Scarecrows (1988)
Scarecrows (1988)

Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: September 28th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: William Wesley Actors: Ted Vernon, Michael Simms, Richard Vidan, Kristina Sanborn, Victoria Christian, David Campbell, B.J. Turner, Tony Santory, Phil Zenderland

 


 

S

ince scarecrows are designed to frighten away birds, it’s undeniably peculiar and wasteful for the farming tools to be designed so realistically. But it makes it just that much creepier for a movie about scarecrows that come to life for some otherworldly terrorizing. Though a photograph implies that three farmers-turned-demons are the primary antagonists, the story is shrouded in mystery, refusing to spell out the circumstances of cornfield devilry. Working with a small budget, wisely allocated for grisly makeup effects, and an amusing setup, the film efficaciously plays upon the common fears of the dark, bladed weapons, and isolation – as well as the rarely cinematically visited fear of brainless, stuffed, jacketed farm dolls.

A Baja Air cargo airplane is hijacked in California by a quintet of heavily-equipped, paramilitary mercenaries who are also Army payroll robbers (to the tune of $3.5 million in cash). They force the pilot and his daughter (with their dog Dax) to fly them south to the border for an easy getaway, but a double-cross finds trooper Bert (B.J. Turner) parachuting out of the plane with the money and landing in a field … filled with particularly ghastly-looking scarecrows. He spies a farmhouse neighboring a graveyard and wanders inside, seeking temporary shelter.

Two of the other soldiers jump out of the aircraft and locate the condemned Fowler property, where Bert is likely to have holed up. Jack (Richard Vidan), a sniveling and cowardly sniper, and Curry (Michael Simms), the severer leader, scour the cornfield, with baldheaded Corbin (Ted Vernon) joining them a few minutes later, and Roxanne (Kristina Sanborn) looking for a place to land. When the plane sets down, she brings hostage Kellie (Victoria Christian) with her to the house. Kellie’s father, Al (David Campbell), is instructed to wait with the vehicle, but he grabs a concealed pistol and goes after his daughter. Tracking down Bert, recovering the loot, and flying to Mexico are seemingly impossible tasks, however, as a trio of zombie-like scarecrows begins attacking the thieves.

In an incredibly bizarre twist of narration, Bert’s thoughts are heard aloud as he thinks to himself and reasons with the situations occurring (instead of simply speaking to himself, his lips remain motionless). The men pursuing him taunt him through their military communications system, alerting him to their movements and intentions. To further complicate the narrative, the scarecrows seem to provoke their victims with whispers and cries from the other crew members. Of course, they also manage to disembowel their victims, stuff them with straw and the stolen cash, and command their bodies like possessed puppets to wage war against the remaining humans.

With limited sets (though they’re effectively unnerving), only a handful of embellished scarecrows, repetitive music, poorly written dialogue, and intermittently convincing acting, there’s a lot to be desired from this modest ‘80s thriller. However, a significant amount of blood is shed, featuring a decapitation, gutting, the chewing off of fingers, a sickle rampage, the stitching of dismembered appendages, and sawing into an arm. The gore effects are impressive, even when most of the creature designs by Norman Cabrera involve men in tattered costumes.

The lighting is also nicely done, making use of green night-vision at opportune times, and revealing gruesome imagery regularly (even though the transition between day and night is somewhat sloppy). Many of the themes and events show promise, if only the filmmakers had the resources to elaborate on them. Curry being driven to insanity, Kellie teaming up with her captors in a desperate bid for survival, greed overcoming self-preservation, patricide, and the scarecrows attempting to harvest the organs and extremities they’re missing to regain human functions, are all ideas that have a striking amount of potential. Unfortunately, the cast and script fail to convey the frightful repugnance of the premise – despite the fact that the finale isn’t afraid to be dreadfully bleak, while providing zero answers to the night of extreme distress.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10