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Dark Night of the Scarecrow!
by: -RoG-

Revenge horror. It's a genre of horror films that people simply love or hate. One of the main points of controversy surrounding these kinds of films is the often brutal way the lead characters are treated, especially since they're usually completely innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the same time, it's because of their harsh treatments that it makes their inevitable revenge over the antagonists all the more sweet in the end. Who doesn't enjoy watching a movie where those who have gotten away with bloody murder finally get what's coming to them? Well that's what today's movie is all about.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow was a made-for-TV horror movie from 1981 about bigotry in a small town and the wrongdoings it can lead to. Now, while it's obvious that this TV movie isn't going to be gory compared to other revenge horror films, I've always considered it to be one of the best stories in the genre. It also scared the piss out of me when I was a kid. So let's take a look at this long lost gem that shows how a good writer and director can create a far more visceral style of revenge horror without the use of shock and gore.

Our story begins in an open field where Marylee Williams is hanging out with her best friend, Bubba Ritter, a mentally handicapped man who wouldn't hurt a fly. They sit there in the field singing songs together and she even makes him a flower lei necklace. She then explains how part of the Hawaiian custom after giving someone a lei is to give them a kiss on the cheek. He shyly resists at first, but after a little coaxing, he gives in and allows her to give him a lil' kiss. It's obvious from the very beginning of the story that this is a completely innocent friendship.

And yes, the man playing Bubba is none other than Larry Drake (who later took on the hilarious horror comedy role of "Dr. Giggles", which I'm happy to report has finally been re-released on DVD).

Unfortunately, Otis P. Hazelrigg (played by Charles Dunning, aka: "Waring Hudsucker"), the town mailman with a fine name if I've ever seen one, doesn't see their friendship as being so innocent. He clearly thinks it's perverted and he's convinced all of his other backwoods buddies of it too. But instead of beating him up, Otis apparently wants to wait for Bubba to do something bad to Marylee, and then he can truly punish Bubba instead. Again, Bubba wouldn't harm a hair on her head, but Otis is convinced otherwise. "He's a blight. A stinkweed you just spray and spray, but they always keep comin' back. Somethin's gotta be done, but it has to be permanent." Yes indeed, Otis the mailman is ready to go postal on Bubba.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Otis P. Hazelrigg isn't the only one with a fantastic name in this movie. No, his pals have equally fantastic monikers as well. With names like Skeeter Norris, Philby and Harless Hocker (played by the late Lane Smith), you know you've got yourself one hell of a brute squad.

On their way home from the flower field, they walk by a fenced-in house with all sorts of garden gnomes on display. Marylee and Bubba peek through the fence, but when she notices one of the boards is loose, she decides to do a little more than peek despite Bubba's nervous objections. She walks around the yard and sits down near one of the gnomes who is smoking a pipe and then mimics him. She and Bubba have some good chuckles until...

An angry guard dog appears and wants to tear Marylee apart. She stands there frozen with that same look of absolute terror that any kid who ever encountered a big angry dog can relate to. She calls to Bubba and despite his fears, he backs up and charges through the fence. But the dog has already started to attack her.

Before we have a chance to see footage from animals gone wild, the director shows us a bunch of eerie close-ups of the garden gnomes while we listen to the sounds of the attack taking place. It was a creepy scene that forever made me doubt the kindness of your average garden gnome. Oh sure, they're supposed to help tend to your garden at night, but if you ask me? Yeah, those lil' bastard gnomes are pissing all over your flowers and vegetables. If you really want to enjoy the combination of weird creatures and vegetation, then I suggest you stick with a Chia Pet, because garden gnomes are pure evil.

Once the disturbing gnomevision™ scene is over with, we cut to Bubba appearing on the front steps of Mrs. Williams' home with a bloody Marylee in his hands (not a bloody mary). Right away, we think she's dead as the mother screams in terror. And poor Bubba, all he can do is cry as he shouts "Bubba didn't do it! Bubba didn't do it!" We know you didn't Bubba, sure, but the other locals aren't privy to that knowledge at the moment.

