Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Bubba, a hulking adult male with the mind of a child is the best friend to 10 year old Marylee which does not sit well with some of the locals. We find the (jealous?) evil postman spying on them in a field of wildflowers and scowling when Marylee plants an innocent peck on Bubba's cheek. He quickly drives off to consult other like-minded folks weary of what Bubba is supposedly capable of doing. Unfortunately for our simple minded friend, Marylee soon finds herself at the receiving end of a dog attack to which Bubba saves her from, but is incapable of explaining when he brings her body back to her mother. And in what might be the most destructive game of 'Telephone' ever, the wannabe vigilantes hear that Bubba has murdered Marylee and track him to his favorite hideout inside the shell of a scarecrow just off his mama's property. Bubba is gunned down by the hillbilly firing squad mere seconds before news comes over the CB that Marylee is alive and was actually attacked by the dog. A farce of a trial leads to a complete acquittal for the men responsible for Bubba's death, leaving both his mother and the DA fuming. But as Mama states as she is dragged out of court, "Justice comes in many forms..."

What if television networks still produced features like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Bad Ronald (1974), the original V mini-series, etc.? Not that I am one to question the entertainment value of fat people running on treadmills or the other "talents" of ordinary folks that clog the airwaves these days, but I do miss the event moments that TV used to be interested in creating. Everything now just feels so safe and easily manufactured, not that this has much to do with anything here except for the fact that it leaves me more time for my Netflix queue and burgeoning VHS collection.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a rather solid effort that makes great use of the constraints of broadcasting on network TV. Bloody violence was clearly not going to fly and so the filmmakers needed to focus entirely on atmosphere, setting tone, building suspense; all of which Dark Night excels at. Perhaps the purveyors of the modern slew of PG-13 horror that I railed against a few posts back should take notice (if they even care about making a solid product in between their work shooting hip hop videos).

This is not to say that Dark Night is without fault though the quibbles are minor. I would have liked to see a bit more set up of the vigilantes as we learn little of them prior to Bubba's killing. The scene where they drive through town to round each other up for the hunt comes off as far too well-planned than the chaotic situation would have called for. Without so much as a word, each man immediately springs into action when they see the pickup approaching as if it were a forgone conclusion that they would one day have to execute the town simpleton.

As noted above, the trial is also a bit ridiculous as the judge dismisses all charges due to lack of evidence. Despite the fact that there was the testimony of Bubba's mother that these men all but told her their intentions just before the killing and the fact that Bubba had 21 gunshots in him with a planted pitchfork wrapped around his hand after death as his only means of defense. Of course, this ignores the fact that both of his arms were looped through ropes on the scarecrow stand like a retarded Jesus, making the pitchfork all but useless even if he was brandishing it at the time. Granted, the law of this land is far from perfect, but my expectation that the judge was in cahoots with the men never does come to fruition leaving a bizarrely simple scene that clearly was done so to just move the plot along.

The greatest of the missed opportunities comes later though when the postman and Bubba's mother get into an argument which ends with her telling him that she "sees the way he looks at that little girl." Could Bubba have died so gruesomely in part because the leader of the vigilante group was acting out on the shame and guilt he felt for lusting after children? It is an interesting conceit that unfortunately never comes up again even when the postman confronts Marylee alone in the hallway outside the Halloween dance. It could have been a very disturbing scene, but no, instead he merely grills her about Bubba's ghost in another "just moving the plot along" scenario. And this is where Dark Night falters a bit as the very basic plot of revenge could have easily gave way to some of these hinted at but never realized additions.


  1. Alas, I have never seen this one, A. I've heard a LOT of good things about it though. Is it new to DVD? I guess maybe the cult following it has acquired over the years helped get it distributed - unusual for TV movies to make it to DVD though, isn't it. Or maybe it isn't? Will have to keep an eye out for it anyway.

    PS Is your profile blurb a reference to Casiotone for the Painfully Alone?? :)

  2. VCI released this a few months back, as you said, likely due to its cult status. Definitely worth a watch, despite my petty grievances with it. And yes, I did "borrow" that particular CFTPA lyric, though in my defense, I have been reading a lot of Dostoevsky lately...

  3. The VCI release being Region 1...just remembered you're not Stateside.

  4. Thanks for that, A.
    Nice to meet a fellow CFTPA fan too. Did you catch him on the farewell tour??

  5. The last time he came through town, I had something else I couldn't get out of...had I known at the time it was his last foray, I probably would have concocted something to change that. Live and learn.