The made-for-tv film was a category that used to be populated by dozens of productions per year. Sunday nights spent in front of the tv with our paper Chatham’s bag filled with freshly popped butter-salt popcorn at the ready was a weekly ritual in the house of this film fan. It’s a genre of film I miss, and wish would make a concerted return to the air beyond the offerings of the spurned wife tales found on Lifetime channel.
Today’s film came to me as a surprise. I’d never heard of the film, and wasn’t sure how enjoyable a horror film that originally made it’s premiere on CBS over 30 years ago would be. While I have fond memories of The Night Strangler or The Burning Bed, neither of those films were as much horror as they were suspense. In fact, I couldn’t recall having seen any horror films on TV that were originally created for that medium.
Thankfully, a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the featured tale I bring to you today.
31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 22: Dark Night of the Scarecrow
Director: Frank De Felitta
Cast: Larry Drake, Charles Durning, Tonya Crowe, Jocelyn Brando, Lane Smith
Specs: 96 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33.1 / MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Rating: ★★★★ / B
After a retarded man, dressed as a scarecrow in an attempt to escape a crazed lynch mob intent on unjustly murdering him for a crime he didn’t commit, is found and slain, the members of the mob are hunted and killed by someone resembling same said scarecrow.
I enjoyed this suspenseful thriller from the moment the title cards began. Call is nostalgia for a bygone era, or call it appreciation for talented character actors at their best, this film is surprisingly terse and tense for a film appearing on network television over 30 years ago.
From the opening scene of Drake’s (Darkman, Dr. Giggles) Bubba befriending the young girl in a scene reminiscent of Frankenstein, to the closing shots of the ghostly scarecrow ominously hanging in the corn field, the acting never truly dips into hamminess, despite its portrayal of country bumpkins and oversized simpletons. In fact, I was surprised to see such familiar faces peppered throughout this feature.
The editing is also notable, successfully amping up the suspense in a way more attributable to a theatrical pic than a made-for-tv production. The camera work also is commendable. And while the story nor elements of the plot without flaws (it never is explained nor understood why a little girls parents would allow her to roam deserted fields with a mentally retarded adult), it does call forth memories of the elements commonly found in a classic episode of The Twilight Zone.
I heartily recommend any fan of revenge pics, ghost stories, or classic made-for-television horror films to track down and give this haunted tale a viewing. You’ll