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