It’s probably hard to imagine being frightened by a made-for-TV horror film, but Dark Night of the Scarecrow is the exception to the rule. This is one of the few television movies that really unnerved me when I saw it a few days before Halloween in 1981. It shouldn’t surprise me that it spooked me so much – it was written to be a feature film, but was optioned by CBS. Very little changes were made to the final script, and despite it’s lack of onscreen gore, the mere image of the Scarecrow is enough to keep you awake at night.
There are some recognizable names in this feature, including Larry Drake (LA Law) as Bubba, Tonya Crowe (Knots Landing) as Marylee, Charles Durning (Tootsie) as Mr. Hazelrigg, and Lane Smith (My Cousin Vinny) as Harless.
The plot is fairly straight forward: Bubba is a mentally challenged adult who has struck up a friendship with an adolescent girl named Marylee. This does not sit well with some of the town folk, including the resident postman Mr. Hazelrigg. One day Marylee sneaks into a neighbor’s yard while playing with Bubba and is attacked by a dog. Bubba takes the girl home to her mother, who begins screaming as soon as she sees her unconscious child (presuming the child is dead). Bubba races home and tells his mother what has happened. Mrs. Ritter hides her son in the cornfield behind the house. Mr. Hazelrigg, along with some of his cronies, discover Bubba’s hiding place and kill him in a moment of vigilante “justice.” Moments after taking matters into their own hands the men learn that Bubba did not attack the girl as her mother had assumed – he had saved her from the dog. Soon after the men are acquitted of their heinous crime, a scarecrow comes to life and exacts revenge on the men who murdered Bubba.
The means of dispatching each of the men who sought Bubba’s death are unique, and perfectly appropriate for the setting of the film. None of the deaths feel like a stretch, as can sometimes happen in horror films as directors and writers try to come up with more unique and interesting ways to kill someone (especially someone who doesn’t go down easily).
Next time you’re looking to get your scare on, grab some popcorn, turn down the lights, and settle in with Dark Night of the Scarecrow. It’s a classic, and one not to be missed if you appreciate the genre.