Global Grindhouse #5: SCARECROWS (1988)

Scarecrows is one of my favorite types of horror films — self-contained, competently (if not impressively) executed, and most importantly, totally committed to one of the more bizarre high concepts I’ve come across: a group of heavily armed bank robbers on a hijacked plane are betrayed by one of their own and forced to land in a deserted cornfield along with the pilot and his daughter, where they’re subjected to increasing levels of emotional and physical torture by a trio of demonic scarecrows.

As tantalizing as that pitch is, it’s also about the extent of the plot in William Wesley’s regionally produced and independently financed directorial debut (filmed in 1985 but unreleased until 1988 due to the bankruptcy of its original distributor). The pleasures on display here come equally from the flick’s atmosphere and character, and the near-total lack of explanation for the events that unfold only adds to the former’s appeal.

The tone is also surprisingly bleak for its fanciful premise. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting the heavy Lynchian vibes of unresolved trauma produced by the repetition of certain key images — a close-up on one of the scarecrows as its chest slowly rises and falls, a photo on the wall in a mysterious farmhouse that holds one of the film’s rare clues. Incidentally, the cinematography is by a young Peter Deming (Evil Dead II; Lost Highway; Scream 2, 3, and 4).

By all accounts, production was less than ideal due to the combination of inexperience, lack of resources, and filming during mosquito season in Florida. As opposed to the unhinged sense of psychosis one gets from the non-actors in Craven’s The Last House on the Left, the performances here definitely feel a little more one-note — the swaggering leader (Michael David Simms), the sensitive soul (Richard Vidan), the melodramatic ingenue (Victoria Christian as the pilot’s daughter).

Still, the ensemble as a whole succeeds in making the shaky alliances of convenience between the crew and its hostages feel believable without going for an easy redemptive arc. In fact, the film comes to a close more out of necessity than anything, leaving only an eerie absence in its wake.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime