31 Days to Scare ~ Dark Night of the Scarecrow

The Facts:

Synopsis: In a small town, a wrongfully killed man exacts revenge on those who murdered him beyond the grave.

Stars: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Larry Drake, Claude Earl Jones

Director: Frank De Felitta

Rated: NR

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: There’s something to be said about fond memories of films and the effect they had on you when you first saw them.  When I was gearing up for the 31 Days to Scare I asked my friends on Facebook to tell me what movies they consider horror classics and/or those that had an impact on them.  Several people identified this 1981 television movie as such a film…and upon further investigation I see that it had a lasting effect on many people that have seen it over the years.

So I was a little let-down when the film I saw was decent but nothing special when put up against some other films of the era.  Now, that may seem a little unfair as this was a made-for-tv movie operating under strict guidelines for broadcast television and therefore couldn’t show much in the way of gore and bloodletting.  While a certain amount of blood is nice to have, I certainly don’t feel it’s necessary to make an effective film and that’s where The Dark Night of the Scarecrow wound up coming in a bit short for me.

Why this hasn’t been remade for the big screen is a mystery to me as there seems to be a lot of mileage in this story of a Bubba, a childlike man (Drake who would go on to star in LA Law and the B-Movie non-classic Dr. Giggles) becoming the victim of vigilante justice by a group of town bullies that were looking for a reason to take him out.  That reason comes when they hear that the man killed a young girl (Tonya Crowe) from town – so they set out to track him down, eventually finding him hiding as a scarecrow in a cornfield.  Turns out the girl was only injured by a dog and is no worse for wear…but it’s too late for poor Bubba.

After the men are acquitted for the crime (unbelievably so considering the circumstances and evidence that must have been missed) they are soon haunted by a scarecrow that reminds them an awful lot of Bubba…or is someone else behind it all?  That’s the mystery at the heart of The Dark Night of the Scarecrow and it’s honestly only interesting in passing.  Like the men in the movie, the audience is toyed with a bit too often with misdirection and coincidence until it just becomes the same scenario repeated over and over again.

Giving credit where it’s due, the performances are top notch (if a little over baked) and the updated BluRay presentation I watched has made this three decade old film look shiny and new.  Durning is pretty repulsive as the head of the lynch mob and it’s inferred that he may be a pedophile…pretty racy stuff for the time period.  One thing I can’t get over is that post officer Durning wears his uniform for the ENTIRE film –in court, on his days off, probably in the shower if such a scene existed.  It all smells of the constraints of a short shooting schedule and the need for continuity in filmmaking.

I’m sure if I saw The Dark Night of the Scarecrow as I child I’d have equally fond memories of being scared by a man made of straw…but watching it as an adult there’s less a sense of nostalgia than there is of tedium as one can only watch the minutes tick by until the conclusion.  Bravo for attempting a scary television movie but ho-hum for overall impact thirty years later.

31 Days to Scare ~ Waxwork

The Facts:

Synopsis: A wax museum owner uses his horror exhibits to unleash evil on the world.

Stars: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, David Warner, Dana Ashbrook, John Rhys-Davies

Director: Anthony Hickox

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Sometimes it’s OK to have fun with your horror and that’s exactly what Waxwork is most concerned with.  I remember negotiating with my parents to rent this on Pay Per View and promising allowance money to pay the rental price.  Though R-rated, my parents finally agreed (or, more likely, broke down) and allowed a viewing of this one Wednesday night when they were otherwise engaged. 

I can still vividly recall watching the film on our pull out sofa and loving how director and screenwriter Hickox put a neat spin on some classic monster themes.  Following a group of college students that make a midnight visit to a mysterious waxwork, we see them one-by-one crossing over the ropes and finding them actually in the horror scene on display.  Moreover…if you die in the scene you die in real life.  It’s a cool concept that packs a nice punch for genre fans who know their monsters.  As my film knowledge has grown, I find that in my latest viewing of Waxwork there were several more waxwork scenes that I could place in their original cinematic context. 

Ably led by Galligan, most of the cast is now forgotten but nice turns by a demure Foreman (April Fool’s Day, Valley Girl), wicked Johnson (Dr. Giggles), and creepy Warner (From Beyond the Grave) help to keep the film afloat.  Within each scenario there are a few fun performances to be found too…from a smoldering Dracula (Miles O’Keeffe) to the lascivious Marquis de Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) everyone is on board to play their part with a winking sincerity.

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the movie unspools at a leisurely pace for the first hour or so until it begins to run a bit off the tracks as it meanders toward its conclusion.  I’ve always been more responsive to the first half of the film than to it conclusion because of the finale’s ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ feeling.  Whereas the film begins with an intriguing less is more approach it suddenly flips a switch and becomes less interesting the longer it plays. 

Waxwork remains a good example of clever filmmaking with a hip slant.  It’s a bit dated now, yes, and some of the effects (especially some awful miniature work near the end) are musty but it gets high points for coming out of the gate strong even though it finishes its run with a little bit of a limp.