Tag Scarecrows

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

He’s the death of the party.

After a fraternity prank goes horribly wrong and results in his accidental death, a young college freshman is resurrected in the guise of a vengeful scarecrow who descends on the beach where those who killed him are having their spring break.

 

Since when did the scarecrow become such a cinematic horror icon that he has now starred in his own trilogy of horror films? I can understand why Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers all become icons and to a lesser extent even the annoying Leprechaun. But the scarecrow? Didn’t anyone see Scarecrow or Scarecrow Slayer? Two of the most atrocious, low grade slasher films I’ve ever seen, with their own saving grace being a slightly-cool killer who looks way better on the front covers of the DVD boxes than he does in person in the films. Now we have a third instalment, Scarecrow Gone Wild, though thankfully this has been the last one (to date). To think they managed to crank out two sequels still gives me shivers!

Scarecrow Gone Wild goes down the serious route and this is its biggest mistake, despite it being billed as a ‘comedy’ on IMDB. The idea of this killer scarecrow heading to the beach and killing off a load of co-eds cries tongue-in-cheek: surfing scarecrow, sun-bathing scarecrow, volleyball-playing scarecrow and sitting-round-a-beach-campfire scarecrow were all ridiculous ideas waiting to be mined (NB the scarecrow doesn’t do any of this in the film, I’m just saying they could have made him do some stuff to lighten the tone). Anything to get him to, well, go wild. He doesn’t. He’s a pretty boring dude and just opts for the usual slash ‘n’ dash moments. But then again most of the film is based around empty hospital corridors, schools or the generic cornfields and not the beach. Something seems to have wrong in the translation of the plot. Also, the fact that the costume looks worse than my Halloween scarecrow outfit doesn’t exactly send chills down your spine. For some reason, a lot of the scarecrow is seen during the daytime which completely nullifies any sort of fear factor that could be created. Scarecrows, especially ones designed for horror like this, are pretty damned scary – I know, I’m a 6’5” walking monstrosity in my scarecrow outfit when it comes around to Halloween – but that’s because I stick to going out when it’s dark.

Scarecrow Gone Wild does contain the necessary slasher elements including loads of cheesy gore. Sadly, though there is plenty on offer, it’s not exactly been done well and is a clear sign of the meagre budget they worked with on the shoot. There is also plenty of T&A. One female character has about two lines but spends most of the film walking around without a top on. Boxes had to be ticked and she ticks them. It’s not exactly slim pickings for slasher fans when it comes to the goodies but it’s the haphazard way in which the ingredients are cobbled together which comes off as more disappointing than anything. The problem with Scarecrow Gone Wild is that, despite it being a slasher flick, it’s actually rather dull and boring. There’s far too much human drama, with the characters arguing with each other and dealing with too much nonsense other than the fact that there’s a killer scarecrow on the loose. To rub salt into the wounds, just when you think Scarecrow Gone Wild is over, along comes another ten minutes to prolong the misery.

Ex-UFC and WWE wrestler Ken Shamrock is the ‘big name’ in the cast this time around, portraying the school’s baseball coach who, for some sinister reasons, decides to follow these teenagers around on their spring break. He’s a better fighter than he is an actor and at least gets to duke it out with the scarecrow in one scene. But, like the rest of the fun factor getting sucked out of the film, Shamrock doesn’t get to do any trademark moves and instead just tumbles around in the sand with the scarecrow as if they’re making out with each other. It’s such a letdown – you get one of the toughest men on the planet (at the time) into your film, knowing that a certain audience will be tuning it to see him kick ass, and then proceed to neuter him completely. Such a wasted opportunity.

 

Scarecrow Gone Wild continues the rapid downward spiral of this dead-on-arrival series. At this alarming rate of decline, I’ll be giving minus stars out for the next few sequels. Avoid this at all costs and to make sure they don’t make a fourth one, set fire to any scarecrows you see outside.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scarecrow Slayer (2004)

Scarecrow Slayer (2004)

He cuts to the chase

Dave and Karl are two friends looking to join a fraternity and are given the initiation task of stealing a scarecrow from a nearby farm in order to join. However, when the farmer finds the friends moving the scarecrow, he shoots and kills Dave. But he doesn’t die and his soul is transferred into the scarecrow, bringing it to life. The scarecrow then sets about killing anyone who gets in the way of his quest to turn his former girlfriend into a fellow scarecrow so that they can be together forever.

