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Film / Dark Night of the Scarecrow

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Directed by veteran novelist Frank De Felitta from a script by J. D. Feigelson, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a suspense/horror Made-for-TV Movie that first aired on CBS in 1981. According to Aaron Crowell, managing editor of HorrorHound Magazine, this was the first feature-length horror movie with a scarecrow as its centerpiece, with many having copied this image in subsequent years, giving Feigelson credit as the progenitor of the entire “killer scarecrow” genre.

The plot concerns Bubba (Larry Drake), a mentally handicapped man being unjustly accused of attacking a young girl. Disguised as a scarecrow, he hides in a cornfield only to be hunted down and shot by a posse led by the cruel Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning). Immediately afterward, it's revealed that Bubba was actually saving the girl from a vicious dog attack, so the members of the search posse cover up their crime and successfully beat the rap for murdering poor Bubba. Unfortunately for them, someone's not too happy about their Karma Houdini status, and one by one the men are killed off in grisly accidents, the only common element being a mysterious scarecrow that suddenly appears in each man's field...

The film was finally given a DVD release in 2010 and in 2022 a Direct to Video sequel, Dark Night of the Scarecrow 2, was released with Feigelson returning to write, as well as stepping into the director's chair. Not to be confused with Night of the Scarecrow.

Tropes in the film:

