Scarecrows (1988) wanted to play gloomily, seriously, & frighteningly with its titular subject, yet makes less of the theme than should've been a cinch.
I began to worry right off the bat when the soundtrack was so generic & bad, but we do get an early image of a scarecrow which was darned well designed, & nothing about the film looks twenty years old. So it took a few more minutes to discover for certain that this one's a turkey, albeit the sort of turkey hardcore fans of gory horror ought to find rewarding.
A debut film for the Cuban-born director William Wesley (originally Jose Rolando Rodriguez), he has been minimally employed ever since as a tv episode director, with one other bad horror film to his name, Route 666 (2001).
On a hot summer day, a trained commando unit of four guys & a gal robbed Camp Pendleton. The authors of this turd thought Pendleton was an Army base (it's the Marines). The thieves got away with a three million dollar payroll. This we are told on the radio news report, which is a fundamental error of filmmaking, telling not showing.
They hijacked a Baja Air cargo plain, taking the pilot & his daughter & her small stocky dog hostage, with the plan of escaping to Mexico. We're introduced to this character array & this situation only after the plain is airborne; there was no budget to stage any of it.
Bert (B. J. Turner), one of the bad guys, manages unexpectedly to bail out with the three million. His royally ticked off partners will now have to get to the ground & track the bastard down.
Bert made a hard parachute landing in a small private graveyard with a creepy scarecrow in it, & an abandoned house nearby. He has to quickly find where the money landed. It's night but he has night-vision goggles & other commando equipment.
He'd tried to blow up the plane before jumping but that didn't work. So very soon his betrayed partners are in hot pursuit. Leaving behind the girl commando (Kristina Sanborn) so she can force the pilot to land, the others parachute after their money, with vengeance in mind.
The decaying house is fully furnished with rotting or rusting stuff. The old truck, however, still has a good battery, like that's possible.
Bert makes a try for the main road in the truck, running over a scarecrow on his way out, & probably pissing off the several other scarecrows mounted in the woods. The story forgoes the hoary image of the cornfield, & instead shows the scarecrows as eerie sentinals amidst the trees.
Bert stops the truck when he spots the trunk of money in the pitch dark (another "yeah right" moment; there'll be many). He notices several crosses on which scarecrows were formerly mounted. Shortly thereafter, the magic truck stops working. He jumps out to check the engine. But there isn't one.
Now he has to try to get away by foot, with a big heavy trunk. He gets scared & starts shooting scarecrows, running headlong into a tree, after which a skeletal scarecrow knifes him. That was the film's first payday moment. And it totally failed.
Meanwhile the one girl commando with pilot, daughter, & dog make a rough landing. As this unusually poorly done film proceeds, events will mostly center around the decaying house & surrounding woods haunted by scarecrows. Periodic slaughter of one or another cast member lacks impact or authenticity because the actors just don't look their roles -- "commandos my ass" comes to mind.
Not that they're terrible actors; they're pretty good, really, but never stop looking like collegiates in an acting class. They deliver the hideously laughable dialogue & might've been able to sell those lines if only they looked like they'd been through basic training instead of just stepped out of a tidy casting office.
There are intonations of a deeper mystery amidst all the walking about in the dark, but no viewer will by now expect the mystery to be interesting when or if it's resolved. Where's Pumpkinhead when you need him?
Commando Jack (Richard Vidan) finds a cornstalk & picks corn to eat raw, which appears to be about the extent of anyone's commando expertise.
They also find Bert, mute but still alive. They beat him up, but he doesn't even seem to notice.
He then reveals he's supernaturally strong, & has been transformed into whatever the scarecrows are. They shoot him about a million times & he keeps coming. When they fnally stop him, they discover he's stuffed with straw. And money.
The script hasn't a clue about how to develop a hero, so there's no one in the story who matters one whit. Kellie, the pilot's daughter, played by Victoria Christian, is apparently a mute actress since she had to be voiced by Bambi Darro who usually does cartoon voices.
Kellie runs off into the woods, finds her daddy already stuffed & mounted on a pole. Her dog never plays a real role at all. The sole point of the film is goriness, character doesn't matter, story doesn't matter.
Three of the scarecrows are apparently actual living guys, a hillbilly father & his two sons who probably did something satanic, who knows. It's all left unsatisfactory for explanation. After the somewhat effective sequence when Bert turns out to be a scarecrow, it's all down hill, & rather than a climax, the film just suddenly ends.
How in hell did these filmmakers convince M.G.M. to distribute this? It barely deserved a contract with Putzo Distribution, Inc. It's kind of what you'd expect to get from Troma if instead of cheap horror comedy they made bad movies with pretentions of atmospherics.
But if the comparison is to some of the worst films of the '80s, this one strangely enough has a timeless look to it, & for gore thrills is by no means a total dud. You gotta give some credit for scarecrow design & for the big scene when Bert turns out to be one of them. All too many cheapo horror films deliver much less.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl