Charles Durning plays Otis P. Hazelrigg, a postman in a small town who has an unhealthy interest in a ten year-old girl named Marylee (Tanya Crowe). When Marylee is mauled and nearly killed by a dog, Otis decides that she was attacked by Bubba Ritter (Larry Drake), a mentally challenged man who has the mind of a child. With Otis and his redneck friends looking to lynch him, Bubba’s mother disguises him as a scarecrow and tells him to stand out in a field and not move. When Otis and his friends discover Bubba hiding, they all shoot him until he’s dead. Otis puts a pitchfork in Bubba’s hands and tells the police that Bubba was attacking them and they didn’t have any choice but to shoot him.
Otis thinks that he’s gotten away with murder but he’s wrong. After Marylee sings a song in the same field where Bubba was killed, Otis’s friends start dying. One is suffocated in a grain silo. Another falls into a thresher. Before each one dies, they report seeing a scarecrow on their property. Otis thinks that Bubba’s mother is behind the murders but what if Bubba has actually come back to life?
Dark Night of the Scarecrow will mess up your mind, give you bad dreams, and leave you with a lifelong phobia o scarecrows. It’s that scary. I remember that they used to frequently show this movie on TV when I was growing up and even the commercials were scary. (The part of the movie that always messed with me were the shots of Bubba’s frightened eyes darting around underneath the scarecrow mask.) Scarecrows are naturally creepy and the movie’s atmosphere is unsettling but the most frightening thing about Dark Night of the Scarecrow is Otis and the redneck lynch mob that he puts together. Otis is a thoroughly loathsome character and Charles Durning goes all out playing him. Otis is a civil servant, which gives him some prestige in the town but he uses that prestige to bully Bubba and harass Marylee. His concern with Marylee especially feels wrong and the movie does not shy away from the subtext of his interest. The scarecrow might frighten you but you will absolutely loathe Otis and everyone who follows him.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow was made for television but it’s just as good as any theatrical release. It is also might be the first movie to feature a killer scarecrow. Several have been made in the years since but Dark Night of the Scarecrow was the first and it’s still the best.