Are you ready for…SLASHERMAS!?
On the first day of Slashermas, my true love gave to me a CBS Saturday Night Movie.
The movie is one that I’ve wanted to see for a while now, 1981’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow. You see kids, once upon a time, a t.v. movie was an event. Now we associate them with Lifetime’s “My Teenage Daughter’s Abortion/Prescription Pill Addiction/Pregnancy/Boyfriend” and whatever schlock the Hallmark channel is making. “The Spinster Librarian’s PG Love with the New Substitute Teacher…for Christmas!” Once upon a time, they were a chance to see a movie with B-listers without having to go to the movies or even own cable.
From what I’ve read, Dark Night of the Scarecrow was written by Frank De Felitta (The man who wrote the books of Audrey Rose and The Entity) and meant to be an actual feature film. CBS ended up buying it and it was made with very little changes.
The movie is about the friendship between Charles Elliot “Bubba” Ritter (Larry Drake) and Marylee Williams (Tonya Crowe.) Bubba is a large but gentle mentally retarded man and Marylee is a little girl.
Creepy bachelor mailman Otis Hazelrigg (veteran actor Charles Durning) is suspicious of Bubba’s motives and just waiting for the chance to go after him with a lynch mob. They live in the kind of town that makes you glad rural America is dying.
Otis gets his chance when Bubba shows up with Marylee’s body. He assembles a posse in an incredibly quick amount of time, considering that no one had Facebook or a cell-phone.
Mrs. Ritter (Joceyln Brando, Marlon’s older sister) has her son hide in the field as a scarecrow until the heat goes down. He would have survived too, if Creepy Otis hadn’t brought bloodhounds.
Otis and friends shoot Bubba twenty-one times and then stick a pitchfork in his hands to make it look like he was the aggressor. They trained with the N.Y.P.D. Then they get the news that Marylee survive, that Bubba didn’t hurt her, and he actually saved her life. The D.A. tries to charge them but, in moist, deep-fried southern injustice, the posse is let go for lack of evidence.
One by one, the members of the posse start being killed. Who’s the killer? Is it Mrs. Ritter, seeking justice for her son? Or is it Marylee? Her parents don’t have the heart to tell her that Bubba is dead and Mrs. Ritter just tells her that Bubba’s where he can’t be hurt anymore. Marylee insists that Bubba is still there. Otis tries to get her to confess but she’s not having any of that.
Crazy Otis himself ends up accidentally killing Mrs. Ritter and then blowing up her house to cover it up. He also kills his friend Skeeter (Robert F. Lyons) and buries him in Bubba’s grave (They dug it up to see if Bubba was still buried.)
Finally, Bubba is the only one left. He ends up dying on the same pitchfork in the hands of the same scarecrow and we learn that Mrs. Ritter was right, there’s justice beyond earthly justice.
This movie came out two years before I was born. I never had a chance to see it while it was on t.v. There’s a VHS that’s pretty rare. I saw the DVD released by VCI and there’s also a thirtieth anniversary Blu-Ray. So I’m really grateful to see it. I’ve read a lot of love in the horror community for this movie and I now I can understand.
The writing isn’t the best–it’s a little cheesy–and it’s over-acted in the best style of the eighties. But the story is really compelling. What happens to Bubba makes you angry and it just sticks with you. I think so many people like this because it’s legitimately good and not just because of rose-tinted nostalgia.
There isn’t a lot of gore–this was made for t.v.–but the deaths are interesting. One man is killed by his wood-chipper. Another man locks himself in a corn silo, can’t get out and is smothered by corn.
The real joy, of course, is seeing Otis get what’s coming to him. Sure, he’s pretty one-dimensional, but that just makes it more satisfying in the end. The characters in this movie throw shade like a palm tree and it’s glorious, especially when Mrs. Ritter accuses Otis of being a pedophile. Burn.
This movie is definitely a good, iconic flick and worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, if only to remember t.v. movie culture.
Also, a reminder! If you liked my picture of Santa with his nipples ablazing glory, remember that my shop is open. It’s not too late to buy something From the Vault for the holidays! Maybe you have a gloriously weird friend that wants a picture of the Slit-Mouthed Woman or Adrienne Barbeau’s character in Creepshow.