Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Today is October 16th, the official halfway point of this most glorious of months. To celebrate the occasion I’d been saving Paranormal Activity, which I was dying to see in the theater last year. My lovely lady was away for the night and I was looking forward to scaring the crap outta myself, courtesy of Netflix’s insanely awesome Watch Instantly feature. Sadly the Xbox that delivers all that instant goodness to my TV decided to conk out on me so we’ll have to save that for another night.

I punted and went with the well-regarded 80s TV movie, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, which you may be surprised to learn has nothing to do with Bruce Wayne or Dr. Jonathan Crane. I had no idea this movie had such a following but it was immediately apparent from the gorgeously restored DVD transfer and 5.1 surround sound track that it had to be a cut above most made-for-television fare. Plus, for the second time this month I got to watch people get stabbed with a pitchfork!

The story: Bubba Ritter is described as a grown man with the mind of a child. His best friend is a little girl he innocently plays with in the fields outside their small farming community, which irks some of the town’s less tolerant men to no end. They predict he’ll one day hurt someone and they’ve already all but decided on a final solution to their perceived problem when the little girl is attacked by a neighbor’s dog. Bubba comes to her rescue but it’s too late. The men gleefully load up a truck with guns and dogs and chase the terrified Bubba down.

"Bubba didn't do it!"

His mother tries to protect him by ordering him to go play “the hiding game”. Bubba’s choice of hiding places is inside the clothes of a scarecrow, perched in a nearby field. It almost works, but the dogs can’t be fooled and the men viciously execute him on the spot. Some but not all of them feel pangs of remorse when it’s discovered that Bubba had actually been protecting the little girl. But after the law fails to prosecute them, Bubba’s angry spirit, or someone taking up his cause, will bring them one by one to a higher justice.

A clear cut case of self-defense.

Biggest letdown: Did they have to name the developmentally disabled victim Bubba Ritter? As in, Bubba’s a little “Ritter-ded”? Nobody makes that joke in the movie but a crasser person than me would be hard-pressed to avoid thinking it. You’re an asshole, crasser person.

The vengeful spirit-seeking-justice thing was already fairly played out even back in ’81 but this straightforward tale keeps it simple and sincere, so you can’t hold it against the film. Maybe the means by which each murderer meets his end are a little suspect. For example, one dude gets locked in his own grain silo, which proceeds to fill to the brim with corn or wheat or whatever. I found myself wondering why his employees would have left work without doing what seemed to be the easiest and most important step in the process, instead leaving the foodstuffs exposed to the elements on a conveyor belt. But really what the fuck do I know about farming?

Quick, get in the silo!

Why you should watch: This movie has an impressive integrity in the way it approaches a story that could have been riddled with clichés and lame attempts to be shocking. Instead we’re treated to an engaging study in redneck ignorance and guilt, not at all unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, except no black people live in this town. It’s all done with practically no budget and zero special effects. Syfy, take note: there is no excuse for your bullshit cartoon monsters.

In addition it boasts a solid, veteran cast. Bubba himself is played by Larry Drake, who would be best known for his strikingly similar turn as the loveable Benny in L.A. Law. One of the bad guys is none other than Coen brothers favorite Pappy O’Daniel…sorry, Charles Durning, and another is the excellent character actor Lane Smith, who was spot-on in My Cousin Vinny and dozens of other southern gentleman roles. Rounding out the ensemble as Bubba’s grieving mother was a woman I’d never seen before but I thought as I watched she was possibly the best of the bunch. Turns out she was Marlon Brando’s sister, Jocelyn. She’s of course nowhere near her esteemed sibling’s level of commitment and talent, but it’s safe to say acting ability runs in the family. Also jowls.

"2 a.m. is the ideal time to check on something directly above this gaping woodchipper..."

Memorable Moment: As most of the villains begin to unravel from the weight of their guilt, Durning’s conviction and lack of remorse provide a more and more unsettling contrast. After it’s revealed that at least some of the townsfolk believe his hatred for Bubba to stem from a pedophilic lust for Bubba’s playmate, Durning chills to the bone when he corners a child outside the town Halloween party and sweetly grills her for information about who might be out to get him. DO NOT GET IN THE VAN, LITTLE GIRL.

Choice quote: “He’s a blight. Like stinkweed and cutworms that you spray and spray to get rid of but always come back. No, I haven’t changed my mid. Something’s gotta be done, but it has to be permanent.”

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3 Responses to “Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)”

  1. […] Dark Night of the Scarecrow – Bubba didn’t do it! […]

  2. […] Dark Night of the Scarecrow – Bubba didn’t do it! […]

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