 

Sequel in name only, Scarecrow Slayer is just as bad, if not worse in some respects, as the original and even the presence of legendary horror actor Tony Todd can’t save this one from the farmer’s bonfire. I’m not sure who deemed Scarecrow sequel-worthy – certainly the title character had potential to be scary if he hadn’t been totally the opposite by opening his mouth and spouting one-liners and doing all of those silly back flips and combos that he did in the original. Well he’s sort-of back in this one, be it a different scarecrow, and at least the kick ass cover art returns, easily the only part where a bit of talent was noted in the whole production (Todd aside).

Some films just don’t click right from the start and once the credits have rolled and the main story begins, you just know that Scarecrow Slayer is going to be one of those films. Fair enough there are the sub-plots about the college initiation and the story about the scarecrow killing Caleb’s father which kick us off. If only these sub-plots had been dragged out a little more and allowed to run separately for a little longer (or even if Todd was allowed to make more than an extended cameo), then maybe the scarecrow coming alive and killing everyone would have a little more impact. As it stands, these two mildly interesting sub-plots converge too quickly and the scarecrow is unleashed.

The revenge mission that the scarecrow sets out upon is wound up far too quickly and then what is left is a below-par slasher flick with a killer scarecrow slicing up his former friends. What made him so bitter and twisted towards them, since he was supposed to be a ‘good guy’ before he was shot dead? Why kill his best friend and his girlfriend’s mates? If he loves his girlfriend that much, why bother turning her into a scarecrow? It’s almost as if he’s killing people simply because he’s meant to be a killer scarecrow, not a friendly scarecrow. I can’t see any other reason behind it.

Thankfully, the acting across the board (Todd being the exception) is as abysmal as one would expect so when the scarecrow does kill off a few of the characters, you feel like it’s a mercy killing. The gore factor seems to have been toned down from the first flick too, with some cheesy-looking CGI gore moments substituting badly for true make-up effects (though some of the kills are a bit more elaborate overall). Even the scarecrow seems to have been photoshopped in to some scenes via some bad computer animation. He attacks a lot during the day too, totally ruining any sort of suspense or scares that a semi-lit scarecrow might have created in the dark, turning the character into something of a lost party-goer on his way to a fancy dress ball.

I’m still not sure why Tony Todd is in this. Granted he’s hardly the most famous actor in the world and would find more mainstream roles harder to come by. But….that voice! He’s got one of the most commanding, sinister voices I’ve ever heard from an actor so it’s a shame he’s so underused in cinema in general. But back on topic…..why? What did he do to deserve this? Is the family going hungry? Did the producer have incriminating photos of Tony? Did he sign the contract drunk? It’s a baffling choice but by default, Todd is the single best thing about the film. Even in his short role, he manages to lift the material way, way higher than it deserves to be (before it crashes down with a thud after his exit).

I think the worst thing about Scarecrow Slayer, and something that I’ve only found out since watching, is that it was made by The Asylum. You know – the ‘mega-monster’ specialists who bring the world ‘mockbusters’ for a fraction of the talent and budget of Hollywood blockbusters. Even when they’re not ripping off big blockbusters with rubbish like this, their low production values and general lack of interest in making decent films is evident.

 

Scarecrow Slayer is worse than the original but better in some respects i.e. the fact it had Tony Todd in it. I hear that they’re making another couple of sequels to this dire series. Move over Leprechaun because a new “worst franchise ever” has seemingly stepped in your first place spot.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Scarecrow (2002)

Scarecrow (2002)

You’ve never been STALKED like this

Pushed to the edge by bullies, teachers and his mom’s white-trash boyfriend, Lester finally makes a friend in the Sheriff’s daughter. But when he sees her kiss another guy at a party, he completely loses it. Heading home, he promptly picks a fight with his mom’s boyfriend, who then takes him into the cornfields outside their home and chokes him to death underneath the watchful eye of a scarecrow. One year later, several people in the town are murdered. Lester’s spirit has returned in the form of the scarecrow and he is taking his revenge on those who bullied him before.

 

Scarecrows always freak me out – there’s just something about making a ‘man’ out of straw, something unnerving about the twisted, tortured faces that the burlap sacks form and the downright creepy way they hang from the stumps in the ground. They’re perfect horror foil. So why have scarecrows been given the short shrift when it comes to horror movies? It seems as though few people have been able to ‘get’ what makes the idea of a scarecrow (William Wesley’s excellent Scarecrows springs to mind) so original and creepy. Those who don’t simply replicate what makes other horror themes work and strip the scarecrow of everything that made them so unique in the first place. Case in point: Scarecrow.

