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  Scarecrows Straw Man Arguments
Year: 1988
Director: William Wesley
Stars: Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan, Kristina Sanborn, Victoria Christian, David Campbell, B.J. Turner, Tony Santory, Phil Zenderland, Mike Balog, Don Herbert, Howard E. Haller, Dyanne DiRosario
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A gang of criminals, all soldiers, have stolen a large sum of money from a U.S. Army base and are now flying in a hijacked plane over Southern California to Mexico, much to the reluctance of the pilot and his daughter Kellie (Victoria Christian) who are guiding the craft over the fields below. However, the gang has a turncoat in their midst, who after grabbing the cash and a parachute throws a grenade with its pin removed at his ex-comrades and leaps from the doorway to the ground, leaving them barely enough time to throw the explosive out of the plane before it detonates. Furious, their leader Corbin (Michael David Simms) orders the vehicle to land and his team to head after the loot...

That's all very well, but where do the titular scarecrows enter into the plot? Patience, for we have had a few shots of said bird-frightening dummies as they are bathed in moonlight in the cornfields the traitor Bert (B.J. Turner) has found himself in, having dropped his cache along the way. Now it's a simple matter of finding it, commandeering a car or truck and driving the hell out of there, which naturally (or supernaturally) is easier said than done. Scarecrows was a modest little horror that went straight to video in most territories, but even when it was initially released it was building a little momentum among fright fans who liked its way with atmosphere and the regular gore effects setpieces.

The scarecrows were alive, you see, a concept that might make you think of The Wizard of Oz or more sinister, the TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow, or for British viewers the no less sinister Jon Pertwee children’s series Worzel Gummidge - though the concept of the former Doctor Who removing his head and replacing it with another could well have spawned more nightmares than anything that this little item could dream of. There was also a Doctor Who two-parter that used the scary scarecrows idea some time after any of the above were thought of, so the notion of an actual, living if not necessarily breathing example of these farming friends was one that occasionally cropped up in pop culture.

Not that this instance was the most celebrated, but to its credit it stuck with its central gimmick as if it were going out of fashion, basically a zombie movie with the menaces wrapped in sackcloth and stuffed with straw instead of the shambling (or even running) undead. It was so simple in its presentation that you could be forgiven for wondering as it more or less finished an hour and a quarter into its running time, was that all there was? The answer to that was, yup, that was your lot, a no frills slasher with three killers that offered up no explanation whatsoever as to why they attacked, the criminals and their hostages merely arrived and were bumped off one by one apparently because it was that sort of movie and no other motivation was deemed essential. It did contain a certain purity in that spirit.

Assuming "purity" to you could mean bad guys offed by even worse guys. Director William Wesley did not amass a huge amount of credits, Route 666 was his other main effort in the chiller arena, but he did have a nice way with sustaining his eerie tone that did not quite overwhelm the oh-so-macho antics of his cast of military types gone wrong (aside from final girl Kellie who was there to be victimised). He also had a habit of repeating shots, be that the low budget or his shorthand of creating tension, but you could start a drinking game between the image of the scarecrow closeup where it is slightly breathing and the image of the three hunters in a black and white photograph who we have to assume are what the trio of mobile scarecrows were before they were turned into that. Although what occurred to turn them into the creatures went unexplored, as did an awful lot, rendering it fairly remarkable that Wesley managed to drag this out for as long as he did. There was not a whole lot to ponder with Scarecrows, it was that uncomplicated, which was its strength and its weakness. Good for double bills as an appetiser for the main feature. Music by Terry Plumeri.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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