Way back in the day, I used to keep a movie journal. Ever since I went back to school, then got my freelance writing career going, then had kids, my life got too busy to watch a lot of movies, so it was pretty pointless to keep a journal when I was only seeing a handful a year.
But now that things have slowed down a little, I’m seeing quite a few more movies. So with October being a time of year where I intentionally watch a lot of movies in the lead up to Halloween, I think I’m going to revive my film journal. At least it will give me something to write about so this blog doesn’t sit stagnant for a year anymore. Enjoy!
Dark Night of the Scarecrow
Way back in 2011, I was a guest on my friend Tommy’s podcast, Bubble Pipe Theater, for a special Halloween edition of the show. On that episode, we talked about some of our favorite scary movies, and another guest, Tim Briscoe, brought up this film, Dark Night of the Scarecrow. He said that for a TV movie, it was pretty scary, and since then I’ve wanted to check it out. It came up in an article online somewhere recently, so I decided to finally add it to my Netflix queue for October.
The film is set in a small farming community where everyone knows everyone else, no one locks their doors at night, and everybody is scared of anything that’s not white, Christian, Conservative, and otherwise perfect in every way. So when Bubba, a grown man with the mind of a child, is accused of hurting a young girl, a small group of local vigilantes arm up and chase after him. They find Bubba hiding inside a scarecrow costume and decide that it’s time someone did something about this potential menace. It’s only after they’ve pumped twenty-one rounds into him that someone calls on the CB radio to let them know it was all a big mistake – that Bubba had actually saved the girl from a dog attack. The hillbillies cover it up by putting a pitchfork in Bubba’s deceased hand, so they can claim the killing was in self-defense.
But as the vigilantes start dying off in suspicious accidents, the remaining members of the party start to question their sanity and their safety.
Right off the bat, the title and the marketing of the film on DVD is a bit misleading – this isn’t a slasher flick with a Jason Voorhees-like madman running around with a pitchfork as his weapon of choice. In fact, we really don’t see who is killing the men at all until the very end, and even that death would still be interpreted by any sane person as an accident. While it is a fun movie, it’s pretty obvious there are scenes that are simply there to pad out the runtime, so it does feel a little sluggish. The performances are all pretty great, but that’s to be expected from the handful of “that guy” character actors that make up the lynch mob, every one of whom has done their fair share of films and dozens of TV appearances. Best known of these actors is Charles Durning as a portly postman and leader of the mob, Otis Hazelrigg, who gives a fine, scenery-chewing performance.
My only complaint, other than the padded scenes, is that I almost wish we’d seen the killer more. Typically real horror comes from the unseen, but I think it would have been much more effective to see the scarecrow/Bubba at the scene of the murder. I’m not saying I wanted all the bad guys to be run-through with the pitchfork as the DVD cover implies – they could have died in the same manner as they did in the final film – but the scarecrow costume was so well done and creepy as hell, it would have been nice to have seen him featured more. A few shots of him standing just outside in the shadows, a truly menacing figure, would have upped the tension quite a bit. Let the men panic and put themselves into dangerous situations to get away from the scarecrow. But as it is the monster isn’t really much of a presence, and I think it would have been more fun to have him be more of a known catalyst for the deaths. I understand the writer was trying to make us wonder who the “real” killer was, but none of us ever really suspected Bubba’s mom or the little girl.
Overall, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a fun little movie that’s perfect for Halloween. It won’t frighten die-hard horror fans, but the story of revenge is timeless, and there’s adequate tension to keep you interested in what’s going to happen next. This is actually one film I’d love to see a remake of, because with a few tweaks it could be something really great.
Score: 3/5 bananas