Scarecrow‘s main problem is that it turns the titular character from a potentially scary and nightmarish character (just look at the cover!) into some lame Freddy Kruger-wannabe complete with one-liners, non-stop trash talking and even managing some back flips as well to prove he’s acrobatic as well as witty. At one point he even looks like he’s break dancing before going in for the kill. Any sort of fear factor that the scarecrow character could have had is thrown out of the window when he simply resorts to making bad put downs and living up to the “it’s just a guy in a mask” mantra. This could be any generic slasher villain from the last twenty years and it wouldn’t make any bit of difference. Apart from the face mask and costume, there’s nothing to distinguish the scarecrow at all.

The character transformation that Lester has is a little overblown too, going from nerdy, shy teenager into demented killer scarecrow with razor sharp wit and a flair for the comic lines. The script can’t decide whether the scarecrow should be played straight or for laughs – appearance-wise the design team could have done little more to create a terrifying scarecrow yet as soon as he starts walking and talking, the mannerisms of the guy inside the suit completely ruin the illusion the effects guys had worked hard to achieve. Where did this guy come from? It certainly wasn’t the puny character of Lester we had seen earlier in the film.

The budget for the film seems to have been blown on the slick cover art for the DVD. It certainly paints the scarecrow in a more sinister light than he appears in the film. Certainly the budget didn’t manage to stretch too far across the actors as the film resorts to hiring thirty-somethings to play the high school kids. You won’t really be able to suspend your disbelief. Even then the term ‘actors’ is used loosely as, Tiffany Shepis aside, I wasn’t able to recognise anyone else and no doubt not be saying “oh I saw this person in Scarecrow five years ago” because they’d be hard pushed to find other work.

The gore is cheesy but there’s not nearly enough of it. It makes little difference though as you won’t care about the victims because they’re either badly acted out or their characters are so one-dimensional and bland that you hope a good prod with a knife will wake them up. Usually this means rooting for the killer to get the deeds over and done with but in Scarecrow’s case, it’s a lesser of two evils: an annoying cast of characters or an even more annoying killer. However this seems to be the least of the film’s problems. Shot in only eight days, it blatantly shows with a shoddy production values and a general sense of hamming it up from everyone involved. At no point does it seem that anyone attempted to craft a decent horror film and instead just went down the Slasher 101 route, skipping the atmosphere and scares and assuming that the juvenile wisecracks from the killer would see them out to the end. The worst thing is that the film takes far too long to pad itself out before the scarecrow shows up – thirty minutes out of an eighty minute film is too much – and even then there’s plenty of flashback footage shown to how Lester became the scarecrow.

 

Scarecrow is an awful, low budget slasher which just reeks of home video students trying to make it big by going through the cheap horror route instead of actually trying to make a decent horror piece. The worst thing is that, to date, it has spawned two sequels! Unbelievable.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

The original classic.

Bubba is a mentally challenged but good natured man who spends his spare time playing with a little girl in their local farming community. When she is apparently mauled to death by a neighbour’s dog, news spreads around the town fast and Otis, the local mailman, forms a mob to take down this supposed child killer. They track him down to his farm where his mother says she hasn’t seen him but the mob eventually finds Bubba hiding as a scarecrow in the middle of the field. After taking out mob justice with their shotguns, the men are shocked to find out that the little girl survived and Bubba was the one who saved her from the dog. When their murder trial is thrown out for a lack of evidence, they walk free from court. However not long after, a mysterious scarecrow begins appearing on each of the men’s property, dressed exactly the same as Bubba was when he was murdered, and someone begins to stalk them. But who?

 

Heralded as one of the best made-for-TV movies ever made, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a truly creepy little gem of a film. Playing upon one of horror’s most underused sub-genres, that of the killer scarecrow, the film has built up a cult reputation over the years and it’s easy to see why. Don’t get this mixed up with your traditional slasher films which were hitting it big at the time – Dark Night of the Scarecrow is all about unsettling the viewer, sending a shiver down their spine and getting under your skin. More mysterious and with more in common with a ghost flick, the film ticks all of the right boxes and simply doesn’t take the cheap route out with gore and body count being replaced by atmosphere and suggestion.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow kicks off with a bang with a thrilling opening act in which culminates in mentally-challenged innocent Bubba being hunted down and brutally dispatched by some vigilante justice. I bet that was a tough sell to the network that originally ran it and it still packs a punch over twenty years later. The close-ups of the scarecrow’s mask with Bubba’s terrified eyes peering out are still as haunting today as they ever were. The film never really maintains this high-energy as it then settles down to allow the characters and suspense some time to build back up again. There are undertones of paedophilia throughout but not between Bubba and the little girl: their relationship is innocent as Bubba is virtually a kid in a man’s body. It’s Otis who is the dodgy one, spying on the two with binoculars as they play happily in the field and being seemingly jealous of Bubba’s relationship with Mary Lee. He has designs on getting Bubba out of the way from the very start.

