An Underappreciated Television Gem that Deserves a Blu-Ray Release
Otis P. Hazelrigg: “Bubba didn’t tell you that, Bubba didn’t tell you anything. Bubba’s dead.”
Or is he? Hmmm. That is for you, my loyal readers, to find out if you have not yet watched what, in this blogger’s opinion, is an often overlooked horror and mystery gem made for television, and originally aired on October 24, 1981. The film has recently been given a DVD release, which I take issue with for two reasons having nothing to do with the actual film. Firstly, the movie’s runtime has been cut by five minutes from its previous VHS version of one hundred and one minutes down to ninety-six minutes. Not only is time cut, but the DVD version contains only one special feature, a nostalgic television promotional. But sadly, that’s it; no interviews with cast, production notes, or making of segments; or any other special features which come on many DVDs. Secondly, the powers that be, who decide which films get put on Blu-Ray and which get relegated to a standard DVD release, have opted, at least at the moment this blog is being written, not to deem it worthy of a Blu-Ray DVD release. I disagree with this decision. Leaving those two negatives aside, the movie is worth spending the under two hours it will take for you to watch it, especially if you enjoy your horror movies devoid of gratuitous violence and explicit gore.
Filmed during a period of seventeen days (it would have been eighteen, but a day was lost due to a fire), director and writer Frank De Felitta’s (Audrey Rose), “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” delivers on the emotional jolts. The film, in certain ways, pays homage to the original Universal studios monster movies such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. It achieves that feat by relying on solid acting, great use of its atmospheric location, and the right amount of tension-building scenes that will make viewers wonder how far the movie will push the envelope before it crosses over from something made for TV into more hardcore territory. While it never steps over the imaginary line there are enough moments that transpire in the production that let the imagination run wild with possibilities. There is a particular scene that features the use of a wood chipper and strawberry preserves that was utilized, in this blogger’s opinion, in a manner that was pure genius.
Originally written for the screen by J.D. Feigelson (The Lake), the engaging film is set in a typical small town that, sadly, has among its residents some small-minded people. The production concerns itself with the murder of Bubba, a mentally challenged man, in a role adroitly acted by Larry Drake (L.A. Law). The act of violence that was perpetrated against him was done so at the hands of the town’s postman, Otis, portrayed with just the right amount of convincing malevolence by the always competent Charles Durning (Dog Day Afternoon), and three of his town cronies. They hunt down Bubba who has unconvincingly disguised himself as a scarecrow; he soon becomes the victim of the bigoted men’s feeble mentalities. Thinking that Bubba has hurt Marylee, a little girl played by Tonya Crowe (Knots Landing), who is friends with Bubba because he is an adult who can relate to her and vice versa, the men soon learn that their misguided vigilante justice has claimed the life of an innocent man. Of course, the four killers have no desire to spend even a few minutes in jail, let alone twenty-five years to life, so they plant evidence on Bubba and concoct a story that they were merely defending themselves from his attacks.
Afterwards, the movie pivots and begins to get its second wind. The men begin suffering bouts of paranoia because they think they’re seeing a scarecrow appear both at their homes and at their workplaces. Could it be the District Attorney, who perhaps distraught over losing the case, is attempting to break one of them down into confessing what really happened on the fateful night Bubba was murdered? Perhaps it is Bubba’s grieving mother who wants to get revenge for the tragedy that befell her son. Would the little girl who was friends with Bubba be capable of convincing grown men into thinking they’re seeing a scarecrow that doesn’t exist? Soon, however, the scenario that maybe, just maybe, Bubba himself has returned to exact his own special brand of justice presents itself to the viewer. I won’t spoil it for those of you who have not yet seen the film. I will let you keep guessing until the end, like I first did, who exactly has decided to dress up as the scarecrow and turn the tables on the men who escaped justice in the courts.
I had seen the film when it was originally released by a now defunct company called Key Video back in the 1980s. I remember liking it, but I also remember thinking, when I bought the DVD, that perhaps it wasn’t going to hold the same appeal for me as it did all those years prior, which has happened to me numerous times regarding movies from my childhood. I am happy that not only did it still hold my interest, but I appreciated it even more watching it as an adult. With its layered characters, frightening imagery, and spot on soundtrack, it is the antithesis of a typical television movie and that, in this blogger’s opinion, is a good thing. If you find yourself with a free evening and are in the mood for a movie that’s low on blood, but high on effectiveness, rent the film at Blockbuster or check it out on Netflix. I think you will find it to be entertaining viewing.