Scarecrow Slayer (2003)
"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. 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 to the dreadful Scarecrow, Scarecrow Slayer is just as bad as, if not worse 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 written as totally the opposite by opening his mouth, spouting comical 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). I think the worst thing about Scarecrow Slayer, and something that I’ve only found out a long time since watching, is that it was made by independent film studio The Asylum. You know - the ‘mega-monster’ specialists who bring the world ‘mockbusters’ for a fraction of the talent and budget of Hollywood blockbusters. Long before those days, they slummed around the horror genre with poor efforts like this, their sixth film.
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. With no connection to the original, the writers could do what they wanted with the idea of a killer scarecrow and spend a short amount of time building up to the moment in the film where it comes to life. There are the sub-plots about the college initiation and the story about the scarecrow killing Caleb's father which kick us off but these two mildly interesting narratives converge too quickly and the scarecrow is unleashed. But 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 target his best friend and his girlfriend's mates? If he loves his girlfriend that much, why bother turning her into a scarecrow? There is no motive for the murders, save for the fact that the character is a killer scarecrow.
Though the budget seems even smaller than the original, Scarecrow Slayer attempts to put that right with some better production values. At least the makers of the film seem to have some idea about how to shoot and stage a horror film and, budget aside, the atmosphere and tone is a lot more fitting for the material. That doesn't mean to say it's any good, it just means that some lessons seem to have been learnt from the original. Cutting the wise-cracks out of the scarecrow also means the film takes things more seriously, trying to ground the story and give some purpose to the revenge plot. Whilst it doesn't fully work because basically everything around it is rubbish, it's step in the right direction. One can only imagine how intolerable this film would have been had the scarecrow been firing out the same wisecracks as the original. And for the scarecrow fetishists out there, the end of Scarecrow Slayer sees two possessed scarecrows battle each other.
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 as he gets older. 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. Todd is the single best thing about Scarecrow Slayer. 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). He puts all of the amateurs around him to shame, delivering the weak script with all of the gravitas he can muster and tries to sell the hell out of the film's central idea. You'll almost buy the scarecrow story because it's coming from him.
Thankfully, the rest of the acting across the board 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 and be cheering it on. 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 practical make-up effects (though some of the kills are a bit more elaborate overall). Even the scarecrow seems to have been composited 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. The original had this problem and whilst the scarecrow is slightly more intimidating this time around without spouting the one-liners, it's still not an effective way to build up a central killer that the studio was clearly trying to turn into an iconic villain.
Scarecrow Slayer is worse than the original but better in some respects, with some of the same mistakes being repeated, some of the previously OK things being neglected and some of the previously poor things being improved. A horror film about a killer scarecrow shouldn't be that complicated to make work properly but for some reason, the makers of this series keep botching the idea. Maybe Scarecrow Gone Wild will have all of the answers...
Director(s): David Michael Latt
Writer(s): Bill Cunningham (story), David Michael Latt, Joel Newman
Actor(s): Tony Todd, Nicole Kingston, David Castro, Jessica Mattson, Tamie Sheffield, Kim Little, Scott Carson, Steven Schultz
Duration: 90 mins