Charles Durning, as Otis, makes for one really despicable character. This guy is so vile, malicious and self-serving that it’s hard to feel anything but hate for him at all during the film. The opening scene tries a little too hard to sell him as a nasty piece of work but once his character gets some proper time to flesh itself out, you come to realise that he’s a real weirdo, living a dull existence without a wife, family, living in a boarding house and continually wearing his postal outfit like some militaristic uniform.

Good support comes from the rest of the cast, particularly Larry Drake as Bubba, who’s brief screen time during the opening really hammers home how cruel the mob are to him. It’s rare to see such good performances from a TV movie but this cast make the most of it.

This being a TV movie, the gore content is almost non-existent as the death scenes shy away from showing you anything grisly. But this works in the film’s favour – when a guy falls into a wood chipper, you won’t see anything but the impact of not seeing it makes it even more shocking than if you’d seen limbs and blood go flying everywhere. This is from the era of horror where you didn’t see every last graphic detail and the less-is-more approach works well and enhances the overall atmosphere. The scenes are drawn out for as long as possible, unsettling the viewer as much as possible before pulling the trigger.

The good thing is that we never see who is doing the killing and this leaves all manner of ideas open to interpretation. Is it Bubba, back from the dead? Is it someone who saw what happened? Just who or what is killing off the mob one by one? Even the final reveal at the end and an unforgettable closing scene does little to address this, leaving the viewer with unanswered questions which will keep ticking over in your mind for days and weeks. Although the gore and violence has been neutered for television, Dark Night of the Scarecrow still manages to look a hell of a lot better than a lot of full blown productions. Some of the night time shots are fantastic, really adding to the ominous vibe. The dimly-lit farms, barns and warehouses ooze character themselves. Anything could be lurking in the shadows and you wouldn’t know until the last minute.

 

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is proof that even TV movies can be effective if the makers are intent on producing something more than standard (take note Sci-Fi Channel). With fully-rounded characters, an unsettling vibe and some fantastic shots, it’s definitely one to check out should you ever manage to get hold of a copy.

 

Hallowed Ground (2007)

Hallowed Ground (2007)

Evil unearthed

After she becomes stranded in a small town, a young woman discovers her arrival there was foretold a century earlier by the town’s founding preacher, who sacrificed human sinners by stringing them up as scarecrows in a bid to ward off the crows which were destroying the town’s crops. Unfortunately for her, she is an integral part of his impending – and terrifying – rebirth.

 

Yes, I came for the killer scarecrow on the cover too, although that may be potentially misleading. Hallowed Ground does contain a killer scarecrow but to say it’s the main focus of the film would be incorrect. A cross between the likes of Children of the Corn and The Wicker Man, Hallowed Ground is a competently made but inevitably bland horror which works well at times, not so well at others. Hallowed Ground is the a-typical horror film of the present time – looks good, contains some decent moments but inevitably covers no new ground whatsoever, simply opting to rehash old ideas and present them in a new form.

Hallowed Ground has decent production values with the cornfields and remote town setting being used to their full potential to build up the isolated nature of the film and add a bit of eeriness and atmosphere. You do get the sense that this small town is in the middle of nowhere and that whatever happens, the characters will on their own. The make-up effects are also pretty good. The scarecrow off the front cover looks great and some of the death scenes, whilst not glorifying themselves in explicit violence and gore, at least do the job that’s required of them. This isn’t a gore flick and there’s no need for them to be anything other than what they are. But the problem with the film is that is fails to deliver anything remotely worthwhile with these tools.

The story is so blatantly obvious from the get-go and the premise quickly outstays its welcome. The paper-thin story and big reveal is brought to the fore way too early in the film for it to be effective. Once the townspeople reveal to Liz the bigger picture of what is going on, the film has nowhere else to go except a tired routine of Liz escaping captivity, running off and then being recaptured. Even at a slender eighty minutes, the story seems stretched out too thinly and a little more build up would have gone so way in keeping the final third more efficient.