  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: When Otis is being chased by the tractor through the pumpkin field, he runs in a straight line in front of it till he collides with the Scarecrow.
  • Accidental Murder: Hazelrigg accidentally causes a heart attack on Bubba's mother when he sneaks up on her in her home. He covers his tracks by blowing up her home.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Bubba is subject to the community's hatred and distrust, even though he's clearly a gentle, kind-hearted man.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Marylee is mauled by an angry guard dog when she sneaks into a garden to look at the fountain. This event is what sets the plot in motion.
  • Asshole Victim: All four members of Otis' posse, but Otis himself is the worst of the lot for not only never showing remorse, but also willingly committing even more crimes to cover up what he did.
  • Big Bad: Otis Hazelrigg, who led the party that killed Bubba for a crime he didn't commit and spends the film trying to cover up his crime.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Bubba saves Marylee from being mauled to death by a vicious guard dog by busting through a wooden fence. And later his ghost saves her from likely being murdered by Hazelrigg.
  • Children Are Innocent: Marylee. Though this is subverted in the beginning when she sneaks into a neighbor's yard against Bubba's pleas because she wanted to look at the fancy fountain inside, only to be attacked by a vicious dog.
  • Cramming the Coffin: After Otis and Skeeter dig up Bubba's grave and discover his body in his coffin, Otis murders Skeeter and buries the body in Bubba's grave alongside the coffin.
  • Dirty Old Man: Otis Hazelrigg is perhaps more of a Dirty Middle-Aged Man. See Harmful to Minors below.
  • Fiery Cover Up: When Otis triggers a fatal heart attack in Mrs. Ritter by threatening her, he covers up his deed by turning on the gas and causing a fiery explosion.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: The Scarecrow carries a pitchfork as a weapon, although only Hazelrigg ends up being killed by it.
  • Ghostly Gape: As you can see in the article image, the scarecrow's crude burlap hood has three holes in it, which open onto absolute darkness.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Harliss' death. The film jump cuts to a shot of strawberry jam dripping onto a plate at the exact moment he goes into a wood chipper.
  • Harmful to Minors: It is strongly implied that Otis Hazelrigg is a pedophile and the reason he hates Bubba so much is because he makes it difficult to get to Marylee. Mrs. Ritter sees right through him.
  • Hate Sink: Otis is a judgmental, hypocritical, violent piece of garbage and is also heavily implied to be a pedophile who only really wanted Bubba dead so he'd have an easier chance of getting Marylee to himself.
  • Homicide Machines: At the end of the film, a plowing machine starts of its own accord and chases Otis on to the tines of the pitchfork held by the scarecrow.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The film takes place around Halloween.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Otis is starting to crack up at the Halloween party, he goes to the refreshment table. The woman remembers that he doesn't drink and gives him a glass of non-alcoholic punch. Otis takes a sip, then puts the glass aside and helps himself to a glass of the alcoholic punch.
  • Idiot Ball: The D.A. totally whizzes what should have been a layup of a prosecution against Otis and his posse. Had he thought to bring up how Bubba was both tied to a post when he was killed and clearly wasn't shot at close range he could have poked a huge hole in Otis' self-defense story, not to mention that Otis perjures himself by claiming that his posse fired warning shots into the air to give Bubba a chance to surrender. As he was shot at close range and every bullet hit him, an examination of the guns should reveal how many shots were fired and that this was a lie. With such an incompetent prosecutor, an implicitly biased jury almost seems unnecessary.
  • Karmic Death: Otis dies when he, in a panic, runs into the same pitchfork he used to frame Bubba, being held by Bubba himself.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: After the posse learns that they shot Bubba for a crime that he didn't commit, Hazelrigg puts a pitchfork in his hand to make it seem that they shot him in self-defense. The criminal court somehow (see Idiot Ball, above) buys it, despite poor Bubba being tied to a post when they pumped him full of lead. That said, it's blatantly implied Otis and his gang only got away with it because the jury was biased considering Bubba was disliked by most of the community for being mentally impaired.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Every single person responsible for Bubba's death has died by the end of the movie, killed by Bubba's vengeful spirit.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The story toys with the possibility that one of the townsfolk is bumping off Otis and his posse in revenge for what he did. By the end, Otis has been chased by a mysteriously driverless combine, directly into a pitchfork, held by a silent living scarecrow with an empty, black void under its mask.
  • Manchild: Bubba's mama describes him as being mentally the same age as the children he plays with.
  • Mama Bear: Mrs. Ritter is a loving, protective mother of Bubba, and lots more badass than his tormentors.
  • My Car Hates Me: When Philby is being stalked around the silos by the killer, he jumps in his car to try to get away, only for the car to refuse to start.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Otis and his little lynch mob have this reaction when they learn Bubba actually saved Marylee's life. Not because they feel bad for having killed an innocent man, but because they have to figure out how to cover their tracks.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Bubba saved Marylee from that guard dog and it ended up getting him killed by Otis's gang.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The film's gorier moments utilize this trope so the viewers can use their imagination. There's very little in the way of actual on-screen gore or violence.
  • Odd Friendship: Bubba and Marylee, though not quite as odd since Bubba has the mentality of a child. Later, Marylee seems to have one with Bubba's mother after his death.
  • Only Sane Man: The district attorney is the only person able to recognize the glaring holes in Otis's bogus cover story and is willing to punish him and his crew for their actions. Unfortunately, Otis is well respected by the community who are all a bunch of ableist pricks that weren't fond of Bubba to begin with (though, as mentioned above under Idiot Ball, the D.A. is rather woefully inept at making his case during the trial).
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: These are awakened by a thirst for vengeance, and can interact with the living world. Their appearance shifts at will between what they looked like on death and complete invisibility.
  • Real After All: The film leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not Bubba's ghost is taking revenge on Otis and his gang up until the very end. Turns out this time, Bubba did do it.
  • Scary Scarecrows: A scarecrow is always placed on the fields of the next victim. After they see it, they end up dead.
  • Shovel Strike: When Otis's last friend freaks out and is ready to turn himself in, Otis soothes him — and then brains him with a shovel from behind.
  • Symbolic Blood: The film cuts from Arliss being pushed into his wood chipper to runny strawberry jam being spooned onto Otis' plate by his landlady.
  • They Have the Scent!: Otis and his lynch mob use dogs to track Bubba to the middle of the field where he is hiding inside the scarecrow.
  • Villain Protagonist: Otis Hazelrigg, due to his actor Charles Durning getting top billing.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The only reason Otis initially gets away with Bubba's death is because he's highly regarded by most of the community while Bubba was not.
  • The X of Y: Dark Night of the Scarecrow