Made for television, DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW originally aired in October of 1981 and is a perfect supplement to the Halloween holidays. It may sound like a cliché, but they just don’t make them like this anymore. Unlike the majority of children themed Halloween productions airing today, this film is very serious and, in addition to playing it straight, tackles some major subject matter such as small town vigilantism and pedophilia.
Director De Filetta handles all of this by loading the film with incredible atmosphere. Preceding each act of revenge, the victim sees a sagging scarecrow on their property. The murders are shown with POVs and it is not until the final shot do we actually see the Scarecrow moving. This technique is helpful in maintaining the film’s mystery. Is it really Bubba or someone enacting revenge on his behalf? De Filetta includes just a few shots of blood and instead allows the audience to mentally fill in the end result of a shovel to the head or an ill fall into a woodchipper.
The acting is good in all respects but the real star is Charles Durning as the sleazy and hypocritical mailman Otis P. Hazelrigg. During has such an affable face that it makes it all the more creepy when he is making subtle advances toward Marylee, Bubba’s young friend. It should be noted that Durning, just a few years shy of 60 at the time of filming, does a lot of his own stunts and puts his all into the role. Fans of character actors will recognize Lane Smith and Claude Earl Jones (who starred in EVILSPEAK a few months later). Drake is only in the first 15 minutes or so but is sympathetic as mentally challenged Bubba, a performance that probably helped him land the role of Benny on L.A. LAW a few years later. Interestingly, Drake made his film debut, as a character named Bubba in H.G. Lewis’ THAT STUFF’LL KILL YA! Scarecrows have been a horror staple for years since THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW and there has been a recent resurgence in scarecrow themed horror (the SCARECROW SLAYER series and JEEPERS CREEPERS). However, this film still remains the best of the bunch. Sadly, no DVD company has seen fit to release this classic (or a majority of 70s/80s television horror features).