If there’s another part of the film that fails to deliver, it’s with the CGI special effects. It’s shoddy and the opening scene with the computer-generated bodies attached to the crosses in the field looks particularly awful. The scarecrow is also big player in the film during the first half but instead of keeping him confined to the shadows and creating a bit of suspense and mystery around him, the film is quite happy to show him off as much as it can. Case in point is the first time he’s introduced in the film – broad daylight in the middle of a field! We know that the scarecrow is only a guy-in-a-suit but showing him off in the sun kind of ruins the illusion that we were prepared to maintain. Even the actor behind the mask seems daunted by this fact, not really expressing any sort of physical terror or menace with his performance.

At this point, the film runs more like a slasher as the scarecrow takes care of a few people and stalks the heroine around the fields and then the town. But in a film of two halves, this slasher element is ditched in favour of something more The Wicker Man-ish and the pace of the film really begins to drag. Hallowed Ground becomes boring and it’s a pity because the cast do all they can to liven up proceedings. Jaimie Alexander is alright in the lead role. She’s likeable enough for you to get behind her but at no point during the film do you expect her to be harmed in any way. It makes all of the chasing around and threats from the townspeople seem superficial. The only other notable face in the cast comes in the form of Ethan Phillips, more famously known as Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager. He’s the slimy local priest and does reasonably well in his one-dimensional role.

 

Hallowed Ground should perhaps be more fittingly-titled Old Ground as that’s all it really does. Not only in rehashing old ideas but rehashing the same ideas over and over again in its short time. It looks good and has its moments but they’re too brief and fleeting to make an impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Husk (2011)

Husk (2011)

Join the harvest

A group of friends have their weekend ruined when crows inexplicably smash themselves into their car windscreen, causing them to crash. When they come to, they find that one of their number has gone missing. Setting off to find their friend, the group head across a cornfield towards an old farmhouse in the hope that he ended up there. But they soon find out that there is something else in the cornfield – something evil and very deadly.

 

Who hasn’t driven past a scarecrow in a field and thought that they’re just a little bit unsettling, especially ones that are full-sized and have proper bodies of stray? It’s the perfect material for a horror film but one with which the genre seems content to stay well clear of. The killer scarecrow sub-genre must rank up there as one of the most criminally-underused horror sub-genres. There have been some truly awful killer scarecrow flicks over the years and only a handful of decent ones. But you look at other sub-genres like that of the evil clown or zombie and you see just how badly shafted the scarecrow has been. Husk is hardly going to change that status quo but it does have a few things going for it.

Like a lot of straight-to-DVD horrors these days, it’s blatantly obvious that there is talent behind the camera of Husk but once again, for some unknown reason, this talent is not able to shine through. Husk is so by-the-numbers and so routine that it’s a bit insulting to the viewer. This is not a knock on Husk specifically but most horror films nowadays – everyone seems so content to play it safe and not attempt to do anything different for fear that the film won’t make its money back. It’s about time studios gave the up-and-coming talent a bit more scope to do what they want with their films and see what happens.

Husk owes a great deal of its opening act to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: small group of teenage friends in the middle of nowhere heading towards an old farmhouse where suddenly all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately everything kicks off really quickly, leaving no time at all for the audience to get to know any of the characters. There’s no real hero of the piece here, just a group of characters who each take it in turns to take charge. They’re not a terrible bunch of characters but we know so little about them that the early (and tacky) romantic/break-up angle comes off more of desperation than anything. With no emotional attachment to them, the film becomes a little boring when they’re all put in peril. Why should we care about them when we don’t know anything about them? They could be escaped criminals for all we know. The script gives us no reason to root for them and even sees fit to write a couple out as quickly as it can so we’re left with three characters for the duration. Even between three characters, the script is unable to build any sort of characterisation with them. So what you get is three guys roaming around an old house and cornfields for an hour whilst weird things happen.

Husk is a competently made but inevitably bland horror which works well at times, not so well at others. It’s a film of two halves just like Hallowed Ground, another film I’ve seen recently which featured killer scarecrows and spooky fields. Both featured a decent first half with build-up and direction heading towards that of a slasher but then both featuring second halves which veered towards the supernatural and then ran into problems. The cornfield looks great. It’s such an underused setting for a horror film and this film will show you exactly why that is a crime. It looks just as sinister during the day as it does at night, with every way the camera turning revealing a seemingly never ending mass of maize. It doesn’t matter which way you look or move, it’s the same thing.

