Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scarecrows (1988)

... aka: A Maldição dos Espantalhos (The Curse of the Scarecrows)
... aka: Paratroopers
... aka: Zona restringida (Restricted Zone)

Directed by:
William Wesley


In preparation for this review I decided to do a brief history on the killer scarecrow subgenre. It was then that I realized there really isn't much of a history to the killer scarecrow subgenre. To my knowledge, the first walking, talking, "living" scarecrow on film is the same one created by L. Frank Baum for the children's book "The Wizard of Oz," which has had multiple screen versions dating as far back as a 1908 silent short. That character would most famously be played by the wonderful Ray Bolger in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. While a few genre movies would use scarecrows as a plot device (Hammer's NIGHT CREATURES aka Captain Clegg [1962] instantly comes to mind), it wouldn't be until 1981 that an inanimate scarecrow would supernaturally come to murderous life and be front and center in a horror flick. That film was the very good made-for-TV movie DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, which scared the stuffing out of many children who happened to see it on TV back in the day. From all indications, Scarecrows may be the second film to center around a killer scarecrow and the very first to feature multiple killer scarecrows. Throughout the 90s, killer scarecrows would make sporadic appearances in films like Dark Harvest (1992) and Night of the Scarecrow (1995). Then, in the 2000s, there were suddenly tons of them from out of nowhere; all likely made in response to the success of Victor Salva's popular Jeepers Creepers (2001), which wasn't technically a killer scarecrow film but featured a monster that frequently posed as a scarecrow. Among the later scarecrow titles were Psycho Scarecrow (2000), Kakashi (2001), Scarecrow (2002), Dark Harvest (2004) and its two sequels, Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004), Scarecrow Slayer (2004), Hallowed Ground (2007), Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009), Rise of the Scarecrows (2009) and the list goes on.








A heavily-armed, five-member commando group managed to somehow hold up Camp Pendleton and get their hands on 3 1/2 million dollars worth of cash; leaving three dead marines in their wake. Afterward, they managed to hijack a cargo plane, forcing the pilot Al (David James Campbell) and his teenage daughter Kellie (Victoria Christian) to deliver them (presumably) to the Mexican border. On their way, Bert (B.J. Turner) gets greedy and decides that he wants all of the money for himself. He tosses the crate containing the money out the hatch, parachutes out and leaves behind a grenade. The others manage to toss the explosive out just in the nick of time, but now they have an all-new objective: find Bert and find the money before he's able to get away with it. Three of them; calm, bald, quiet tough guy Corbin (top-billed Ted Vernon, who also financed the film), manic Curry (Michael David Curry, who seems to have carefully studied Joe Pilato's performance in DAY OF THE DEAD prior to acting in this) and big dumb oaf Jack (Richard Vidan), all parachute out. The lone female robber, Roxanne (Kristina Sanborn), then has the pilot and his daughter land the plane in a field with hopes of meeting up with the others later.








As everyone scours the grounds below picking up "very ugly vibes" while looking for that "no good, double crossing, scum-sucking son of bitch" Bert, they come to the realization that they're on a condemned, fenced in plot of land. There's only an abandoned farmhouse, a graveyard and overgrown fields full of, you guessed it, scarecrows. It isn't long before the solemn guardians of the fields come springing to life armed with sharp tools of butchery (knives, pitchforks, scythes, axes, meat cleavers...) to start knocking everyone off one by one. The general idea here is that these scarecrows kill victims, dismember them, gut them, stuff them, sew them back together and then bring them back to life to add to their legion. Why? Well, your guess is as good as mine. How were the scarecrows able to come to life? No clue. What do the scarecrows hope to accomplish? You got me. Why do they keep showing the same photo of three men on the wall of the abandoned house and who are they? Dunno and dunno. The script doesn't bother explaining any of that and it's left up to us to fill in the blanks on our own.






