DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW
Directed by Frank De Felitta
Screenplay by J.D. Feigelson
Story by J.D. Feigelson and Butler Handcock
We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks
We don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground
We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks….
Forget about this film being a TV movie; Dark Night of the Scarecrow is as scary as any theatrical film you are likely to see. This gem of a horror film about four stupid rednecks that gun down a defenseless and innocent mentally challenged man in cold blood, only to be picked off one by one by an unseen killer is the real deal. Director Frank De Felitta lets the tension build up and that only serves to make the scenes that we don’t see all the creepier. Remember, this is television in 1981; so they can’t actually show a guy getting chewed up by a wood chipper or the rotting corpse of a dead man. Everything has to be implied and that is exactly what makes this film a strong entry in the horror genre. Writer J.D. Feigelson gives us a teleplay that brought to my mind the demons that haunted my southern upbringing as I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The characters in the film may look different and act different, but I was reminded of the crimes of Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins and of the Gaffney Strangler, both serial murderers of the South in the past. Don’t misunderstand me; the film has nothing to do with them. It merely revives those old memories of my past.
Charles Durning is redneck sleaze as the leader of the bigoted vigilante mob that brings about an end to the life of the innocent Bubba Ritter. I don’t think there’s any part that Durning can’t play. Quite frankly I believe he was unfairly looked over for a Best Supporting actor Oscar for “Tootsie.”
Although his role is short, Larry Drake reminds us all why he was picked to play the role of Benny Stulwicz on L.A. Law. Drake was so convincing in the role (as he is here), that people actually treated him as if he was slow. That is the sign of a talented actor.
Finally, Dark Night of the Scarecrow keeps us guessing as to the identity of the mysterious and unseen killer. We are given suspects, but one by one they are eliminated. That makes perfect sense. After all, doesn’t not knowing seem scarier than the truth? Oh, and not to mention a final scene that sent chills down my spine.
Strother Martin was originally scheduled to play the part of Otis Hazelrig, but passed away before the film could be made. However, a few lines of script suggested by Martin remained in the final film, but spoken by Charles Durning, who eventually played the part.
Charles Durning did most of his own stunts of the climatic chase scene when he’s running away from the tractor. A double can be seen for a few shots with darker hair.
All the nocturnal scenes were shot night for night.
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Posted on 04/29/2012, in Films Released in 1981, Made For TV Movies, Movies, Revenge Horror Films and tagged Charles Durning, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Larry Drake, Randy Newman, Scarecrow, Strother Martin, Tootsie, United States. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.