"Trespassers will be violated!"
A bunch of bank robbing, highly-armed criminals hijack a plane during their escape and take the pilot and his daughter hostage. In mid-flight, one of the group double crosses the rest and bails out with a parachute, taking the money with him. Landing the plane on a field nearby, the rest of the criminals go looking for him and their loot. Unfortunately for all of them, they have stumbled into a cornfield full of killer scarecrows.
Scarecrows was a little known and little seen horror which was fairly acclaimed as a cult hit for knowledgeable fans of the genre, but had little wider appeal upon its release. Though it appears that, with the dawn of the internet age and streaming services, as well as the dedication of a number of independent DVD and Blu-Ray labels to release obscure titles, Scarecrows is finally starting to emerge as one of the most interesting genre pieces from the video era. 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, certainly one of the more atmospheric films of its ilk. 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.
Scarecrows wouldn't work without the central component - the scarecrows - and they 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 hessian 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, watching and observing everything, 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 Scarecrows 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, pilot and daughter aside. I know it makes their eventual slaughter at the hands of the scarecrows to be more than just desserts for their criminality, sort of a morality play twist, but it's hard trying to get into a film with no stand out protagonists for audiences to get behind. Welsey purposely doesn't go into any real explanations about who, what, how the scarecrows are and operate; he just leaves it all ambiguous which will either frustrate you or not. The ending does try to suggest an explanation as to why the scarecrows were coming alive if only for a brief few moments but 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 and the best film about killer scarecrows to grace the screen.
Director(s): William Wesley
Writer(s): William Wesley (story & screenplay), Richard Jefferies (screenplay), Larry Stamper (additional dialogue), Marcus Crowder (additional dialogue), Stephen Gerard (additional dialogue)
Actor(s): Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan, Kristina Sanborn, Victoria Christian, David Campbell
Duration: 83 mins