Scarecrows

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Scarecrows are scary. That’s probably why the word “scare” is in there. I know they’re meant to scare birds and shit, but they’ve plagued the horror genre for decades in various mediums. From Alvin Schwartz’s infamous “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” tale “Harold” and R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” entry “The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight,” these crucified bags of straw creeped the shit out of us as children and left us with morals like “don’t make fun of scarecrows”…or something. However, no other genre medium has kept the “deadly scarecrows” vibe alive more than celluloid. 1981 brought us the made-for-TV horror “Dark Night of the Scarecrow,” which apparently still gives adults the creeps. In 1995 we had the pretty nifty and far-too-similarly titled “Night of the Scarecrow,” which still has the image of the crucified priest getting his lips sewn shut buried in my mind, while the past few years have brought the direct-to-DVD trilogy that is “Scarecrow,” “Scarecrow Slayer,” and “Scarecrows Gone Wild,” which is unfortunately the most creative title they’ve come up with after running out of ways to combine “night” and “scarecrow.” Despite this steady influx, it’s a little 1988 gem that still stands the test of time in my book, and that is William Wesley’s “Scarecrows.” Laugh at the title all you want; it sure as hell beats its overseas moniker “Paratroopers.” Finally, MGM is releasing this cult classic on DVD. I’m so excited that I just may run backwards through a cornfield!

The film starts off in a hijacked airplane where a group of robbers just pulled off a heist at Camp Pendleton, finding themselves three million dollars richer. They’re forcing a pilot and his teenaged daughter to take them over the border to Mexico where they’ll be free to do as the Mexicans do. Our “bad guys” consist of four men and one woman. One of the men seems oddly fruity, wearing a red bandana and sashaying about the entire movie. The woman is there because well…all horror films need a female victim. Otherwise, would you really believe some blonde with a perm holding a sub machinegun? I didn’t buy it in “Beverly Hills Cop II,” and I ain’t gonna buy it now. All seems to be going well until one robber decides to get greedy and parachutes out of the plane with all of the loot. The rest of the group decides to land in a nearby field and the traitor down to retrieve what’s rightfully…well…somebody else’s. While searching for the loot, they find themselves stationed in an abandoned house in the middle of a cornfield, all of which are surrounded by extremely creepy scarecrows and an eerie cemetery. Unless you’re brain dead, you should be able to figure out what happens next. Well, for those of you who failed to read the title of this movie, the scarecrows aren’t exactly keen on these strangers invading their territory and they set out for a plentiful harvest.

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“Scarecrows” has everything that a late-80’s b-movie should. Moderate acting skills, inner-dialogue (which gets confusing when they start using their head sets), a random villain that shouldn’t be scary but is, and plenty o’ gore. Sure it lacks in the nudity department, but looking at the male-to-female ratio, I think we can consider that a good thing. Plus, adults aren’t stupid enough to run off into a corn field to have sex. But then again, they are stupid enough to chase money through one, so who am I to judge?

The film’s most buoyant aspects have to be the special effects and costume department. The actual “killer” scarecrows have a zombie/skeleton looking face which is fine and dandy, but it’s the scarecrows that lifelessly hang around on the set that are far more effective in terms of eeriness. Whoever designed those masks is a costume genius. I’m not saying they’re intricate or award-winning props, but the three masks that they continuously show during the movie are all extremely effective in creeping out the viewer…even me! They look like simple burlap sack masks, but molded to the shape of a head with bizarre stitching, leaving each scarecrow with its own personal morbid expression. I’d much rather had seen these guys do the dirty work as opposed to the zombie-scarecrows, but hey, at least they’re still in the movie. I also award the film major props on the special effects. There are some really great prosthetics in this film, which we see when one of the characters severs the head from a possessed team member, then proceeds to split the body from stump to stomach in order to retrieve something hidden inside. There’s also some pitchfork stabbings, some severed limbs, but that’s nothing compared to la piece de resistance. In my humble but awesomely correct opinion, this movie has the best “face stab” ever. It uses a less-is-more approach, but that only makes it look that much more painful. I could watch that two-second clip on a loop for hours and still say “Ow! Fuck!”

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“Scarecrows” remains as one of my favorite 80’s horror films to this day. It follows the general code of the 80’s b-movie while adding its own twist to some of them. It has atmosphere, a fair share of creepy moments, a unique idea for its time, and characters who aren’t stupid. Hell, one of them even has an existential epiphany at one point. You hear that M. Night Shyamalan? Ted Vernon was questioning a possible plot twist long before you even put pen to over hyped paper.

The Hidden Message: Between the children of the corn and these scarecrows, I really don’t know how our crop farmers do it. Bravo, men. Bravo.

(Ed. Note: I’m not sure if MGM’s brand new DVD release is the uncut version or not. If anyone knows, do tell.)

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~ by exploitnation on March 9, 2008.

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