The scarecrows which menaces the group look alright too but there’s too little explained about why they come to life. There’s some attempt to flesh out the back story of the previous inhabitants of the house and why everything is happening but its all very flimsy and loosely connected. It’s when this supernatural angle comes into play and one of the characters starts seeing images from the past that the film loses its momentum. These flashbacks come out of nowhere and seem to be a cheap exit route for the writers to be able to explain the plot. Credit to the script though as it does stick to this path and manages to flesh out a series of in-film rules which need to be obeyed in order for the characters to make it out of their predicament. But I get the feeling that the setting and the scarecrows would have been a lot scarier had this been left out of the final draft.

 

The cornfield setting and presence of a killer scarecrow gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what may have been but instead, Husk ends up as a pedestrian horror which is well made and everything, it’s just ruined by a bog standard script which does nothing with the material. Straight off the conveyor belt of teen horror and consigned straight into the annuls of DVD history.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

A terrifying evil is about to be unleashed!

A group of teenagers accidentally release the spirit of an evil warlock who possesses a scarecrow in order to kill the descendants of those who killed him many centuries earlier.

 

Not to be confused with Dark Night of the Scarecrow from 1981, Night of the Scarecrow is a solid if limited slasher which seeks to utilise one of horror’s most underused gimmicks – that of an evil scarecrow. Come on, you’ve never thought that the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz wasn’t just a tiny bit unsettling?

Despite the presence of some supernatural elements, this is a straight-up slasher with a killer scarecrow. The old ‘once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’ slasher mantra is in full effect here. Characters live up to stereotype. The situations and settings are overly familiar. The plot unwinds exactly as it should do. Within even a hint of attempting something a little different, Night of the Scarecrow plays it all safe……a little too safe. Director Jeff Burr has made plenty of low budget horror sequels including a couple of Puppet Master sequels and an installment of the Pumpkinhead series. He knows his way around a horror film even if the direction has been pedestrian. The film does look good for its budget and production values are high.

The ultimate problem with Night of the Scarecrow isn’t just the repetitive nature of the slasher approach – it’s in the title character. Many slashers in the past have looked like they were going to bomb, only to be saved by the presence of a unique-looking killer. Not here unfortunately. He looks really cheesy – your stereotypical killer with a flour sack over his head (think Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2). I wonder why they couldn’t have taken a leaf out of the book of Scarecrows and made the scarecrow look really authentic and frightening. This guy just isn’t scary in the slightest and looks like someone dressed up as a scarecrow. At one point towards the end, I was dying for him to remove his mask and unveil his true identity in a Scooby Doo-like plot twist. He also speaks a lot, despite his mouth being sewn shut, which makes him sound like some jock dressed up for Halloween. He should have been a silent killer to make it more effective. At least this one has the foresight to include a cornfield during a rousing set piece. Too many scarecrow themed horrors shy away from living up to scarecrow stereotyping but why not? Cornfields are rather eerie, menacing places and a scarecrow without a cornfield is like a king without a castle.

The cast is full of the ‘I know the face but not the name’ actors who all fill the various stock character roles. There’s the local priest, the town mayor, the farmer, the sheriff, etc. It’s a bit uncanny how they’re all supposed to be members of the same family. Talk about keeping it in the family, it’d be hard to break into their grip on power in this community. Elizabeth Barondes looks great and injects some life into her character. Matters are not harmed by her inevitable T&A scene but she’s feisty enough through the rest of the film to make a likeable heroine. Unfortunately she has zero chemistry with her male counterpart, John Mese. The rest of the cast are rounded out by a great bunch of characters actors including Stephen Root and Bruce Glover. Glover, in particular, enjoys a good role as the local priest who enjoys one of the film’s standout set piece moments when he gets mouth sewn shut by the scarecrow.

Special effects all round are very high as the death scenes rely on them a little more than old fashioned blood and gore. Another highlight sees a character suddenly sprout straw from their eyes. At least someone on the effects team was trying to keep the theme of a killer scarecrow alive.

 

If you want a decent horror film about killer scarecrows then check out Scarecrows, which is creepy and gory. If you can’t get hold of that then this will have to do. Not a great slasher film by any means but you can do a lot worse than Night of the Scarecrow.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