NOVEMBER 1, 2010
I remember reading about Night Of The Scarecrow in an issue of Fangoria from 1995 and thinking it sounded pretty cool, but never got around to seeing it. Nor do I recall too much about the article, but I do remember director Jeff Burr talking about how frustrating it was to deal with producers, who wanted to make it the start of a franchise (I think his quote was “Are we making a movie or opening a McDonalds?”). Well, I guess he got his way – as of this writing, there is no Next Night of The Scarecrow or anything of that nature.
And it’s kind of ironic, because Burr made a name for himself directing a bunch of sequels, including Stepfather II, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and some of the Puppet Masters. This was, I think, his first original since his debut, From A Whisper To A Scream (aka The Offspring), which kind of bums me out, because I think he’s a really strong director and has a cool visual sense, but this isn’t exactly the best showcase for his talents. You’d think an original movie would be a better calling card than something called Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, but it’s simply not the case.
Not that it’s a bad movie – it’s just a typical mid 90s supernatural horror film, with bland characters and a story that constantly recalls other, largely better films. Seems the ancestors of the current town leaders (the mayor, the priest, and the sheriff) made a deal with a warlock and then killed him when they realized what his true nature was. So a hundred years later (or whatever), his spirit is inserted into a scarecrow, who walks around taking revenge on his murderer’s children. So it’s Pumpkinhead, Nightmare on Elm St, The Fog... but it lacks the obvious homage-paying of something like Doomsday, which also assembled its entire plot from existing movies, but with a clear sense that it was an homage, not a ripoff.
But it’s fast paced, occasionally gory (love the inexplicable but awesome van-set “burst” kill), and the Scarecrow has a sweet design. I would have preferred that he didn’t talk or grunt, but at least it’s just limited to a mumble or single word utterances – he’s not a wise-cracker like Freddy or Chucky (or just a pretentious rambler like Candyman). He's also a bit of a lousy killer - seems everyone "dies" only to come back with just some wounds (and THEN they die), but it allows for at least one surprise return during the course of the film that I didn't see coming. And Burr brings a manic flair to the action scenes that elevates it above other films of the day, with off-kilter close-ups that reminded me of old Peter Jackson (pre-Hollywood).
And it has a Hammer ending! There’s a bit of a sequel set up (a piece of the now blown-up scarecrow burrows itself into the ground), but it occurs as the hero and the heroine are picking themselves up after the battle. They walk a few steps and bam! Credits. No wrapup, no overlong sequel setup once the heroes are already off-screen – it just ends. I love that.
It’s also worth a look for some surprising appearances. The town sheriff is played by none other than Stephen Root, best known for Newsradio or Office Space (and for just being awesome in general). The only other outright horror film he ever appeared in (to my knowledge) was Monkey Shines, and that was like his first movie. He’s also in Kevin Smith’s “horror” film Red State, so that’ll be interesting. He’s the rare actor that’s primarily known for comedy (and being really goddamn funny – Jimmy James is one of my favorite sitcom characters of all time) that I have no problem taking seriously, even in schlock like this. Also popping up is a very young John Hawkes, as one of the drunken assholes who unleash the scarecrow in the first place. Hawkes is one of the best character actors of this generation, and apart from Deadwood, he’s never really gotten his due. Someone give him his own show! Or the lead in Night Of The Scarecrow 2: The Next Night.
So in the pantheon of killer scarecrow movies, it’s no Dark Night Of The Scarecrow or Scarecrows, but it’s miles ahead of anything in the Dark Harvest or Scarecrow Slayer “series”. With a more interesting plot and two less bland leads (I can barely remember what they look like already – I think the guy had a mullet though), this could have been more memorable. And I wish I had watched it at the time it was released, because I probably would have been more impressed (and it also would have been my first killer scarecrow movie, I think!). Sorry about that, Night of the Scarecrow cast/crew.
What say you?