Sure enough, Harless rushes over to the post office to tell Otis that Marylee is dead and it's all Bubba's fault. Without saying a word, Otis reaches into a nearby drawer and pulls out his gun. You ever wondered what they keep in all those drawers behind the counter at the post office? Well now you know - there's nothing in them at all except for firearms.

So Otis and company hop on a truck with some bloodhounds and set out to find Bubba. Bubba stumbles through the woods in a panic and eventually finds his way to his mom's house and tells her what happened. Knowing of the blind hatred that Otis and company have for her son, she tells him it's time to play the hiding game. Not only does this calm down Bubba, as it's something the two of them have played in the past, but she figures it's the only chance he'll have of getting away from Otis' death squad.

Later on, Otis shows up at her house and she refuses to tell him where Bubba is hiding. But he didn't expect her to, and that's what the dogs are for. The dogs lead them through the woods and eventually to an open field where there's nothing but a scarecrow. At first, the men think the dogs have led them in the wrong direction, but then Otis takes a closer look at the scarecrow and notices that there's somebody trembling inside it. Bubba!

The sight of Bubba trembling with fear inside that scarecrow mask always stuck with me. It's just one of those visuals that really gets through to the viewer. Those terrified, dilated eyes of Bubba combined with the gaping hollow scarecrow's mouth truly hit home. And it's because we all know what's coming next...

The four men take a step back and then blast away at Bubba until they're sure he's dead. Less than a minute later, a message comes through from the sheriff's office on Harless' CB radio explaining that Marylee was attacked by a dog, not Bubba. Not only that, but Marylee is still alive and it's all because Bubba saved her!

The men realize what a grave mistake they've just made, but being the cowards they are, they decide to cover it up. Otis puts a pitchfork with Bubba to make it look like Bubba had a weapon with him when they shot him.

At their trial, Otis lies to the jury by explaining that he and his men gave Bubba a chance to surrender and even fired warning shots in the air. Sure enough, the men are found innocent and set free. Justice may be blind, but according to Bubba's upset mom, "there are other justices in this world besides the law!" Indeed there are as we soon find out.

But before justice is handed out, Otis and his pals have a good laugh or two once the court is adjourned. The entire town appears to be happy for them except for Sam Willock, the district attorney who believes they executed Bubba. While he rants, Otis checks his watch and says how he and the boys are gonna go enjoy some fried chicken over at the nearby boarding house. Again everybody laughs except for the D.A. And then we cut to the local watering hole where Otis and the boys are apparently having a huge laugh over Otis' fried chicken comment to the D.A.


Harless just can't stop laughing about it as he continues to repeat the phrase over and over. I counted him saying it at least four times before the scene ended. I tell ya, if you spend a night out on the town with these wild boys, it's guaranteed to be a night you won't soon forget. But hey, if you don't believe me, take a listen for yourself!

Friiiied chicken! Ahahahahahaha!

Later in the night, Marylee's parents are talking about Bubba and decide not to tell her what happened to him. She eventually wakes up and thinks she hears Bubba outside, so she puts on a night robe and sneaks out her room window. She makes her way to Mrs. Ritter's house in search of Bubba, but when Mrs. Ritter tries to explain that Bubba is gone where they can't hurt him anymore, Marylee runs outside to show her that he's alive and well and probably just hiding. She knows all of his hiding spots after all.

Mrs. Ritter chases after her and finds Marylee sitting near the now vacant cross where Bubba was killed, singing the same songs they used to sing together. She then turns to Mrs. Ritter and says, "Don't worry, Bubba's not gone, he's just being silly. Don't you know what he's doing? He's playing the hiding game." It's a fantastic, chilling little scene because, while Marylee is clearly innocent in her thoughts, we know that something different is going on with Bubba. This is a horror movie after all.

