Directed by Frank De Felitta
Distributed by VCI Entertainment
As a horror-loving child that grew up during the 80s, I can’t help but wonder just how in the HELL did I ever miss seeing Dark Night of the Scarecrow until now? Originally airing on CBS in 1981 and subsequently re-aired in 1985, it seems like something that I should have known about, and I’ll be honest… I now feel like I’ve been jipped by not having this flick as part of my childhood experience at all.
If you’re like me and Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a movie that you missed out on for all these years, allow me to get you caught up with the rest of the class on what has to be the best made-for-television genre movie of the 1980s and even quite possibly one of the best all-time TV horror flicks, ranking right up there for me alongside some of my own personal favorites including Salem’s Lot, It, Trilogy of Terror and Gargoyles.
In the film we meet Bubba Ritter (Drake), who is a mentally handicapped 36-year-old that has more in common with the 9-year-olds in his small town than he does with the adults his own age. A gentle giant lacking the ability to harm another soul, he’s falsely accused of killing a young girl named Marylee (Crowe) when he tries to save her from a vicious dog attack. Always considered a social outcast and drain on his community, a group of hillbilly vigilantes led by closet alcoholic postal worker Otis Hazelrigg (Durning) quickly point their proverbial fingers at Bubba for the little girl’s death and hunt him down so that they can execute him and rid their town of his “plague.”
So Otis, along with gas station attendant Skeeter Norris (Lyons) and farmer cousins Philby (Jones) and Harliss (Smith) Hocker track down Bubba as he hides inside a scarecrow costume hanging from a post in the middle of a remote field. Once they see their opening to literally get away with murder, Otis and his cronies execute Bubba by shooting him 21 times as the poor guy defenselessly hangs onto the scarecrow post unable to escape.
After the execution Otis and the boys find out that Marylee actually survived her ordeal and that Bubba was never at fault for anything. Realizing the deep water they just got themselves into, the vigilantes quickly do their best to come up with a story and take a vow to keep quiet in order to avoid doing any jail time for their crime.
So when the foursome are freed after no witnesses to Bubba’s murder come forth, strange things begin to happen around their small town, and it’s evident that someone – or something – is on to their misdeeds, something unable to forgive them for the sins they’ve committed. One by one the men are haunted by a supernatural scarecrow only to eventually each be driven to their own grisly demise, and as Otis watches his friends being picked off, his mania kicks in and gradually begins to spiral out of control as he hunts down and eliminates anyone he thinks could possibly know what really happened to Bubba in that deserted field.
What Otis doesn’t know is that it’s not someone in town that’s been messing with him; it’s Bubba, who has now returned in the form of a scarecrow seeking justice for the wrongs committed against him and those he loves the most.
Honestly, I’m incredibly shocked that Dark Night of the Scarecrow ever made it onto the airwaves back in 1981 considering its incredibly dark subject material featuring references to child rape and some rather brutal death scenarios (if Bubba’s death scene doesn’t get under your skin, then nothing will) so it’s not exactly what I’d call “family programming” in the 80s. So immediately I’d like to tip my hat to CBS for taking a chance with making this movie and not butchering the controversial tones lying deep within this horrific tale of a vengeance-seeking scarecrow looking to even the score. It was a ballsy move and something I wish we’d see happen more on networks these days.
What’s even more incredible is the pedigree of talent assembled for Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Drake is a guy whom most genre fans know best as “Dr. Giggles”, but he’s an actor I’ve enjoyed from his work on NBC’s “LA Law” as Benny to his minor role in The Karate Kid as a racist drunk who tries to mess with Mr. Miyagi. Any time he pops up in something, it’s always cause for celebration because regardless of the quality of the project (and he’s been in a few horror stinkers, that’s for sure), it is always elevated regardless just because of Drake’s involvement.
