31 Days to Scare ~ Tales from the Crypt: And All Through the House

The Facts:

Synopsis: A greedy woman makes the mistake of murdering her husband while an escaped mental patient dressed in a Santa Claus outfit is on the loose.

Stars: Mary Ellen Trainor, Larry Drake, Marshall Bell, Lindsey Whitney Barry, John Kassir

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Rated: NR

Running Length: 22 mins

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: While it gradually dissipated in quality over the course of its seven season run, HBO’s Tales from the Crypt opened with a first season that was chock full of scary tales helmed by some of Hollywood’s top directors.  The second episode was a Christmas-themed yarn (ironically broadcast in the dead of summer in 1989) directed by future Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis (Flight) and while my memories were fonder of it when I was a child, it’s a nice little 22 minute lark you can fit in during the holidays between another viewing of Home Alone or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The credits are barely done before a cheating wife (the late, great, Mary Ellen Trainor, then married to Zemeckis) offs her husband (Marshall Bell) in their remote home on a cold winter’s night.  With her daughter upstairs anxiously awaiting the arrival of St. Nick, she attempts to dispose of the body in an outdoor well but fails to heed the warning on the radio warning of a madman (Larry Drake) in a Santa suit on the loose.  It’s no spoiler to say that mother and daughter get visited by Kris Kringle…but not the one they were expecting.

Watching this again recently, I was struck by some bad acting and pacing problems that I didn’t register when I was younger.  It’s not as taut as it could have been…and that makes sense considering this tale was filmed before with better results.  In 1972, this story was part an anthology in the theatrical release of Tales from the Crypt and in that version it was a full 10 minutes shorter.  The extra time here feels like padding and though it’s barely a half hour it starts to feel long before the halfway point.  Even with that said, there’s something manically delightful about this contained piece of business from an A-List director eager to try his hand out again on the small screen.

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.