Dark Night of the Scarecrow (TV 1981 & DVD 2010)
Director: Frank De Felitta
Writers: J.D. Feigelson (Screenplay and Story)
Let me introduce you to Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake). Bubba: a middle aged man with a heart of gold and a mind of eight year old. Bubba has a compassion for the simpler things in life like flowers, hide and seek and playing with children. However the older men in Bubba's town refuses to accept his medical condition and believes that Bubba's interactions with children is harmful and not playful. This made for TV movie came out in 1981. It was written by J.D. Feigelson, a horror convention favorite here in the Midwest.
The film starts with Bubba and a young girl – Marylee Williams (Tonya Crowe) - picking flowers in a field in a southern United States town. The local lynch mob headed by the postal man believes that Bubba has a dark past of molesting little girls in the area. With this the men are convinced that next time Bubba acts out that they will take the law into their own hands. As the story progresses we find Bubba Ritter and the little girl playing outside of a home in their area. As all young curious children do - they are looking for an adventure. The little girl decides to let herself into a neighbor’s backyard to gaze at a water fountain and a yard gnome. Unfortunately for the little girl she is viciously attacked by a dog and just before she meets her demise Bubba crashes through the fence to rescue her. The young child is immediately rushed to the hospital and while she is being treated the mailman - Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning) - hears that the Ritter boy has acted out again only this time his younger playmate is dead.
Now it becomes time for a few townspeople to take the law into their own hands by hunting down this horrific child murder. Bubba sensing that he is now become the hunted retreats to his home and into his mother's protection. Bubba's mother (Jocelyn Brando) is a warm compassionate lady that refuses to believe her son is guilty and instead just misunderstood. Ms. Ritter advises her son to play a game of hide and seek, so Bubba retreats to the fields and disguises himself as a scarecrow. The mob is now hot on the trail of redemption and makes their way to the Ritter household. Armed with bloodhounds and a gun arsenal it isn’t long before they uncover Bubba's hidden location. The mob then fills Bubba with shot after shot killing the poor defenseless man on the stake. After the killing one of the townspeople gets a call of the CB - only to discover that the little girl is ok and the only reason she survived the dog attack is because of Bubba's heroic deed. The men now have a dark secret of knowing that they over reacted and killed an innocent man in cold blood. At the trial the men are proven innocent on the basis that the defense couldn’t prove that Bubba did not provoke the attack. The men now free from the legal system return to their normal lives as Ms. Ritter is left to mourn the loss of her beloved son. Similar to the mob's vision of creating justice - Bubba will also get his redemption.
The Dark Night of the Scarecrow was the first horror film to be centered on a scarecrow - and I believe the best. Even with it’s made for television budget the movie showcases a solid cast of: Charles Durning, Jocelyn Brando, and Larry Drake. Feigelson's vision of a classic misunderstood man is an instant classic. The time frame of the movie was perfect and the mental struggle of Ms. Ritter is believable. The film wraps the viewers’ thoughts around the concept of small town injustice. It focuses on a few main topics: corrupt legal systems, prejudice society against those who are different, and redemption. While watching this film I could help but to notice the similarities between the film and real life events that occurred in the south regarding African Americans. Although I am not certain that these horrific real life stories of injustice was an inspiration to J.D., I am certain that these thoughts were at minimal a portion of the research. I absolute love this movie, it has all the intangibles:
- Expected cheese acting from the local "townspeople”
- Great kill scenes
- Masked Killer
- Complete storyline
Until recently this film was only made available from VHS recordings or bootleg DVD sales but with J.D. Feigelson's dream of not letting this film die and the horror community’s insatiable need for classics - VCI Entertainment now produces a wonderful clear sounding great fully restored DVD version. I would recommend this film to horror fans, slasher genre fans, TV movie fans - hell everyone that enjoys a well produced movie with a great plot line. Check it out for yourself and be the judge and the jury!
Bloody Buckeye Rating:
4 of 5