Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Review: Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

    This one is definitely in need of a brain…

    As movie monsters, scarecrows definitely have never gotten their due. I suppose part of that is due to the most famous scarecrow being one of Dorothy Gale’s sidekicks, but no other creature of the night has been in as many bargain-basement horror flicks as the straw men who stalk the cornfields at night (I suppose zombies have been in as many no-budget films, but they also have the benefit of being in actual good movies from time to time). Which is probably why I found myself enjoying Night of the Scarecrow as much as I did. It’s not going to win any awards, but in terms of scarecrow monster movies, it certainly sits near the top of the heap - faint praise though that may be. It’s mother would be so proud…

    Night of the Scarecrow takes place in one of those towns where the sheriff, the mayor and the reverend are all related to each other, and of course all share a deadly secret. That secret concerns the crucifixion and burial of a warlock centuries ago, who’s spirit is inadvertently released by a pair of drunken teenagers and manages to find a way into the body of a scarecrow, where it then proceeds to wreak havoc all across town and kill the descendents of the townsfolk who wronged him. He’s also in search of an ancient book, because that would give him… Power? Yeah, we’ll go with that.

    Director Jeff Burr is probably best known for helming horror sequels like Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Stepfather II and a bunch of others, so he’s certainly no stranger to garnering thrills with a shoestring budget and models-turned-actors. He handles things rather well here, aside from a few questionable choices (why was it necessary to be introduced to the main players in a first-person tracking shot?). The warlock scarecrow himself looks especially cool, and Burr ratchets up the tension so much at the end that the film becomes legitimately exciting for its explosive climax. There’s also a bevy of gory and inventive kills on display - easily topping most of what appears in the Nightmare and Friday series - such as the scene where the scarecrow removes his glove and blows straw at a victim (looks a lot cooler than it sounds), or when he implants a seed in a girl’s belly only to have it grow vines and explode out of her torso.

    The real killer are the two romantic leads, who are so dull and uninteresting I don’t even want to bother looking them up. The supporting cast around them is rather impressive, however, including Office Space’s Stephen Root, Bruce Glover (best known as Mr. Wint from Diamonds Are Forever) and Gary Lockwood as the elder statesmen of the town. Also worthy of note is a very young future Academy Award nominee John Hawkes, who plays one of the drunk kids who unleashes the warlock’s soul.

    The movie also suffers from some pretty severe lapses in logic, such as the scene where the reverend comes upon the two leads, after having an encounter with the scarecrow which leaves his mouth sewn shut. Instead of acting like rational people and, you know, taking him to the hospital, they merely cut the thread keeping his mouth sewn together and idly listen while he goes into a fifteen minute back-story of the town and the warlock, blood dribbling down his chin from the holes where his mouth was sewn shut. And then when he finishes that overwrought bit of exposition, they proceed to drive him home and give him a glass of water. Yeah, that’ll sure prevent any infection. These types of logic holes are to be expected from the genre, I suppose, but there’s only so much you can get away with before the film starts to crumble at its foundations.

    With better acting and one or two more passes at the script, Night of the Scarecrow could have easily been a slasher classic. But as it stands, it’ll have to settle for being a surprisingly decent flick.  

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