Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Article 3754 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2011
Posting Date: 11-24-2011
Directed by Frank De Felitta
Featuring Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones
Country: USA
What it is: Revenge from beyond the grave

In a small town, four rednecks form a vigilante party and gun down a half-wit (disguised as a scarecrow) in the belief that he murdered a little girl; in reality, the girl was not dead and the half-wit had saved her from a dog attack. The law lets the four vigilantes off due to lack of evidence. Then, one day, a scarecrow appears mysteriously in the field of one of the vigilantes; the next day, the vigilante has died in a horrible accident. Or was it an accident…?

The plot may be standard issue, but that’s not a real problem; what matters is that the movie presses the right buttons, pulls the right strings, and conjures up the right atmosphere to make everything work. There are some touches in particular that I like. For one thing, I like the fact that the head of the vigilante squad (Charles Durning) becomes even more repugnant as the movie progresses, especially when you discover what his own interest in the little girl is. I also like that the vigilantes do their best to try to figure out a non-supernatural explanation for their situation, but only dig themselves deeper when trying to act on that explanation. It’s a bit gory for a TV-Movie, but actually works better through suggestion; when one character is being chased through a pumpkin patch by some farm machinery, I found that seeing what the blades on the machine were doing to the pumpkins to be incredibly effective. This may actually be one of the scariest TV-movies I’ve ever seen.

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