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July 17, 2015

Movie Review: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

by Jeff Dolniak

Directed by: Frank De Fellita

Distributor: VCI Entertainment

Buy Dark Night of the Scarecrow on DVD

The "Scarecrow" horror sub-genre has always appealed to my diverse tastes. There's really nothing more frightening than being alone in a giant pitch-black cornfield with a creepy raggedy man, made of straw holding a pitchfork. Some of the better examples in my viewing experiences of scarecrow horror have been William Wesley's splattery Scarecrows, and surprisingly, an entry in the second season of Friday the 13th: The Series, called (You guessed it!) Scarecrow. In 1995, Jeff Burr (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Three) also helmed the moderately entertaining Night of the Scarecrow, starring Bruce Glover. All three, solid efforts, but still not as unforgettable as the film I'm covering in this review; VCI's new re-mastered special-edition release of the made-for-TV film of, Frank De Felitta's, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow. Dark Night of the Scarecrow has always seemed to be as mysterious as a scarecrow itself. Often bootlegged with God-awful image and sound quality by collectors (Mainly from the long out-of-print Key Video release), it became a seriously elusive item...until now.

Marylee (Tonya Crowe) is a young girl, living somewhere in the deep-south who loves playing with her mentally-retarded friend, Bubba (Larry Drake, LA Law, Darkman, Dr. Giggles). Bubba's big, he's clumsy, and he's lanky, but also very innocent and completely harmless, like a Great Dane eager to please his master. Some of the local rednecks (Lane Smith, Robert Lyons and the portly pear-shaped duo of Claude Earle Jones and Charles Durning) don't think he's so harmless though. These boys are just chomping on the bit; waiting to get Bubba to screw up. They finally get that chance when Bubba is accused of harming Marylee. Mailman, Otis P. Hazelrigg (Durning) leads the charge with his merry group of bigots, and fills poor Bubba full of bullet-holes. Of course, the men get off because there just wasn't enough evidence. That doesn't sit very well with someone in town, as one by one each of these scumbags are offed (Very creatively.) by someone who didn't take to kindly to their treatment of Bubba. That leaves the viewer wondering: Is Bubba still alive? Could it be his devastated mother (Jocelyn Brando)? Possibly Marylee? An eye for and eye is the way go, right?

Director De Fellita does a masterful job capturing the beauty of the south (While not shooting in the south; California actually) and maintains a consistently unsettling atmosphere. Grandiose wide-shots and extremely effective POV shots are obviously De Fellita's strength in Dark Night of the Scarecrow. J.D. Feigelson pen's a very strong script for a genre film. Characters are not wasted in this movie; they're rich and complete with they're own unique eccentricities. The score created by Douglas Lackey is another high-point for this feature. It's very eerie and lends greatly to the already grim atmosphere. The performances by all the prominent players are another area where I need to give praise. Durning is a supremely evil, sneaky, back-stabbing bastard; even while donning his mailman uniform for the whole film! You can see the pit sweat, the dirt, and practically smell Durning on screen. Larry Drake does a near perfect turn as the mentally-retarded, Bubba. Don't expect a "mail-in" performance like the great Sean Penn crapped out in the shameful atrocity, I Am Sam. If Drake didn't pull off Bubba the way he does in Dark Night of the Scarecrow, this would not be the made-for-TV horror classic it is now today. You seriously feel for Bubba.

The extra features on VCI's DVD release include: A director and writer commentary with De Fellita and Feigelson, the original world premiere promo and a re-broadcast trailer. The commentary is an interesting listen as it's complete with facts about the film and production. J.D Feigelson does an excellent job of taking control of the moderation of the track. Feigelson sets up De Fellita consistently with questions about the film, with rarely any dead-air. It's very organized and a treat for fans .The image quality is one of VCI's finest to date. I didn't expect to see such detail in the colors. In the opening scene, when Bubba is shot you can notice the very red blood trickling down Bubba's torso. That care towards the presentation, just adds to the experience. Sound overall is very good, with Lackey's score permeating your eardrums.

I can't say enough about this release. VCI has done an admirable job of bringing such a rare (Unseen to many this generation.) "true" horror film to DVD. Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a movie that needs to be seen by fans of genre. R.I.P Bubba.

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