The same could be said for Smith, who is another one of my all-time favorite character actors. From his roles in comedies like Son-in-Law, My Cousin Vinny, The Mighty Ducks (shut up, I totally went there), and The Distinguished Gentleman to his more serious performances in films like Red Dawn, Network and Places in the Heart to his extensive TV resume, which includes recurring roles on various shows such as “V,” “Good & Evil,” “Lois & Clark” and “King of the Hill”, one thing was always for certain: If Lane Smith was in something, it was bound to be entertaining, and Dark Night of the Scarecrow absolutely holds up his legacy of being one of the best character actors of his time.
Smith is once again a domineering presence here, and I love the fact that Harliss is a guy who just can NEVER put down a beer bottle. There should be a Dark Night of the Scarecrow drinking game that involves the amount of times we see Smith’s character with a brew in his hand, and I absolutely dig that kind of commitment to a character.
Durning, a revered veteran actor, always adds class to anything he shows up in, and I loved watching his character becoming more and more unhinged throughout Dark Night of the Scarecrow. The shot of him lurking behind a skeleton mask in a window as he stalks young Marylee has got to be one of THE best shots of the entire movie. He played so much of his maniacal tendencies in his eyes (and his hair – watch closely) that I actually got chills as he stared down a defenseless Bubba on the scarecrow post. A true powerhouse of an actor, Durning is definitely the engine that drives Dark Night of the Scarecrow.
I’m surprised that a movie- let alone a made-for-television movie at that- which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary managed to not only feel timeless but still managed to creep me out and kept me so engrossed at times that I would actually forget to blink. That’s an incredible rarity these days, and I think that’s a testament to the work of director Frank De Felitta and his entire cast, which managed to raise the bar infinitely higher with their work in Dark Night of the Scarecrow. It’s a movie that after just one viewing has been made an immediate Halloween classic in my house, and I look forward to watching it over and over and … well, over again (as I tend to do with fantastic little classic horror flicks like this).
In terms of the Blu-ray presentation of Dark Night of the Scarecrow, it’s not a movie I’ve ever seen before on any format (VHS, DVD or on TV originally) so I’m not exactly sure just how many improvements have been made here on the Blu. But as someone who watches a lot of classic horror flicks (many that are still not available on Blu-ray or haven’t even had a DVD release since the late 90s/early 00s because studios just don’t think there’s a demand), I feel confident in saying that I’ve seen a lot of crappy transfers so I can usually figure out if something looks decent or not to the average viewers out there.
And I would have to say that what we get on the Dark Night of the Scarecrow Blu-ray actually looks pretty great. The movie was shot in 1.33:1 so the flick is presented on the Blu in pillar boxed 16:9, which really didn’t bother me at all because the image quality is intact, which is something I prefer any day over stretching out a film just to give the illusion of a bigger image.
In terms of bonus features, it seems like they reused only two extras presented on last year’s DVD release of Dark Night of the Scarecrow – the commentary track with director De Felitta and writer JD Feigelson and the CBS Network World Premiere Promo (which I advise holding off on watching until after seeing the flick if you’re a newbie because it is spoiler-heavy) – and gave fans of the classic a lot more to enjoy with the Blu-ray by also including a new production documentary, a reunion Q&A filmed with cast members Crowe and Drake and writer Feigelson, the 1985 rebroadcast promo and an extensive behind-the-scenes photo gallery as well.
The production doc is the real treat here on the Dark Night of the Scarecrow Blu-ray. Both promos are fun (the 85 version is just an updated twist on the 81 original promo), and I loved going through all the stills. In terms of bonus features you could want for a made-for-television movie of the 80s, it’s hard to imagine you’d be able to get better than what you get on VCI Entertainment’s release of the flick here since supplemental material wasn’t nearly all the rage back then as it is now.
The Dark Night of the Scarecrow Blu-ray was just an incredible experience for this writer all around. A haunting story coupled with engaging performances by all cast members (even young Crowe holds her own against her older counterparts), I feel like I just won the horror lottery by discovering this gem; and it’s a movie I look forward to revisiting many, many times in the future.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
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