Who puts the ‘scare’ in scarecrows?

Time for a roll in the hay to see which scarecrow themed horror movies are just a bunch of horse shit.

Scarecrow (2013)

scarecrow 2013 cover

If you’re looking for a polished cookie cutter scarecrow flick with some major CGI fluidity, then check out the 2013 film Scarecrow. This scarecrow is all black and skeletal with a slinky flow to his movement. He can also pretty much morph out of the ground anywhere he feels like, looking much like a bunch of Evil Dead vines.

Just watch Scarecrow for the cool CGI creep. It’s typical teen horror crap. A teacher brings six students serving detention to help clean up his ex-girlfriend’s old farmhouse. Okay…sounds like a shady practice that’s going to have parents outraged…especially after a scarecrow hacks all the kids up with various farm tools and machines.

scarecrow 2013 lacey

So the ex is “mean girl” Lacey Chabert. One of her other exes shows up then his car won’t start. Then one of the girls gets dragged through the corn by the scarecrow. Then everyone else spends the remainder of the movie running from the scarecrow, their numbers dwindling with each new location. Into a house. Into a barn. Through woods. Through fields. Through more woods. Into another house where an old man tells them the legend of the scarecrow. Into another barn. Then onto…a derelict showboat?

scarecrow 2013 on ceiling

Watch it for the CGI scarecrow.

The Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009)

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It’s never a good sign when a direct-to-DVD sequel has a subtitle that introduces something that wasn’t even a part of the first film. In this case, it makes it easy to go into The Messengers 2: The Scarecrow with no expectations of any connection to the first film. No need to see the first film if you’re just looking for a “scarecrow” themed horror film.

This one feels like it was created specifically to premiere on the SyFy network. In other words, don’t expect much in the way of terror or scares. The plot is simple. Daryl from The Walking Dead  lives with his wife and kids on a farm and he finds a creepy old scarecrow in a hidden room in his barn….

messengers2 norman reedus

The scarecrow is set up, crows start dying, people start dying. Living in a trailer just on the other side of the cornfield is a young and beautiful blonde wife who likes to get naked in the cornfield and wash herself by the leaking irrigation system. And John likes to watch–which makes me wonder why they cast as John’s teenage daughter a girl who looks very much like the neighbor. If you’re not paying full attention, you might think it’s an entirely different kind of movie.

John’s obsession with the scarecrow grows and he begins to sense something is very wrong. His wife thinks he’s drinking again (aren’t they always ex-alcoholics in these films?), so there’s loads of development of his descent into crazy corn land. The film goes for an occult/supernatural angle with the scarecrow being some sort of “genie” that grants you all your wishes at a cost (think “The Monkey’s Paw”). The complex exposition really drags the movie down, with just an occasional murder.

messengers 2 scarecrow

When the scarecrow finally comes to life, things get much more entertaining. Unfortunately, it’s now the last 15 minutes or so of the film, with the family in the barn battling it out with a pretty cool and creepy scarecrow. Don’t you hate when they ruin a good cheesy horror movie with an hour of character development? This film probably would have worked better as a scary scarecrow story if it had been trimmed down to an hour episode of Masters of Horror.

Hallowed Ground (2007)

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Imagine—a killer scarecrow film without the word scarecrow in the title. In Hallowed Ground, the main girl’s car breaks down in a town called Hope (yay!). There, a friendly reporter convinces our main girl to help her get a scoop on the scarecrow. Once in the cornfield (who’d have guessed), the two chicks build a scarecrow to erect for photo purposes (you’ll appreciate the “erect” reference when you see what the reporter does with an ear of corn). Naturally, the scarecrow comes to life.

This pretty much begins one of the longest chase scenes ever in a movie. Our main girl is chased by the scarecrow for so long that the cornfield turns from a bright sunlit day to night! She finally makes it to the police station. The local sheriff is new to the town, offering promise that it’s not another one of those cliché movies where all the people she turns to are in on it. But, the sheriff has to do his job, so he and his deputy leave her alone at the station…with a nice big gun for a change. The hay-filled monster comes to bail her out and the chase continues…with the scarecrow taking a backseat. Actually, he takes a seat on a chair on a porch for the remainder of the film while the locals chase her.

hallowed ground girl

I never thought I’d say this, but this non-stop chase scene gets exhausting. Or should I say it exhausts itself. Somehow, the film loses momentum. Even so, the storyline is complex enough to be interesting. Unfortunately, with its main antagonist out of commission, basically rocking on the porch sipping lemonade, the introduction of so much exposition and twists is kind of a let down. Dammit! Will I ever find the perfect killer scarecrow film?

