct. 30, 2010, 4:22 p.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
Great character actors, great 70s vibe and even a Halloween sequence. As for "Scarecrows," sure it's certainly going to look disappointing next to this film, but I have a soft spot for it. It's just a little film that came out during the 80s VHS boom that came out of nowhere and delivered what I was looking for in a rental from the horror section. It's not a classic, but it does work on its own level.
Oct. 30, 2010, 4:22 p.m. CST
I think he won an Emmy or two for it as well.
Oct. 30, 2010, 4:49 p.m. CST
It's amazing the stuff my parents let me watch! I like that the movie has you rooting for the revenant, much like The Crow.
Oct. 30, 2010, 5 p.m. CST
I forgot, who was the scarecrow! end of line
Oct. 30, 2010, 5:05 p.m. CST
Up there with Duel and the Tobe Hooper Salem's Lot.
Oct. 30, 2010, 5:33 p.m. CST
It was on TBS. (Remember when they routinely aired made-for-TV movies from the 70s and 80s? Good times.) Very creepy. To this day, the thought of being buried alive in a grain silo (see also WITNESS) creeps the fuck out of me.
Oct. 30, 2010, 5:45 p.m. CST
by judge dredds fresh undies
This sounds very interesting although I feel dubious about trusting Quint after his bizarre love for the awful 3rd Omen film. Still, I shall give this one a watch.
Oct. 30, 2010, 5:53 p.m. CST
when I was a kid. I had no idea until I read this that it was made for TV.
Oct. 30, 2010, 5:54 p.m. CST
I watched this movie when I was like 7 and it scared the living piss out of me.
Oct. 30, 2010, 6:18 p.m. CST
Maybe not around these parts, but LA Law was the highest profile gig and what he's best known for still. <p> I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.... Sounds pretty great.
Oct. 30, 2010, 6:37 p.m. CST
And it's always stayed with me...hell, I can even hear the music in my head as I read that review. I remember it was a TV movie...maybe CBS, I wanna say? And I remember feeling bad for Bubba and feeling a vicarious thrill when vengeance righted the wrongs. And that final scene...damn, why don't I have this DVD again?!?
Oct. 30, 2010, 7:14 p.m. CST
I remember seeing this on TV with my mom...scared the piss out of me. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of horror films!
Oct. 30, 2010, 7:19 p.m. CST
It's as good as TV horror gets. It should have been released in the theaters.
Oct. 30, 2010, 7:38 p.m. CST
off people's fingers with a cigar cutter and has a buddy with a prostetic leg that is really a gun, then he dresses as a scarecrow and uses his fear toxin to polute the water only to be chased down by Damian Wayne? Is this that movie?
Oct. 30, 2010, 8:30 p.m. CST
I had completely forgotten about this movie. Seeing the cover and reading the review brought all the memories of seeing it as a kid back. I remember feeling so sorry for Bubba and I remember the chipper scene. Gotta find this so I can watch it again.
Oct. 30, 2010, 9:36 p.m. CST
This movie really made me feel really icky inside, but I never forgot it, and I have always been very fond of it. Durning always played "that redneck jerk" in everything back then...
Oct. 30, 2010, 9:42 p.m. CST
There are some very interesting parallels in the story elements. Dude gets killed, comes back from the dead to avenge his death, one bad guy at a time. Wish it was available on Instant Watch.
Oct. 30, 2010, 10:45 p.m. CST
I just rented this off Netflix a few weeks ago...as it just now became available on DVD. It includes a very nice restored print of the film and a sweet-ass CBS teaser that aired right before the original broadcast. Great stuff.
Oct. 31, 2010, 12:27 a.m. CST
Just as Friday the 13th was a ripoff of Halloween. Just as about ANY fucking movie where a masked, near-supernatural serial killer is SUPERFICIALLY similar to any other movie of the same genre. Congratufuckinglations for about the dumbest post I've ever seen on this forum.
Oct. 31, 2010, 12:49 a.m. CST
CBS Saturday Night Movie, a week before Halloween. Perfect for a 10 yr. old horror fan. Still better than 80% of what we get today. Glad you liked it.
Oct. 31, 2010, 1:46 a.m. CST
by frank cotton
Oct. 31, 2010, 5:59 a.m. CST
by Darth Mulder
I bought a copy of this at the Spooky Empire Weekend of Horrors convention in Orlando about three weeks ago and got it autographed by the screenwriter, J.D. Feigelson.
Oct. 31, 2010, 6:41 a.m. CST
Saw this when I was 8 and it did scare me but not as much as afterwards when it had finished and as I was heading up stairs to bed (in the dark) my family shouted "Bubba's gonna get ya"!! They still rib me about that today :-)
Oct. 31, 2010, 9:29 a.m. CST
by Jack Burton
Best Buy has it for $6 right now. We watched it again Friday. One of the few movies I liked when I was a kid that still holds up really well today. Absolutely worth the purchase even as a bare bones release. Every line of dialogue from Jonathan Pryce is a creepy gem.
Oct. 31, 2010, 9:55 a.m. CST
they sold em at a Horr0r con i attended this month to promote the dvd.. super-awsome.
Oct. 31, 2010, 9:55 a.m. CST
Oct. 31, 2010, 9:56 a.m. CST
by Mr Nicholas
Oct. 31, 2010, 10:49 a.m. CST
Fulci's movies,it even has a bunch of the same scenes from that movie.
Oct. 31, 2010, 11:22 a.m. CST
kid scratching at the window. Ever.
Oct. 31, 2010, 11:37 a.m. CST
by Miss 45
Oct. 31, 2010, 12:43 p.m. CST
<p>It's very well-acted, well-written and highly suspenseful.<p> <p>It ranks alongside "The Crow", "The Wraith" and "Robocop" as the finest examples of the "resurrection and revenge" genre.
Oct. 31, 2010, 5:59 p.m. CST
"Never go full retard." Well, Drake can do it. I won't write much other than to say that I'm with everyone else here. I woke up screaming that night when I was 9. The remarkable part is that Bubba is an anti-hero. He's not an evil force out to skewer fornicating teenagers who had nothing to do with his death like Jason. <br> <br> I may be reading too much into this, but Durning's military-esque postal hat is reminiscent of a Nazi helmet, and his rallying the unwilling and unwitting to persecute an innocent yet "different" person smacks of WWII era persecution. I'm sure the helmet was a conscious decision. <br> <br> And I'll say it... Bubba's scarecrow mask has the Scream mask beat by a mile. :)
Nov. 1, 2010, 9:02 p.m. CST
by Master Bruce
is some of the creepiest tv horror ever! My bro & I were young lads when we 1st saw this, & it's stayed w/us to this very day. So many great moments in it...especially the final scene! Haven't seen it on tv in years, glad to know it's available on dvd. If you luv horror, it's a definite must-see...a true cult classic!
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