Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Dark Night of The Scarecrow is everything that you could ask of a relatively low-budget, made for TV film. Within minutes, it successfully – and disturbingly – erects its arena of a small town in the Deep South that is baying for blood. The unfortunate victim here is Bubba, a local mentally handicapped innocent whose only crime is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The reverberations from his death – particularly for his murderers – are developed with pace and menace, and demonstrate a real sense craft from director Frank De Felitta.

The real star of the show is, dubiously, Otis P. Hazelrigg, an ostensible pillar of the community turned lyncher in chief. Charles Durning turns in an absolute blinder of a performance, avoiding falling into the pantomime pitfalls inherent in his character and always respecting the material and audience. That earnestness is visible across the entire cast, who combine to turn out something that is much more than the sum of its parts. The result is that a production line TV horror emerges as a sophisticated and uncomfortable study of mob mentality, particularly in the American Deep South. A genre classic that deserves a much wider audience.