Meanwhile, a little Chloë Grace Moretz was hard at work building her scream queen reputation in this one as the mysterious little girl. You always need a mysterious little girl. What are horror movies to do now that Chloë is all grown up?

Scarecrow (2002)

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The Scarecrow series is total low-budget fodder, so do not expect ANYTHING spectacular and you just might have a good time. What the series does have going for it is a couple of big names in the horror genre, including b-movie scream queen Tiffany Shepis in the first film and Tony Todd (aka: Candyman) in the second.

In Scarecrow from 2002, a quiet dude named Lester is harassed and bullied by all his classmates—AND his bitchy teacher. The one exception is Tiffany Shepis’s character, who feels bad for him, defends him, and is often called a lesbian by her friends because of her strong personality, short haircut, and because, well, she grabs her friend’s tit.

Lester lives in a trailer with his boozing mom and her skanky boyfriends in wifebeaters (original, I know). Lester’s walk home from school involves cutting through a cornfield and past a scarecrow, who is kind of his therapist, always willing to lend an ear (of corn). Lester is an artist, so his current “stepdad” thinks he’s a faggot. Lester ends up under the scarecrow, lighting strikes…and Scarecrow is born and out for revenge! This film could hold a solution to our real life nationwide problem: A Scarecrow Anti-Bullying campaign, or SCAB for short.

scarecrow 1 scarecrow

Along with good gory killings, Scarecrow looks pretty creepy and the film had potential to be just as creepy. What we get instead is a wise-cracker like Leprechaun, Chucky, or Freddy in everything from Dream Warriors to Freddy’s Dead. The one-liners are BAD.

Scarecrow is also somewhat of a ninja and an acrobat! He leaps onto screen, kicks, and even chases a car by doing somersaults down the road. This is some serious b-movie horror camp. When Tiffany finally does away with him (for this installment) using gasoline and a lighter, I truly expected her to cackle and exclaim “How about a little fire, Scarecrow?” Seemed so obvious to me, but clearly, this film wasn’t written by someone with gay camp sensibilities.

The real shocker of this first installment however is the dedication to Italian horror master Dario Argento at the end of the film! Cool to know the filmmakers were inspired by him, but there isn’t any sign of that influence here.

Scarecrow Slayer (2003)

scarecrow slayer scarecrow

I think they used their entire budget to pay Tony Todd to be in this sequel. While the first film at least has its bad movie charm, this film fails to even deliver the really awful one-liner spewing martial arts scarecrow. With a title like Scarecrow Slayer, I was expecting Tony Todd as the bad ass Scarecrow Slayer pulling off some major Buffy moves. No such luck. Tony gets offed pretty quickly and there simply isn’t an official slayer, so I’m not even sure where the movie title comes from.

The sequel doesn’t try to tie itself into the first film. This time around, some guys and girls are sent to steal a scarecrow from the cornfield as part of a rush ritual. But a whole different kind of ritual takes place, and Scarecrow is back in business.

After some slashing and mayhem in the corn, much of the film involves Scarecrow stalking his victims in the hospital. Well geez! Why didn’t they just call this film Scarecroween II?

This movie is utter chaos, with characters running back and forth between the hospital, the cornfield, the barn, a military school…. Literally, they are running in circles. Scarecrow himself doesn’t talk in this sequel, is a much more menacing monster (quite the opposite of the direction most horror franchise killers go), and only ONCE does his cartwheel trick in the halls of the military school.

