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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Scarecrow (2002)

"You've never been stalked like this..."

Plot

Pushed to the edge by bullies, teachers and his mom's 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 ‘human' 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 iconography work and strip scarecrows of everything that made them so unique in the first place. Case in point: Scarecrow. Shot in eight days for a budget of around $250,000, this isn't going to be a film in which the idea of a killer scarecrow is done any justice whatsoever.


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 Krueger-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 rather than anything more sinister and supernatural. The scarecrow 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 from the countless Krueger clones.


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 goes far too over-the-top in portraying Lester's life to begin with that you wonder whether the film is going to sink into parody. Once he's transformed into the scarecrow, the script then can’t decide whether it should be played straight or for laughs – appearance-wise the design team couldn't have done any more to create a terrifying scarecrow yet as soon as he starts walking and talking, the mannerisms of the actor 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 cinematography doesn't help sell the idea of this dangerous killer either - the scarecrow is frequently seen in the daylight or well-illuminated rooms, allowing the audience to see that this is nothing more than a man in a jumped-up Halloween costume.


The budget for Scarecrow 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 cast don't completely ruin the film but having some more seasoned actors in the mix would have done wonders for selling the story harder.


Scarecrow is a supernatural slasher after all so once Lester has become the titular character, the kills start kicking in. 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.

 

Final Verdict

Scarecrow is an awful, low budget slasher which sells itself hard using decent artwork and a cool premise - it's the 80s video market tactic all over again for a new era. The worst thing is that, to date, it has spawned two sequels! Unbelievable.



 

Scarecrow


Director(s): Emmanuel Itier


Writer(s): Bill Cunningham, Emmanuel Itier, Jason White, Stephen Wozniak (additional screenwriting)


Actor(s): Todd Rex, Tim Young, Tiffany Shepis, Roxanna Bina, Jen Richey, John Moore, Richard Elfman, Jason Simon


Duration: 86 mins




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