"There IS other justice in this world besides the law."Ah, the revenge-from-beyond-the-grave flick. Is there any genre (sub-sub-genre?) more predictable? And yet they keep making these movies, and we keep watching them.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a TV movie from 1981 which was produced and broadcast by CBS, and the entire story is pretty much revealed in the premise. Am I wrong about this? Do other people find supernatural revenge stories as simplistic as I do? I mean, you can make a story as twisty and bizarre as you like, but when the characters start noticing that the killer is only taking out people who were involved in the murder at the beginning of the movie, you can pretty much guess what the big reveal of the plot is going to be. I suppose these movies are more about suspense than story, more about execution than plot.
Which is not to say that Dark Night of the Scarecrow is bad. In fact, it's better than most TV movies of its vintage, which is why it's out on DVD, and still occasionally gets referenced in pop culture. I hadn't heard of this one until until a couple of years ago, but it has a sizable cult following.
The movie begins with Bubba (Larry Drake), a mentally handicapped adult whose best friend is Marylee, who must be about ten. The local Good Ol' Boys are not fond of Bubba -- or his innocent relationship with Marylee, and they're practically looking for a reason to do something about him. Their chance comes when Marylee is mauled by a dog while playing with Bubba. Otis (Charles Durning) doesn't know about the dog and assumes that Bubba has beaten and possibly raped the little girl. He leads a gang which confronts Bubba (who is hiding inside a scarecrow) and pumps him full of lead. Marylee turns out to be fine, but the deed is already done.
Otis & Co. are accused of the murder, but they hold a certain amount of sway in town, and there's no real proof of their involvement, so they escape imprisonment. Soon, however, a mysterious scarecrow starts popping up in the fields, and members of the execution party start dying one by one.
The story unfolds against the backdrop of a small, southern town. This is a good setting for a Halloween story, and as predictable as I find the plot, it's still very effective. The performances are good, though the characters are a little thin. I suppose there's not a great deal of development to be done with a large cast of pitchfork fodder in the space of ninety one minutes. Along with Durning (who you've seen in The Hudsucker Proxy and The Muppet Movie, among other things) and Drake (Firefly), you'll also recognize Claude Earl Jones and Lane Smith as a couple of actors who were in everything made during the '70s.
The film was directed by Frank De Felitta, who I'm completely unfamiliar with, and was based on a book by J.D. Feigelson, also unknown to me. This is a good film, but I've looked at their resumes and don't feel inclined to track down any of their other works.
At any rate, I do recommend this one. Here's the trailer, which gives everything away.