Scarecrows (1988)

Scarecrows (1988)

They only want a brain … Yours

A bunch of bank robbing, highly-armed criminals hijack a plane during their escape. In mid-flight, one of the group bails out with a parachute and takes the money with him. The others land the plane and go looking for him and their loot. Unfortunately for all of them, they have stumbled into a cornfield full of killer scarecrows.

 

Scarecrows may only low budget and extremely obscure but it is one of the most atmospheric horror films I think I’ve ever seen. Slim on story to avoid unnecessary pandering and exposition at the beginning, Scarecrows is a streamlined and ultra-effective horror flick which taps into another one of man’s subconscious fears. Much like clowns are universally detested by the majority, scarecrows are equally just as creepy and unnerving – even more so because we know that they’re not really alive, unlike clown performers. Stuck in the middle of fields in all hours of the day and months of the year, it’s like they’re just hanging there, waiting for something to happen. Any wonder that birds are scared of them!

Scarecrows has got a real old school vibe to it in a decade where loud and cheesy horror films were the norm. It oozes with a menacing and broody tone ever-present in the background. It’s not wall-to-wall action and is a bit of a slow burner but that doesn’t bother director William Westley as he handles proceedings with a visual style like nothing the rest of the 80s could have handled. As soon as the cornfields become the main setting for the film, the film doesn’t relent on cranking out the spine-chilling atmosphere. The entire film is set at night and the cornfields are dark, full of shadows, eerie noises and generally unpleasant places to be. A superb job has been done by the cinematographer to get this setting right under your skin.

The scarecrows look terrifying. They’re simply traditional scarecrows with bits of hay sticking out from their joints, ragged clothes and generally weathered and worn looks. But those featureless sack-faces are sinister and scary. I’ve always thought that there was something ominous about scarecrows and it’s a crying shame that relatively few horror films have tried to work with them as monsters. There’s plenty of long close-ups of the scarecrows just tied up to their posts and you’re not sure whether they’re inanimate, whether they’re looking at you or whether they’re ready to come alive and jump out on the next unlucky victim. There’s no need for masses of make-up effects or fancy camera work. The simple impression that these scarecrows make on the viewer is haunting and lasting.

There are decent gore effects too for when the scarecrows finally start cutting down the cast and the eerie vibe is punctuated by extreme moments of violence. One unlucky criminal is in the process of getting his hand sawn off when another scarecrow shoves a sack over his head and starts stabbing him in the head too. It’s not an overly gory scene but it’s brutal. The scarecrows are happy to use pitchforks and scythes and they like turning their victims into fellow scarecrows by pulling out their inside and filling them with straw. I’m not sure whether the version I saw was the edited or the uncut version but whichever one it was, it was effective enough (and if it was the edited version, I’d love to see how much more graphic it gets in the uncut version!).

The only real issues I have with the film are with the choice of characters and the ending. We’re supposed to root for this group of characters but how can we when they’re a bunch of dangerous criminals? They’re not a very likeable group and we’re unable to feel sympathy for them when the trouble starts up. The ending also tries to suggest an explanation as to why the scarecrows were coming alive if only for a brief few moments. I’d have preferred for them to have just come alive for no reason whatsoever much like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead than be given hints of what gave them life.

 

Scarecrows nails the eeriness down to a tee and never once lets up in its attempts to get under your skin. You may not like it due to the limited characters and the lack of any real structured story but once you’re transported into this cornfield, you’ll never be able to forget about it. A true hidden gem of horror.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

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