As for the “effects”—EEK! Half the time it doesn’t even seem like the actors are on the same set at the same time together—or even on a set at all! Backgrounds of buildings and the sky and even actors seem to be dropped in using green screen. Wait until you see the part where Scarecrow is cut in half—and there are just two separate images of Scarecrow’s lower and upper body plopped onto footage of a road. And when Scarecrow’s friend picks up the torso in tears, it’s simply the actor wrapping his arms around nothing with Scarecrow’s body superimposed into the gap between his arms. They couldn’t even spring for the money to make a dummy of half of the scarecrow for the dude to cradle in his arms?

Finally, there’s a battle of scarecrows. I’m not kidding. Wow. Why didn’t they save this wild stuff for the next sequel, Scarecrow Gone Wild? There’s one redeeming moment in the film; a chick gets flattened like a pancake when Scarecrow jumps down on her from the second floor of the military school. If only the rest of the film could have been this fricking precious.

Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004)

scarecrow gone wild scarecrow

Now this is what I’m talking about. By the third film, this series seems to have found a style that works. Sure, it simply makes it about a Scarecrow slasher going after a bunch of partying teenagers, but isn’t that all we want from our Scarecrow movies? The only real downside to this installment, which seems to have upped the budget in most places, is that the Scarecrow face seems to be a simple rubber mask! Kind of disappointing, especially considering much of the movie takes place in bright sunlight—on the beach no less.

Okay, so they didn’t bother to send Scarecrow to space (still hoping for that movie to be made), but they did at least take him out of the cornfield to give us a whole new experience. Sure the film opens with a girl being chased through the cornfield by Scarecrow, but that proves to be a story some frat boys are telling their new pledges to scare them…while they are tied up in just their underwear in a shower room. Hot.

Even hotter, their big beefy muscle stud coach comes in and breaks it up. Interestingly, the hazing theme involving the scarecrow has been revisited in this film, providing continuity with Scarecrow Slayer. There are lots of cute guys with great bods and questionable butt patting. And by questionable, I mean, why didn’t they perform all-out paddlings?

scarecrow gone wild boys

Instead, the frat boys drag a new pledge into the cornfield, tie him up to the scarecrow and leave him there. Now, Scarecrow tradition says the kid must die so he can possess Scarecrow. But this film gets very clever. The kid goes into a diabetic coma instead and has an out of body—and into Scarecrow’s body—experience. The kid is eventually taken to the hospital (yes, another Scarecrow movie that largely takes place in a hospital), and every time Scarecrow kills, the coma kid reacts violently.

Sure, the boys just put their friend in a coma, but this doesn’t stop the gang from heading off to the beach to party. We get to see girl boobs. We get to see man boobs! We get a Top Gun-esque volleyball montage. And we get Scarecrow in the sand. In this film, Scarecrow doesn’t talk OR do any martial arts. He means business and announces his presence by whistling an eerie tune.

This film definitely introduces strong new elements into the franchise and could have been a great launching pad for resurrecting it as a simple and satisfying slasher series. The kills are gory and well done and Scarecrow is finally dark and menacing—and even rises out of the ocean to kill one of his victims. All the girls are excellent scream queens—very convincing and worthy of victim roles in more mainstream films. But the most unique addition to the franchise would be the water sports. That’s right. There’s one scene in which two guys bury a drunk frat boy in the sand up to his head…and then pee all over his face! Adolescent humor? Check. Personally, I would have preferred that paddling scene…

Whodathunk that a Scarecrow themed film with a title that is a play off of those obnoxious videos of drunk girls flashing their tits would end up being my favorite in the series?

Scarecrows (1988)

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Scarecrows doesn’t make light of the scarecrow situation at all—and doesn’t take place in a cornfield! What some may consider boring about this movie others will appreciate as the building of tension and atmosphere.

This is one of those films that could easily turn me off because the majority of the victims are scumbags, which usually makes it hard for viewers to actually connect with them or feel bad for them. The film’s structure is very similar to the films Dead Birds and Malevolence, with a gang of thieves on the run ending up at an isolated house locale. This house is surrounded by a seriously dark jungle, and hidden amongst the vegetation are some freaky scarecrows. Every time one of the characters runs into a scarecrow, you sit on the edge of your seat wondering if this is the one that’s going to come to life.

