The Film (5/5)
I love watching films I've never heard of before they arrive on my doorstep. There is something fantastic that even in this age of easy access to information there are still surprises out there. VCI's Dark Night of the Scarecrow DVD is one of those surprises. The film was a CBS Saturday Night Movie broadcast right before Halloween 1981, and has rarely been seen outside of a few cable re airings since that time.
When I think of made for TV films, I don't usually think of them being of any sort of quality, having grown up in an era of badly made Stephen King Mini-series' and Sci-Fi channel originals I just never knew how good some of these films could be. Dark Night of the Scarecrow is not just great by the standards of a good TV movie, it is genuinely a horror masterpiece.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow was the first film of what I call the “Halloween viewing season.” I got it in the mail, unexpectedly, and having never heard of the film popped it in that night. Dark Night of the Scarecrow from the very first frame oozes with the wonderful atmosphere of Autumn, which is carries through the entire film. It is a scary and violent film, but since it was made for TV the violence is never overt. Dark Night of the Scarecrow like some of the best horror films, shows enough to get your imagination going, and then stops short of giving it all a way.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow tells the story 4 small town friends led by post man Otis (Charles Durning). Otis is obsessed with a locally mentally challenged man by the name of Bubba, he is convinced that Bubba is trouble and with the help of his friends Harless (Lane Smith, Son in Law), Phil, and Skeeter proceed to make Bubba's life miserable.
One afternoon Bubba is playing with a little girl named Marylee, when she is suddenly attacked by the dog. Before you can say lynch mob, Otis and his friends assume that Bubba is to blame for the girls injuries, and set about to capture him. Bubba runs off, and eventually gets back to his house, where he bets his Mother to hide him, which she does. This does not stop the impromptu lynch mob from searching for poor Bubba, who they eventually find inside the scarecrow out in his Mother's cornfield. Rather, then ask Bubba his side of the story, they do what any illogical lynch mob would do, shoot him, and to make it look life self-defense they place a pitchfork in his hands. The foursome are soon brought to trial, where they are acquitted for the murder. But soon after they begin to die one by one, as a mysterious killer begins to wreak its vengeance on the foursome.
The film sounds like typical horror fare, and in many ways it is. It is a film whose cliches you will have seen many times before, and yet the film is oddly compelling. The cast truly flesh out their characters, so that you never feel like you are watching a typical cookie cutter body count horror film. The film was a great atmosphere of autumn dread, and the direction keeps the film flowing at an excellent pace. Dark Night of the Scarecrow is not a film at the ADD minded Saw crowds, but for those of us who are open to great horror, this is a must watch.
VCI has presented Dark Night of the Scarecrow in it's original 1:33:1 aspect ratio. I have taken VCI to task for many years for their subpar transfers (such as Bava's Blood and Black Lace), and I am happy to report that their work here stands far above anything I have seen from their releases before. The transfer pops with color, the detail is excellent, flesh tones are accurate, and black levels are quite deep. There is a minor bit of film grain, but that is to be expected. The only negative I can find is some minor compression artifacts during a few (and I mean very few) of the films darker moments.
The film is presented with 2 audio options a new 5.1 sound mix (my preferred track), and the films original mono. Unfortunately, the audio does not fare as well as the video, and the track while effective as points especially in the sound effects department, falls short in the overall mix. The dialogue throughout much of the film is difficult to decipher without having to constantly adjust the volume.
The extras on this disc are quite slim, and are pretty much relegated to a commentary track by director Frank De Felitta, and the films writer J.D. Feigelson. The commentary is quite informative and goes into the background of the film, some trivia, and a lot of discussion on the various locales used in the film. The only other extra is a 1 minute CBS Saturday Night Movie Promo, which I found pretty damn cool. I love little things like that, and since I did not grow up during this era, it was especially novel to me..
Dark Night of the Scarecrow to use a cliched term is truly a blast from the past. A 30 year old horror film that I had never heard of, that I would now define as a true horror classic. The film is atmospheric, and compelling. The transfer is excellent, and the only negative I can find is with the dialogue levels in the audio mix. The extras are slim, but good enough. Dark Night of the Scarecrow is definitely recommended to true fans of the horror genre.