The next day, we see the men have returned back to their regular routines which, for most of them, involves working their farm jobs. Otis, on the other hand, enjoys delivering the mail and checking out the centerfolds of some racy magazines along the way. So now they've established that not only is Otis an intolerant vigilante, but he's apparently a pervert too. But we'll get back to that later, because there are other matters at hand right now.

Back on Harless Hocker's property, his wife asks him if he's planning on planting crops anytime soon. When he responds with a "no", she then wonders why he has a scarecrow set up out in the middle of the field. Harless looks out into the distance and you can see the uneasiness overcome his face in an instant...

The scarecrow is now on his property... the same scarecrow that Bubba was hiding in when Harless and the rest of the boys shot him! At first, Harless thinks it was one of the other boys playing a prank on him. When the boys explain it wasn't them, they then suspect that it was Sam Willock, the D.A. Otis tells them never too meet up in a panic like that again because it just makes them look guilty, so they all go back home.

Later that night, Harless returns home and goes out to the field where the scarecrow was... only the scarecrow is no longer there.

All that remains is the cross it was hanging on earlier in the day, which Harless quickly kicks down. He then walks back to the house but hears something in the barn. When he goes to inspect it, he hears some kind of hay rustling up top somewhere and gets startled. He falls off the ledge, but hangs onto a lamp that's attached to the ceiling. Unfortunately for him, this lamp is hanging directly above an industrial wood chipper which somehow just turned itself on. He screams for his wife, Martha, louder than you'd ever hear Mr. Wilson do in an episode of Dennis the Menace... but there is no rescue for him as he plummets into the shredder.

Just as before with the dog attack on Marylee, we don't actually see anything happen, we just hear it. It is a made-for-TV movie after all, but they still make an excellent segue into the next scene by showing some strawberry preserves dripping down onto a plate. That's just as good as blood, right? And while that glop of strawberry preserves falling onto the plate is definitely a great way to cut from a guy getting ground up in an industrial wood chipper, it's the person who is serving said preserves that is far more important to me.

Alice Nunn!

I'm sure most of you are thinking, "Ok, so who the hell is Alice Nunn and why should I care?" You should most definitely care, because she is the woman who portrayed one of the most nightmarish movie scenes of our childhoods. That's right, Alice Nunn is actually Large Marge from Pee-wee's Big Adventure! It's nothing more than a brief cameo, but it's always nice to see a horror icon like her pop up unexpectedly in a movie (even though Dark Night of the Scarecrow came out four years earlier than the Pee-wee).

Anyway, Otis is over at her place along with some other elderly folk and they're talking about how Harless was killed. Otis goes to inspect it, but they ruled Harless' death as an accident initially. That is, until Otis' pals have a sudden stroke of investigative genius and check the shredder machine to see how it was turned off because it wasn't on when Harless was found. They assumed that there was no gas in it, but that's not the case... it was nearly full, so somebody had to have turned the machine off after Harless died! OooooooooooOOOoooOooOoooOoooOOoo!

Otis then suspects that it was Bubba's mom who killed Harless, and when he goes to her house to ask her about it, she repeats, "there are other justices in this world." When she realizes that he suspects her of killing Harless she says, "Don't flatter yourself, Hazelrigg, there ain't ten like you worth my son's life." Oh snap! Not believing her, he then warns Mrs. Ritter that things are now even and that she needs to let things be. She not only says that things aren't even close to being even, but she tells him that she's seen how he looks at Marylee. Double snap! So he really IS a pervert after all!

An innocent man murdered by a man who has the entire town fooled into thinking he's an upstanding citizen when he's nothing more than a bigot and a perv with a penchant for the petit? This, my friends, is how you establish someone as being the bad guy.

And speaking of bad guys, the scarecrow has just made another public appearance, only this time it's on Philby's property. Maybe it's just the perspective of the shot here, but Bubba does appear to have doubled in size since the last time we saw him. Well anyway, Philby is understandably freaked out by this and clutches his chest as he kneels before the towering scarecrow.

Will Philby swear eternal loyalty to his
newfound imposing scarecrow master?
Click here to find out on page 2 of the
"Dark Night of the Scarecrow" story!

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