Of important note is some of the hotties in this film, most importantly the big burly bald bearded, cigar smoking daddy bear. On first watch, I was like, “how did one of my bear porns get in my Scarecrows DVD box?”

scarecrows bear daddy

There also happens to be NO female nudity, in part because there are only two females in the whole film. As if that isn’t a plus enough, the gore is fantastic once it gets going. These are some brutal and vicious scarecrows that absolutely torture their victims before killing them. The film definitely builds and builds with tension as it continues, and some of the creepiest scenes take place in the last 15 minutes.  Definitely one of the worthiest scarecrow movies on the list.

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

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The great thing about this film featuring—what else?—a killer scarecrow, is that it was released in 1995 yet has all the charm of a bad 80s slasher. It’s loaded with familiar horror clichés: small town, a greedy mayor looking to take away its charm (and cornfield) by building a money-making mall, a couple of stupid drunk kids who awake the evil, and a supernatural killer out for vengeance for wrongs committed centuries ago.

While there are no real scares to be had from this killer scarecrow, the film does a good job with the visual atmosphere. There are some truly eerie shots of the scarecrow creeping through the corn, appearing suddenly in dark rooms and also getting all up in the camera, as well as a couple of scenes with some ghoulish strobe lighting and red “Argento” lighting. In fact, light, dark, and shadows are used to great effect. The deaths are grisly and gory, and there’s a pretty long cornfield chase scene at the end.

The dark tone of the film shifts to campy and outright weird in the middle. Let’s begin with the sexy times. When the Scarecrow sneaks into a van where an unsuspecting topless chick is waiting for her boyfriend to return, he first cops a feel and then gets—I guess you could say—a finger woody! WTF? He rams his appendage in the girl’s mouth and makes a comment about giving her his seed. Talk about a finger fuck! She’s eating something, but it ain’t crow!

night of the scarecrow scarecrow

And then there’s the orgy. Yes, orgy, in a flashback of a warlock who used his magic to lead the colonial townsfolk into a life of debauchery. We get to witness a bunch of half-dressed, old-aged pilgrims doing the nasty. Plymouth Rock meets colonial cooch.

The scarecrow himself goes from being an ominous threat to one-lining comic (again, like Freddy, circa Elm Street 3). Once you’ve adapted to the altered tone of the second half of the movie, it’s pretty watchable cheese.

Only one part of Night of the Scarecrow really irks me. I almost got the one-liner ending I wanted from Tiffany Shepis in Scarecrow when our heroine is about to torch the scarecrow. She says “How about some fire, Scarecrow?” Did NO ONE behind this film think of consulting with a gay first? The correct quote is, “How about a little fire, Scarecrow?” What a disappointment.

HalloweeNight (2010)

scarecrows-halloweenight

HalloweeNight is wickedly low budget. Some weird dude gets pissed after some jerks destroy his Halloween scarecrow, pushing him to do a satanic ritual to bring it back to life…then bring it as his date to their Halloween party.

While the movie is loaded with fart humor and laughable dialogue, the funniest thing about it has to be that these are supposed to be college kids and a majority of them look like they’re at least 40. A sloppy slasher plays out at the party, with some fun low-budget gore and a few jump scares! Plus, characters mock big budget horror (wink-wink).

Amazingly, the scarecrow killer (a dude in flannel, jeans, and a potato sack) transforms at the end into a skeleton with a Jack ‘O Lantern head. While much of the footage is some sort of stop-motion animation, this is how the killer should have looked through the whole movie because he’s pretty damn freaky! His arrival leads to a nicely morbid ending.

Husk (2010)

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Husk delivers suspense, tension, and atmosphere, and doesn’t rely on any cheesy CGI effects, bad humor, or predictable characters. It’s quite effective—it’s sort of like Night of the Living Dead in a cornfield!

The plot is simple, straightforward, and a perfect setup for isolation. A group of kids crashes a car on the side of the road next to a cornfield and before you know it they are in the cornfield and falling victim to some creepy scarecrows. And these scarecrows are FAST. Some of the kids make it through the cornfield and stumble upon a derelict house—why do all houses next to cornfields in movies look like the house from Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

husk sewing machine

Anyway, this is where the movie actually gets eerie. There’s this sewing room on the second floor, and as the kids fall victim to the scarecrows, they come up to this sewing room in an undead state and fricking sew themselves a scarecrow mask! Can you see where this is going?

husk cutie

I’d like to meet him in a dark cornfield….