Scarecrows has a minor cult following and all I could think during the entire first half was "Why?" It's slow-moving, there are probably 100 shots of the same three scarecrows repeated endlessly, the acting is amateurish, there's next to no plot or characterization and the dialogue - half of which seems to consist of the characters saying each others names into their headsets  - is utterly useless. The entire film is set at night and is extremely dark, which alternately works in its favor and works against it. Thankfully, it manages to pick up a bit in the second half and becomes rather enjoyable. Mind you, the aforementioned problems don't just suddenly stop; they simply become less of an issue when the action and bloodshed come to the forefront. For the modest budget of just 425,000 dollars, it's atmospheric and looks fairly slick thanks to cinematographer Peter Deming. There's also a good music score from Terry Plumeri, fine makeups from Norman Cabrera and effective scarecrow designs. And yes, there's plenty of gore in this one, too...







Torsos and faces are stabbed, stomachs are gutted, hands are speared with pitchforks and slowly sliced off with rusty saws, fingers are bitten off, heads and arms are hacked off and so forth. Some of the victims return from the dead as stitched-up scarecrows themselves (stuffed with the cash they're so desperate to find) to attack the others. It was all enough for the film to run into ratings problems upon release, so original VHS distributor Forum Home Video released both R and unrated / uncut tapes. The latter runs 4 minutes longer. There's now a nice-looking, uncut DVD through MGM. Apparently director Wesley recorded a commentary track for that release but they opted not to include it.

★★1/2

5 comments:

Piotr W. said...

I've seen this movie and I kind of liked it... more than I expected to, actually.

And speaking of modern "killer scarecrow" movies, there's one you didn't mention: Husk. Which was nothing special, but wasn't too bad, either.

Anonymous said...

I like the concept of killer scarecrows.

Which makes it such a shame that if a film features them, it has a high chance of sucking. Same goes for killer clowns.

JT said...

I agree with many of your criticisms (too dark, too much wandering about, unlikable characters etc) but still think this is better than average horror flick.

I actually liked how the happenings were never truly explained. And how it was suggested that the thieves were punished for their greed - one guy even followed a trail of dollar bills to his doom. Pretty obvious but still a nice touch.

If you remember, at some point one of the men wondered if they had in fact died during the heist and were now in Hell.

Come to think of it, the movie would probably worked better if it was about an hour shorter and part of some horror anthology film. It had that Tales from the Crypt -kind of feel.

Michael Bayouth said...

Hey horror fans! I’m the son of Ted White who portrayed “Jason” in Friday the 13th The Final Chapter. I finally got off my duff and wrote about the time my dad invited me to the set for one of the kill scenes and his private conversations between director, Joe Zito and effects guru Tom Savini. It’s a bloody and funny, crazy story and I was there to see it go down. I’ve told this story for years but have never written about it. He’s actually a stuntman who did a slue of Westerns and doubled for John Wayne in several of the Duke’s films. This story and many more from his career are now in a paperback compellation called “In The Shadows of Giants.” And the corpse didn’t fall far from the casket as I have had my own share of crazy stories to tell as well. Check it all out soon on Amazon and Kindle. You won’t be disappointed! Like our Facebook page to get notified of the launch! https://www.facebook.com/shadowsofgiants

Michael Bayouth said...

Hey horror fans! I’m the son of Ted White who portrayed “Jason” in Friday the 13th The Final Chapter. I finally got off my duff and wrote about the time my dad invited me to the set for one of the kill scenes and his private conversations between director, Joe Zito and effects guru Tom Savini. It’s a bloody and funny, crazy story and I was there to see it go down. I’ve told this story for years but have never written about it. He’s actually a stuntman who did a slue of Westerns and doubled for John Wayne in several of the Duke’s films. This story and many more from his career are now in a paperback compellation called “In The Shadows of Giants.” And the corpse didn’t fall far from the casket as I have had my own share of crazy stories to tell as well. Check it all out soon on Amazon and Kindle. You won’t be disappointed! Like our Facebook page to get notified of the launch! https://www.facebook.com/shadowsofgiants

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