With a rustle of straw, it’s Burl, here to talk to you all about killer scarecrows! Ha ha, we’ve seen them before in pictures like Scarecrows of course, and everyone remembers the eerie dancing man o’ straw from The Wizard of Oz, but still, when you bring up the subject, everyone’s mind will instantly conjure up images from a television movie more than forty years old – ha ha, yes, I’m talking about Dark Night of the Scarecrow!
The teleplot is simplicity itself! Our setting is a small town in what I believe is meant to be the American South, although it’s patently California! Bubba, a jolly but soft-brained man played by Larry Drake from Darkman and For Keeps?, is playing in the fields with his friend Marylee, a ten year-old girl! Watching from the sidelines is venal postie Otis Hazlerigg, essayed with narrow eyes by Charles Durning from Stick and The Hudsucker Proxy! Otis impugns all sorts of unsavoury motives onto Bubba, but of course he’s projecting in the Bell & Howell style, and in fact the friendship between Bubba and Marylee is completely innocent!
The next thing you know the little girl is attacked by a yard dog and Bubba bursts in through the fence to save her, but initially he gets blamed for her injuries anyway, even though he protests that BUBBA DIDN’T DO IT! Otis rounds up a posse made up of good old boys like Harliss, played by Lane Smith from Night Game; Skeeter, who is Robert F. Lyons from Death Wish II and 10 to Midnight and other Bronsonfests; and Philby, essayed by Claude Earl Jones from I Wanna Hold Your Hand! (Ha ha, somehow I don’t think Claude is a part of the great Earl Jones acting dynasty, but as we know from pictures like A Family Thing, I may well be wrong!) The posse discovers Bubba hiding in a scarecrow and shoots the poor man to death, just before it’s revealed to them that he wasn’t only harmless but a hero for saving the girl!
Well, this hateful lynch mob is instantly acquitted in a highly unbelievable courtroom scene, and soon after this, the scarecrow vengeance begins! The stuffed anthropomorph appears in Harliss’s field and that night the beer-swilling redneck is chawed in his own wood chipper! It next shows up in Philby’s acreage and soon he’s found in his silo, drowned in grain! Panicky Skeeter gets a graveyard klonking from Otis, and there’s a pumpkin-crushing, pitchfork-poking climax wherein we discover that indeed it’s Bubba’s spirit inhabiting the scarecrow that’s behind all this vengeance! And a good thing, too – ha ha, what a disappointment if the killer had turned out to be a more corporeal presence, like the D.A., or the little girl, or Bubba’s rightfully angry mama, who’s played by Jocelyn Brando, older sister to Marlon!
Of course Drake played other soft-brained men in his acting career, most notably on the law show I never watched; and he also played a character called Bubba in his very first film role, in Herschell Gordon Lewis’s hicksploitation drama This Stuff’ll Kill Ya! He was a good actor, and he does fine work here – ha ha, he's a little broad here and there perhaps, but never unrealistic! And Durning is good too – he can play the most avuncular guy you ever saw in movies like Tootsie, but he has this way of just squinting a little bit and presto, he instantly looks evil and pædopheliac! Ha ha, and this is no small trick, given that Otis is for some reason always wearing his silly postal service outfit, complete with blue pith helmet!So the movie has a couple of solid performances and some cornfield atmosphere (though it could have leaned harder into that I think), and there’s a Halloween costume-ball scene, which I always like in a movie – ha ha, remember Primal Rage? But it suffers a bit from a TV movie blandness, from the So-Cal locations, and also from the padding needed to fill it out to the length required of a movie in a two-hour broadcast slot! The affrights were decidedly muted this time around, but since it really did me a spook-up back when I was eleven, I want to give it some residual credit for that! Some added walking scarecrow action might have been effective, but since that one head-turn we get at the end really works, I’m not completely sure where I stand on that! So in the spirit of my somewhat confused and ambivalent feelings, I’m going to give Dark Night of the Scarecrow two flower leis!