The house the kids have holed up in is right in the middle of the cornfield—which means they are stuck there! This makes for some seriously tense action. And while the characters at first seem completely cliché, little twists and turns in their behavior makes their every move a surprise, because they don’t follow the expected patterns of their seemingly obvious stereotypes. It also seems like one guy has been intentionally given a visual Bruce Campbell vibe: jutting chin and beady eyes that grow wide in fear when the lighting is casting shadows on him from below, just like in Evil Dead!

I definitely rate this one of the better scarecrow films I’ve seen in recent years, even if it does seem derivative of other films.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

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And finally, we have the film that inspired this post. This has to be the first time I’ve watched this film since it first aired in the 80s, but I am amazed out how vividly detailed my memories were of many of the scenes.

Does Dark Night of the Scarecrow suck? This was made for TV—in 1981! They weren’t even allowed to say nuts, balls, bitch, ass, penis, or vagina on television in those days! Even so, there are notable aspects of this film, including its total dramatic horror synth score that oozes of late 70s/early 80s charm and a starring role for Abby’s bratty daughter on Knot’s Landing (it doesn’t get more 80s than that). It is also a good attempt to capture the atmosphere and tone of the first few Friday the 13th movies, right down to the fact that the killer is merely an occasional shadow on a wall or figure disappearing into a doorway rather than the in-your-face mask wielder that became the standard for slashers later on.

Originally aired on Saturday, October 24, 1981, Dark Night of the Scarecrow was meant to be just in time for Halloween. But the only recognition of the holiday in the film comes near the end with a short scene taking place at a Halloween party, as well as a trip to the pumpkin patch.

The opening has a mentally handicapped fellow named Bubba (this movie reeks of inbred hillbilly stereotyping) in a field with the Knot’s Landing brat picking flowers in what can only be an homage to the original Frankenstein. Little does the pair know they are being watched through binoculars by evil backwoods hick mailman Charles Durning, who believes Bubba is dangerous and needs to be taken care of before he can do harm to the little girl.

dark night scarecrow little girl

Durning and his lynch mob eventually find a reason to chase after Bubba. Bubba’s mother hides Bubba in a scarecrow up on a pole in a cornfield. This scene is pretty heartbreaking as Durning and his cronies discover Bubba, blubbering and wide eyed with terror. Unfortunately, the justice they think they’re serving proves to be wrong!

Their trial is like a bad reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials, with all the locals present. The men claim they had to defend themselves from Bubba who was, you know, stuck helplessly to a pole and riddled with 21 bullet wounds. How eerily similar is that to the many cops vs. unarmed citizen stories that have made national news in the past decade? This movie was years ahead of its time.

Of course, it being a small town (and because art imitates life), the murderers are cleared of any wrongdoing to the victim who is supposedly less human than them.

dark night scarecrow death

Instead of hot young teenage victims, the dead meat here is all fat, old sweaty rednecks. Because gory deaths were out of the question on 1981 network television and jump scares are, sadly, non-existent, the film relies on drawing out the tension in each death scene—most of which take place in dark barns! These guys  suffer some serious country bumpkin bump-offs. But we never see a scarecrow running around killing anyone. In fact, the only scarecrow payoff is at the very last second of the movie, in an incredibly satisfying revenge scene involving the inexplicable sudden appearance of fog, a pumpkin patch, a tractor, and a scarecrow.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is definitely a product of its time—a slow burner that relies on the idea that what you can’t see is more scary than what you can see. So, in terms of its scarecrow cred, there’s no satisfaction to be had, since you never see the scarecrow running around. The money shot is in the “twist ending” moment. It’s eerie and effective…and totally could have delivered an awesome sequel in which we do see the scarecrow going around killing people. But as it stands, you’ll have to defer to one of the other films above for a more self-indulgent scarecrow experience.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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2 Responses to Who puts the ‘scare’ in scarecrows?

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