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STUDIO: VCI Entertainment
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
- Commentary by director Frank De Felitta and writer J.D. Feigelson
- Original CBS TV promo
A scarecrow movie that scares the crow out of you.
Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones, Lane Smith, Tonya Crowe, Larry Drake, Jocelyn Brando, Tom Taylor
Bubba Ritter (Drake), a mentally challenged man, is mistakenly blamed for hurting a young girl with whom he’s friends. Otis Hazelrigg (Durning), the scariest mailman this side of Newman, already has
an intense dislike of Bubba and his relationship with the girl. Upon hearing of the allegations against him, he rounds up his three friends (Smith, Jones, Lyons), and together, the four vigilantes hunt Bubba down. Bubba had hidden inside a scarecrow on his mother’s mother’s farm. When the four vigilantes find him, they execute him via firing squad…before learning immediately afterward that Bubba was innocent. After the four stage a flimsy self defense plea that keeps them out of jail, Bubba’s distraught mother vows justice on them by other means. This turns out to be prophetic as the four vigilantes are soon stalked by someone that enacts proper comeuppance for each of them. The big question is, who?
An unusual thing happened not long after I wrote this TV horror classic up for a Movie of the Day piece a while back. I got an e-mail from J.D. Feigelson, the writer of the film, who liked the article and wanted to send along a thanks for covering it. Because as it turns out, Dark Night of the Scarecrow (DNS) is finally coming out on DVD on September 28th for the first time. I responded to his e-mail, extolling my appreciation of his appreciation. One e-mail led to another, and we ended up scheduling an interview (plus I got a copy of the film over a month before it’s out, which is always nice).
How did DNS come about? Where did you get the idea for it?
Tobe Hooper is a good friend of mine and we used to talk about film all the time. He was in a film that I did called The Windsplitter, and it didn’t do anything at all. So we were sitting around talking one night, commiserating, and we came to the realization that we weren’t going to get too many more chances. And we wondered “what are we going to do?” And the short version is, he went off and made Chainsaw, and I went off and developed DNS. I wanted to do it as an independent feature, but just wasn’t able to raise the funds. But eventually I sold it to CBS as a television movie.
Were you worried about it going to TV and possibly being watered down?
It actually wasn’t watered down at all. They shot the script I wrote. A lot of people on the internet believe that the lack of violence was due to it being on television and that’s not true. The reason it was sold to television was that it didn’t have a lot of violence in the script. My theory is that you can go two directions in horror: anticipation and fear or gore and revulsion. And I think that most people like fear, deep down in their hearts. You can go to a slaughterhouse if you want revulsion. Plus, with fear, you don’t have to develop anything [special effects-wise]. But to develop…really something scary, it takes a lot of creative thought to contemplate about what really scares people. And it’s all based on anticipation.
What about the design of the Scarecrow? Were you instrumental in that or did somebody come in and help with the design?
did the original designs for the scarecrow. I had a studio in Houston,
my partners and I, and we did commercials. We had several very good
people working for us and our art director/animator was also very good
at building things. I did the sketches and he would take them and we’d
go back into the soundstage area where we were putting it together and
do that piece by piece. But the original design of the scarecrow was
mine. The construct and the writing of the script kind of happened
Do you think a remake in the same style would fly today?
I think that most remakes don’t work. The original movie [of a remake] was a product of the moment, a product of its time. And over the years most remakes don’t work. They try to make them work, but the first thing they have going against them is that you know the story, you know how it ends.
When you were first coming up with this, did you have the mindset that “I want to keep the killer a mystery? I don’t want the audience to know till the very end?” Do you think the mystery was just as important?
think the silliest horror movies are the ones where you see the monster
the most. Monsters, when you get a really good look at them are kind
of silly. They really are. They move really slow or they’re not really
very smart. To me, the scariest movies are the ones like the original
version of The Thing. You never see that till the end of the movie. That movie just scared the crap out of me. And Alien,
scared the crap out of me. Those are the movies that scared me because
you didn’t see them and you didn’t want the person [in the movie] to
take that extra peak around the corner. You know, at the end of Alien, it’s just a big thing with a long tail and claws. It’s not nearly as scary as it was before you saw it.
I bet if DNS were ever remade, considering that all of your actors were mostly over 30 or 40, and established talents, in order to get DNS made today, I can almost guarantee that most or all of the characters would be under 25 and all hard-bodies and boobs.
Oh absolutely, absolutely. And we’d had a couple of inquiries from people probing to get the rights to do a remake. We realized that if there is to be a remake, we wouldn’t have anything to do with it, my partner (Joe Wizari) and I. We talked about and someone would have to produce a lot of money to do it because otherwise it just wouldn’t be worth it. He said, “Well if they offer us a lot of money, we should do it!” There will still always be the original.
There was a scene added back into the movie at the very end that clearly
established the nature of the one getting revenge. A single action on
the harvester involving the gears shifting. I didn’t notice that that
hadn’t been in the movie before and was added back in until listening to
the commentary. But I personally don’t think it was needed. I thought
it took away a little from the mystery. Were you an advocate of that
I’ll tell you why we put it in. Because [director] Frank [Felitta] and I were talking. And in the original script… a lot of people kept asking, who was driving the tractor? They didn’t listen to the dialogue well enough to see that all the hints are given there [about who’s driving the tractor]. In fact, at the grave scene, Skeeter (Robert F. Lyons) says that if [Bubba’s] in the coffin, that don’t leave nobody Invisotext on: but his spirit. Invisotext off. And a lot of people didn’t catch it, so they were wondering, “who’s in the tractor, who’s in the tractor?”
Well I’ve got to tell you, that ending has stayed with me for thirty years.
You know, I’ve seen people who are really grabbed by the ending. It does put a lump in your throat.
We did a story on the site two years ago that DNS was going to be released on DVD and it’s just now coming out. Why the delay?
Originally it was going to be released by Image Entertainment. Image ran into a lot of big financial problems and that cost us a year. And then we got on board with another distributor, and negotiated with them for six months. And their deal was so awful that we just came to the place where we told them that “we can’t do the deal with you.” I had movies done with VCI [the eventual distributor] and we should have just gone to them in the first place. And I did a very good deal with them and they’ve just worked their fannies off on it. We’ve gone to probably a dozen conventions now and they’ve just put out a lot of stuff. We’ve been in a lot of magazines and they’ve really worked hard, much harder than a lot of other companies would have.
Wrapping up, I was just now looking
at the cover and noticed that you used as quote from Vincent Price on
the cover. He said the film was “marvelous” and he “was terrified.” I
don’t think you can get much higher praise than that.
Oh my goodness, the way that that came about was that a friend of mine – I worked on The Twilight Zone in the mid-‘80s, and he was a script supervisor on that show – and he told me he had a book I had to read. It was a book of about 20 interviews with all the big horror mavens. So I read a passage in the book and Vincent Price was being interviewed and he referenced the movie and said that quote.
The movie has been restored and looks very nice, despite the fact that it was shot for TV standard. For audio, you have the choice of original or beefed up 5.1. Feigelson and director Frank De Felitta did a commentary for the movie. There’s also an original CBS TV promo for the film.
Many thanks to J.D. for the interview.