Sunday, December 5, 2010

Straw Death : Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Scarecrow films are either hit or miss.  Actually, that's a bit of a generalization.  In actuality, there are only a few good ones- Scarecrows being a highlight- and the rest are kind of shit.  In a lot of ways, the Made-for-TV movie is the same way.  There are some good ones...and then there is shit like The Langoliers.  Yeah, that one.  So what happens when these two combustible elements combine for one event?  The result is either a film that will be utter shit or one that will be inexplicably-good.  I wonder what this one will turn out to be.  The film stars a bunch of a character actors, so that's a good sign.  If the film is terrible, I can go 'hey, I know that guy.'  Interestingly enough, the film stars Larry Drake- aka 'Durant' from Darkman and Darkman II- as a very out-of-character guy.  Unfortunately, he did not take Robert Downey Jr's advice from Tropic Thunder, so this did very little for him.  Will it to do more for me?  Get out your highly-dangerous farm equipment for my review of...

The film begins with a young girl hanging out in a field with her best friend- a retarded man.  Yes, Larry Drake is playing a mentally-handicapped person.  Words fail me, gentlemen.  The pair hang out for a bit while some townsfolk talk about how they suspect that something bad will happen.  Well, it will with that attitude!  The pair wander around for a bit before a dog breaks through a fence and attacks her, despite Drake warning her not to.  The townspeople hear the bad news: the girl is dead.  The men in town (all four of them) form a group to catch him, while the guy flees.  He runs to his mother, who convinces him to play 'the hiding game.'  The men eventually find him dressed up like a scarecrow in the field.  They pretend to leave, but shoot him instead.  It's right then that they find out the truth: the girl didn't die.  Yeah, they just killed him for nothing.  They're put on a trial, but the judge finds a lack of evidence against them.  Evidently, nobody wanted to talk.  They escape punishment, which upsets both the mother of Drake and the town's D.A.  I suppose you only get so many murder cases in this town, so you have to make them count.

Time has gone by and the spectre of murder hangs over the men involved.  On top of that, the woman holds a grudge for them killing her son.  Oh yeah, the parents of the girl haven't told her that Drake is dead.  You may want to get on that eventually, folks!  The girl begins to talk to an off-screen person who she says is Drake.  Yeah, you're either crazy or in a horror film with no budget.  I think it's the latter.  One of the men is disturbed to find a scarecrow in the middle of his field, despite him having no crops out there.  I can't imagine that it's a good thing.  When he goes to show the others, it's not there.  The leader of the group makes a big 'to-do' about them not ever meeting up in person again.  One of them gets drunk that night and wanders around his barn when he hears a noise.  He ends up falling into his farm equipment and dies.  Who started it up though?  Who turned it off before the police arrive?  Don't look at me- it's that menacing figure in the shadows!  Another one of the guys sees the scarecrow in their field and freaks out.  With the recent death, I'm not sure that you're entirely-wrong to do so.  Of course, it won't help keep you alive.

With the other two acting very suspicious, the lead guy tries to keep them in line.  It probably doesn't help when another one of them gets killed, huh?  He begins to get worried himself and turns to the most likely suspect: the mother.  He confronts her in her home, only for her to die of a heart attack.  He covers the evidence by setting the house to blow up via an open gas line and a burner.  They don't blow up that dramatically, but whatever.  This movie's actually decent so far, so I'll try not to be picky.  With the mother dead and the third man dead- he's so important that his death is not shown- there is only one suspect to him: the little girl.  You may have reached bottom when you try to kill a little girl, fella.  He confronts her at a Halloween party, but gets stopped by a cop.  By the way, the most suspicious thing this guy does is never take off his Postman uniform- ever!  Do you at least wash it?  Seriously though, it all leads up to a big chase through a corn field involving the man and the girl.  He chases her until a thresher starts chasing him.  He runs right into a scarecrow and dies...because a pitchfork was out.  In the aftermath, the thing moves, revealing that Drake's spirit was in it.  The End.

This actually pretty good.  The plot is simple and effective: people do a bad thing and live to regret it.  As a made-for-TV film, it's all about atmosphere and characters.  In that regard, it's quite good.  I was kind of hoping for more horror and/or action though.  Once I realized what I was getting, I tried to embrace it.  As it is, it's a good effort.  While I still was left wanting more, I can't complain about what I actually got.  The acting is good overall, but some people tend to shine more.  Drake is not bad in his role- I just can't see him as anything other than Durant.  Mind you, this film pre-dates the Darkman series by a good ten years, so it's not their fault.  If you understand that you're not getting a real horror film and can accept that, check this movie out.  As a film, it's far better than crap like Dark Harvest or The Messengers 2.  Of course, so is an hour of Chinese water torture while listening to the cast of Glee cover songs non-stop.  So yeah, give this one a look.

Up next, the fourth part of Lamberto Bava's made-for-TV horror films gets reviewed.  On the plus side, it has no Ogres, Grim Reapers or Zombie Dads.  Stay tuned...


  1. Larry Drake actually had a longstanding role on the 80's melodrama LA Law playing a simple minded mail clerk. So apparently, along with this one, it was a specialty of his...

  2. The thing is this: I've never watched 'L.A. Law.' So, for me, he has been and always will be Durant.

    Of course, even beyond that, why would you cast a big, intense guy like him in a role like this? It's not like they really use him as a heavy later either...

  3. The best made for TV slasher ever, and possibly the best made for TV horror movie ever! Love Dark Night!

  4. I would have liked it if we actually got to see the scarecrow do something in person though. I can see them doing the P.O.V. stuff for the first kill, but not the rest.

    The confusing thing with DVD releases is that Made-For-TV films aren't always labeled right. What happens is that you end up with stuff like 'Nick Knight' and wonder why they cheap out on the effects.

    As a side note, 'Scarecrows' is still the best killer scarecrow film- bar none.