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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 22: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 22: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

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  I’d never heard of the film, and wasn’t sure how enjoyable a horror film that originally made it’s premiere on CBS over 30 years ago would be.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

Scarecrow VHSDirector: Frank De Felitta
Year: 1981
Cast: Larry Drake, Charles Durning, Tonya Crowe, Jocelyn Brando, Lane Smith
Language: English
Country: USA
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.Dark Night of the Scarecrow

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

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 1: Night Stalker

October 1, the first day of my favorite time of year. Crisp leaves crunching under the feet of passerby, the smell of autumn in the air, apple orchards, hayrides, bonfires, and a cornucopia of color, all usher in the beginning of the Holiday season.

As I sat and reflected on these titillating particulars, my thoughts drifted to anamnestic and mnemonic images of hockey masks, leather sacks, bedsheets, and acupuncture needles. I love to watch movies. I love to watch movies about Halloween during the month of October. Not Halloween per se, but movies that are themed around horror, and everything else within that genre. I’m not normally one for gruesome gore porn type of films, but the occasional one slips into my viewing queue.

It is with great fanfare that I begin this new journey for the month of October 2013 of watching one film per day and blogging a brief review, for your reading pleasure.

My hopes in doing so are that you will find a film that you can seek out, if you may dare, and add to your queue. Perhaps you have seen it and want to revisit the hallowed haunting grounds. Even better yet, you either have seen and loved, or loathed, the film and simply want to refresh your memory of the reasons why. It is with these intentions that I have taken on such a task.

Thus, I now give you, without further ado:

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 1: Night Stalker


Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Year: 1972
Cast: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, Barry Atwater
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 74 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: N/A

An investigative reporter, notices a strange set of circumstances involving a number of recent homicides in the city. He begins to suspect that the murder may be a vampire, and sets out to prove his theory before all around him commit him to a mental hospital.

Minutes into my viewing, it became evident that I was about to witness a great, modern-day, detective-noir film. The narration by the main character Kolchak, along with the moody 70’s cinematography, instantly transported me to a world of mystery and suspense with a supernatural bent. Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story) shines as the reporter caught between politics and the desire to uncover and report on the truth, something that was very much on the minds of people at the time this film was made (and still is, no doubt!).

I was engaged throughout the entire film, immersed in the tales of cover-ups, corruptions, and intrigue. The story was very well written, especially given the confines of 70’s television. Proof positive that good storytelling needn’t have the crutches or vices common to a modern Rated R feature film in order to deliver.


Richard Matheson, writer of numerous episodes of the classic Rod Serling anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone, as well as timeless novels such as Hell House, I Am Legend, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, here again displayed his prowess as an auteur of the genre. Taking a novel (at the time unpublished) titled The Kolchak Papers and adapting it as his own, Matheson was able to deliver to producer Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) a tale that would lure McGavin to commit to this made-for-tv ABC movie.

It became very evident, mere moments into watching this film, why a sequel, titled The Night Strangler, would arrive the following year, as well as a television series titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker for the ’74-’75 season.

My only qualm, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, is that I wasn’t able to enjoy this in glorious HD. My hope is that someone over at Criterion stumbles across this blog, and grants the wish of one new fan.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Movies, TV Shows

 

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