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March 27, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #12 - Scarecrows

Aside from that Oz-based Wizard flick, cinema has pretty much always painted the scarecrow in a negative light. I guess I can understand to an extent, coming across one in a field during the dark of night would be a bit ominous, but it's always seemed like one of the more irrational frighteners in horror lore to me. And yet, I think that's what makes me want to see those movies whenever one pops up, even if it's something I know will be balls-to-the-wall terrible like Scarecrow Gone Wild. Leaving movies that star former UFC and WWF star Ken Shamrock out of the equation, and aside from the long lost and much The Mike-anticipated Dark Night of the Scarecrow, the most successful straw-filled killer flick I can recall is 1988's Scarecrows.

Scarecrows opens with a team of military rogues in a small plane, fresh off of the successful theft of 3.5 million dollars from an apparently rich military base. Not wanting to waste time, the film quickly shows us that one of the soldiers of fortune decides he wants all the money, and does the best thing he could think of...jumps out the plane with the cash, landing in the middle of a field near a house that has far more scarecrows than would ever be humanly necessary. All this happens in the dark of night, and the runaway jumper soon begins to hear a little voice in the fields warning him about his choice. He does what most mentally unstable military-gone-psycho types would - freaks out, shoots his gun all over the place, and then is shanked by a creepy undead scarecrow. (See the video below for proof.)Money makes the world go round, so of course the rest of the team wants their defector's head and their share of the booty. This leads them to insist that the father/daughter team of pilots they've kidnapped take the plane down in this secluded area with a conveniently deserted house, and the evil force tracking trapped people with guns game is set.

I know I'm giving Scarecrows a bit of a hard time, because it is an incredibly ridiculous film full of bad acting, silly plot advancements, and one-dimensional characters that seem to have been found on the cutting room floor of Aliens or Predator. It's full of rich dialogue like "I think this place is possessed by demonic demons." or "All this time you were just jacking us off with sand paper!", too. But aside from the ridiculousness of it all, there's an underlying charm in Scarecrows' efforts.

For starters, the film is dripping with a menacing visual style. The entirety of the film takes place during one jet black night, and there's always a feeling of impending doom in the air. While many horrors of the era were struggling with lighting darker scenes and avoiding a murky look, the camera here offers a crisp image with few imperfections. I'm not sure how much of this is due to the MGM DVD transfer that I watched, but the film visually doesn't seemed to have aged a day in 22 years. The sound design is also wonderful, with an effective musical score and great balance between the characters' words and the sounds that surround them. The opening scenes in which the angry planegoers constantly talk trash to their teammate that eloped with the cash can be a little excruciating thanks to the dialogue, but the way their radio communications are heard really impressed me.Though the acting is generally one note and dull from the relatively no-name cast, there was one performance that I thought really helped the film. Michael David Simms' turn as Curry, the loudmouth who tries to be a leader and ends up going a little crazy, is very effective as the final reels roll, leading to some creepy moments where he hams it up wonderfully. The character also offers up some of the few thought-provoking issues in the minimal plot, debating what kind of fate sent the group to this horrible place late in the film. Though the film doesn't do much to expand on the ideas at work, Curry at least reminds us that there is some thought going into the film.

While Scarecrows is a frustratingly mediocre move in plot, it has an '80s charm that wins me over every time. Mixed with impressive visuals that create tension instantly, we're left with a mindless-but-good-looking horror flick that goes down easy. Until someone figures out what exactly it is about scarecrows that breeds creepy and turns it into a bit of awesome (or until that Dark Night of the Scarecrow DVD finally arrives), Scarecrows will do plenty fine for me.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

4 comments:

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I got to review this for my local TV Guide for Halloween! For a low-budget, derivative flick which isn't as deliciously 80s as other Slashers and Slasher-types which were coming out at the same time, it was surprisingly satisfying.

I gave it a pretty positive review and got heckled for it by some friends who had seen it, too. =P

R.D. Penning said...

Nice review Mike. Surprisingly, I have never seen this film. I will have to check it out, just for the sake of scarecrows. Althought, I do think someone should right a movie where the scarecrows actually work with crows to kill people. That would be great cheesy fun.

Emily said...

I love this movie. Scarecrows freak me out big time, and the dirty straw-iness of them here really gets to me. Yes, it's poorly acted and not very deep, but some moments in this film still give me the chills.

The Groundskeeper said...

I think that scarecrows, mannequins, dolls, et al remind us, if only unconsciously, of not only our own mortality, but of the possibility that we are not remotely guaranteed what in religion is called a soul. How do we know we aren't merely grotesque straw-filled humanoid puppets? Who's to say we're any more significant? In a hypothetical world like that of the film, where scarecrows get up, walk around, breathe and move and simulate life, it seems to prove that we are no less empty and meaningless than they are.

Of course I'm totally just making this up on the spot.