When I was a kid, my folks and I had a traditional movie we'd watch each holiday, particularly on Halloween and Christmas. We'd forget those big name movies and usually turn to the equally as great films appearing on the television. In those days the VCR was becoming immensely popular and we'd pop a tape in the VCR and record the films to watch again and again each time the proper seasons rolled around. Today, I have yet to see one of my favorite holiday movies of all time get the recognition it deserves, let alone appear on DVD or VHS without having to special order them. The movie is "Dark Night Of The Scarecrow;" a film that has become a Halloween tradition for my family and I. Recently though, I have heard rumors that this classic will be available on DVD and Blue-ray, but we shall see. This movie is known as one of the best television movies around. As I write this review, I will do my best to not give away too much. Those who have not seen this movie should do so this coming Halloween.

"Dark Night Of The Scarecrow" was a made-for-tv movie that came out in 1981 and was directed by Frank de Felitta


It's a film about friendship, prejudice, murder and revenge that is all edge-of-your-seat horror without the gore. Believe me, if you watch this film you will quickly realize that you do not need blood gushing and heads being blown off for a movie to be effectively scary.The first time I saw this film, it freaked me out to no end. Today, the movie still leaves me angered during the first part of the film, before keeping me on the edge of my seat in suspense as the killings begin, and then finally building me up to cheer for the mysterious scarecrow-ghost in the end.

Charles "Bubba" Ritter is a mentally challenged man who is best friends with a young girl named Marylee.

Their fun and innocent friendship is the subject of gossip and prejudice around town; particularly with four men: Otis Hazelrigg, Skeeter, Philby and Harless Hocker. Hazelrigg is probably the creepiest of the men; always wearing something of an evil scowl and hiding kaniving thoughts in this eyes. He's a perverted, blood-thristy postal worker having sick desires. Skeeter is the lanky, innocent-minded auto mechanic who basically loses his mind when he's scared, and I mean LOSES it. Philby is the overweight grain mill worker, easily scared and with heart problems. Hocker is the hard-nosed farmer who doesn't take any crap. The men frequently use Bubba as a scapegoat and are convinced that he will do something to Marylee.

One day, Marylee undergoes a vicious attack and Bubba is wrongfully accused of killing her.

The four men, thirsty to get after Bubba in the first place, finally get their chance to wreck havoc on the poor man. Using dogs and carrying guns, they hunt Bubba down like a rabid animal. They eventually find him hiding in a scarecrow perched in a field. But when the men find out over the radio that it was all a mistake, it is already too late. Thus begins the drama that engulfs the four sadistic men.


Bubba's mother cried out: "There's greater justice in this world besides the law." I only have two words: She's right. After the court delivers no justice for Bubba, the men one by one, start seeing a special visitor near their homes; nobody really.....just a certain scarecrow stuffed with staw. I'll admit that one of the creepiest parts in the film is when Bubba's mother finds Marylee singing the flower song she used to sing with Bubba as she's kneeling near a scarecrow post. She says: "Don't worry Mrs. Ritter, Bubba's not gone....he's just being silly. Don't you know what he's doing?" Mrs. Ritter shakes her head and Marylee smiles. "He's playing the hiding game."

Meanwhile, a certain spirit becomes thirsty for revenge and has invited Hocker, Philby, Hazelrigg and Skeeter to participate in his ultimate "hiding game," or in some cases, "chasing game." Let's just say that if a mysterious scarecrow happens to appear near your home, run for cover!! This game in the process creates a paranoia amongst the men. When that fear becomes too much, they become their own worst enemies in this cat-and-mouse charade.

Amazing things happen before your eyes! Shuffling footsteps are heard, strange noises from a hayloft, farm machinery miraculously turns on and horrific fates are met involving a brush cutting machine a grain tower, a shovel and a pitchfork.

The very end of the film is quite chilling. All I will say is: "A hollow scarecrow with a flower." It's a ending that leaves you in awe with your hair standing up.

This movie is so underrated in my opinion. The storyline is a bit cliche nowadays but back in 1981, it was truly decent for a horror film. I could watch this flim again and again. The acting is awesome. I'll highlight some of the features:

Larry Drake's playing of "Bubba," a mentally retarded man is very realistic. Look for the scene when he is being hunted down; the way he stagger-runs through the brush and up to his mother's porch with screams of fear. I challenge a viewer to not feel the pain he's feeling. His eyes are paranoid and he cries: "I'm scared momma......I didn't do nothin' bad!"

Charles Durning as Otis Hazelrigg is fantastic. I mean; those sadistic creepy eyes, his constant scowl and his devilish grin creep a viewer out like nobody's business. Now imagine that look when he's talking with Marylee. You'll watch it and shiver. And listen to that edgy voice as he threatens Bubba's mother; enough to give a person a heart attack. Durning is such a great actor.

Tonya Crowe does a decent job with her character of Marylee. In fact, she was nominated for Best Young Actress in a Television Special for her role as Marylee in 1982.

Look for the part where she is being questioned at a Halloween party by Hazelrigg. That scene and what she tells Hazelrigg will stick in your mind for the rest of the movie and even after.

Jocelyn Brando (Marlon Brando's sister) plays Bubba's mother Mrs. Ritter, and is an amazing actress. She brings some great intensity to the movie. She does an awesome job of crying out, let me tell you. Her death scene as well as her scene in the courtroom after her son's death is acted blood-curdlingly well, and some of the lines she uses are pretty poignant: "There's other justice in this world besides the law," and "The only official thing you've done is lick stamps, now get off my property!" She is also on to Hazelrigg's perverted interests.

Robert F. Lyons plays Skeeter. Damn, he's a convincing actor! I believe his best performance comes in the graveyard with Hazelrigg. Lets just say that if a director is looking for someone to play the role of "intensely scared," Lyons is your man. The graveyard scene is unforgettable; paranoia at it's finest. I only wonder why Lyons was not cast in other scare-fest films.

Lane Smith as Harliss Hocker, has played in many films, and is relentless in this role. He's a hard-nosed, no bullshit farmer with absolutely no morals and frankly is quite insensitive. His death scene is easily his best. Screaming and hanging from the rafters suits him well.

And look for some beautifully acted scared-to-death faces and screams from Claude Earl Jones as Philby.

He's got a great set of "Oh my God I'm gonna die" kind of eyes. Like with Lane Smith, Jone's best scene is his death scene. You can just feel the intensity of his thoughts. I mean, it's hard on a person when you literally see death falling before you and you cannot get away.

The music for the film is quite scary. It is perfect in a simplistic way and brings the whole package home. Lots of intense strings are used with some chilling piano chords. It brings you right to the edge and flows well with the film.

Great movie, fantastic actors/actresses; a true classic package all together. Why not make this underrated film a Halloween tradition for you and your family as well? I'm sure glad it's part of my life. Again, the film came out in 1981. I was only one year old back then, but I was so glad my folks introduced it to me about 11 years later as they watched it on television. I'm looking forward to getting together with the family, eating pizza and Halloween candy, and watching it again this October. Check it out!