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Dark Night of the Scarecrow (Deluxe Collector's Edition)

    Ian Jane

  • Dark Night of the Scarecrow (Deluxe Collector's Edition)

    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: September 11, 2012.

    Director: Frank De Felitta

    Cast: Larry Drake, Tonya Crowe, Lane Smith, Claude Earl Jones, Robert F. Lyons, Jocelyn Brando

    Year: 1981

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    The Movie:

    Before home video took off, made for TV movies were sometimes pretty interesting affairs. Often made fast and on low budgets, much like the indy/straight to video films of today, the made for TV arena was one in which filmmakers could try out ideas that, for whatever reason, might never have flown in the world of feature filmmaking. But there are also some really high quality entries, some that maybe could have worked with a theatrical run, a perfect example being Frank De Felitta's 1981 film for CBS, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow.

    When the film begins, a small town 'simpleton' named Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake) is causing a bit of a fuss with some of the local rednecks because of his tendency to hang out with a young girl named Marylee Williams (Tonya Crowe). What these rednecks see as unclean is actually the absolute opposite, as Bubba doesn't have a mean bone in his body, but that doesn't matter to them when they're looking for an excuse to mess with him anyway. When Marylee is attacked by a dog, Bubba is accused of murdering her which gives the local toughs - mailman Otis P. Hazelrigg (Charles Durning),
    farmers Harless Hocker (Lane Smith) and Philby (Claude Earl Jones) and a mechanic named Skeeter (Robert F. Lyons) - all the reason they need to take the law into their own hands.

    When the posse show up at the Ritter house Bubba's mother (Jocelyn Brando, and yes she is related to The Godfather!) tells them he's not there though they soon figure out that he's 'playing scarecrow' by hiding out in the field. A few gunshots later and Bubba is no longer with us - or so it seems. Soon after Bubba is murdered and his killers let off scot-free, a scarecrow pops up and members of the posse that put him down start getting killed off, one by one, in increasingly macabre fashion.

    Dark Night Of The Scarecrow may not chill some of us the way that it did when it was broadcast decades ago - it doesn't seem nearly as scary to this reviewer as it did when he was a kid, but that applies to a lot of films. Adulthood can be a bitch sometimes. Regardless, it stands the test of time as a really well made film with some great ideas and a pretty impressive cast. The fantastic opening sequence really sets the stage for what is to transpire and while it might be a bit on the predictable side there are still some surprisingly strong moments in here considering that this was originally shown on CBS long before the standards of network broadcast television were as permissive as they are now.

    The pacing is good, the movie well shot and the score quite effective but what really makes this one work are the performances. Tonya Crowe and Jocelyn Brando are both completely sympathetic and easy to believe in their parts, while Drake steals the show as Bubba, playing his character with such a simple sweetness that you can't help but feel for him. Durning, as the leader of the bad guys, is wholly despicable and perfect for the part, while the supporting efforts from Smith, Jones and Lyons round out the antagonists nicely. The movie even features a cameo from Alice Nunn, who many of us instantly recognize from and associate with Pee Wee's Big Adventure where she played Large Marge.

    Time and adulthood might have dulled Dark Night Of The Scarecrow's scare power a bit, but the movie is really well done and that's as evident now as it ever has been. This release of the film, according to the commentary track, does include one key extra shot towards the end of the film. We won't discuss it here as it would sink this review firmly in spoiler mud, but let it suffice to say that it does answer one particular question as to the motives of a certain character in the film. Vague? Yep, but if you haven't seen this one before you don't need to know what happens in the last half hour.


    Presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow looks very good on DVD, though without the previous DVD to compare this Deluxe Collector's Edition to we can't say if there's much of an improvement over the 2011 release. The transfer is great, however, showing as much detail as you can expect out of a standard definition offering and offering up a nice clean, clear and solid picture with nice colors and good black levels.

    English language Dolby Digital tracks are provided in 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Mono options with subtitles made available in English and Spanish. Both tracks on the DVD sound fine though they don't have as much depth as the Blu-ray release that came out in fall of 2011. Purists will opt for the 2.0 track but the 5.1 mix does a nice job of playing around with the directional effects and spreading the score out rather well. This isn't the most intense surround mix you'll ever experience but there are a few scenes that do benefit from the new mix, the farm equipment murder scene being a good example.

    Director and Frank De Felitta is joined by w
    riter J.D. Feigelson for a solid audio commentary that primarily focuses on the story itself. Carried over from the previous DVD release, here they talk about the different ideas that they had, some of which made it into the movie and some of which did not, and spend a bit of time talking about the cast, crew and different set pieces you'll see in the film, but generally this is more of a retrospective look back. Both men are getting on in years and have some good stories to share, the kind that comes along with the sort of experience they've gained over their careers. It's not a jam-packed trivia track or a scene specific dissection of the film but it is a good look back at the picture and worth listening to.

    Also carried over from the last DVD release is a great one minute CBS Saturday Night Movies promo spot for the film (1:07), a promo spot for a few other VCI horror titles (0:58). But wait - there's more! VCI has also carried over the other extras that were included on the Blu-ray release, starting with a featurette entitled Bubba Didn't Do It: 30 Years Of The Scarecrow (31:42). Directed by Daniel Griffith, this is made up of interviews with a few cast and crew members but also features input from a few horror writers who speak to the effectiveness of the movie and its enduring popularity. The themes of the movie are discussed here as are the performances and the locations, the effects and the impact that the movie had. Also new to this release is a Dark Night Of The Scarecrow Cast Reunion Question & Answer Session (46:05) with writer J.D. Feigelson and stars Tonya Crowe and Larry Drake. Here they answer questions about the movie's cult status, their thoughts on the film, what it was like working with one another on the film and much more. There's also a new Rebroadcast Promo (1:05) spot used to promote the movie on TV and a new Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery (10:03). Animated menus and chapter stops are included on the disc as well though this reissue omits the insert booklet that the Blu-ray had.

    The Final Word:

    If the movie isn't as terrifying as some of us may remember it being from our younger days, Dark Night Of The Scarecrow is still a really well made and effective horror film deserving of its cult status. As to the quality of this DVD release from VCI? It's a pretty impressive standard definition effort that carries over all of the extras from last year's Blu-ray release with a great transfer and solid audio. All in all, a very nice release overall.

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