1981 / Director. Frank De Felitta
I had never seen Dark Night of the Scarecrow until tonight. I had heard about it for years and listened to respected filmmakers discuss it in various retrospective films. They celebrate it as a classic and use it as a case study. The plot is simple and tows the generic slasher line. A group of country-bumpkin bigots form a lynch mob and hunt down a mentally retarded man they believe to have murdered a little girl. They find him in a field, posing as a scarecrow, hoping they don't find him. They do find him and brutally murder him. Within seconds of the killing they receive a message proving the man to be innocent... and so naturally with a genre film, the retarded man returns for blood in the form of a scarecrow. It sounds like any other slasher film but there is a reason it's so highly regarded. The script is excellent. Every scene and every action has a purpose. The score is dramatic and harrowing. The suspense is incredibly well staged and above all else, the performances are outstanding. Charles Durning is particularly good as the repulsive and menacing man who lead the lynch mob. I regret that it took me so long to see Dark Night of the Scarecrow because it would have become a movie I returned to often. If Hitchcock were to have directed a Friday The 13th movie, this is how it would be. Suspense and a foreboding atmosphere are favoured over violence, which elevates the movie beyond horror. The scarecrow character is hidden for much of the film and what little screen time it has, is super creepy. I love it. I can understand it's praise. I've just watched it on blu-ray and the quality was excellent. If you love good writing, good acting and craftsmanship, then make sure you see it.