Night of the Scarecrow

Night of the Scarecrow (1985)

  • Straight to Video
  • Director: Jeff Burr
  • Written by: Reed Steiner , Dan Mazur
  • Running Time: 85 minutes
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
  • Cast: Elizabeth Barondes, John Meese, Stephen Root, Dirk Blocker, Howard Swain, Bruce Glover, Gary Lockwood, John Lazar, William Joseph Barker, Martine Beswick, Cristi Harris, Cynthia Merrill, John Hawkes, Robert Harvey, Robin Bernardi, Duane Whitaker, Joe Unger, Harri James, Michael Lovan

Often confused with the superior 1981 film “Dark Night of the Scarecrow”, a film that quite literally set the bar for killer scarecrow movies, much the way “Christmas Evil” did for killer Santa Claus flicks, “Night of the Scarecrow” is a rousing affair that aims for high concept and delivers. Buoyed by sleek production values, crisp cinematography and a noteworthy worth cast made up of ‘hey, I know that guy’ character actors, this is a fun and exciting entry into the killer scarecrow sub sub-genre. Having slogged through such master pieces as "Psycho Scarecrow", "Scarecrow Slayer" and "Scarecrow Gone Wild", this was definitely welcomed. It also doesn’t hurt that the film’s two leads Elizabeth Barondes and John Mese are hot enough to melt the screen.

A little over one hundred years earlier, hoping to insure prosperity and a good crop, a small midwestern town of Hanford makes a deal with a travelling salesman, played by John Lazar. As it turns out the salesman is actually a Warlock, who quickly takes advantage of the deal by twisting the town into a hedonistic free for all, and even seducing the daughter of the town’s mayor, Silas Goodman. Fed up with all the malevolence, the townsfolk eventually revolt, dragging him out into a cornfield in the middle of the night and hanging him on a cross, where he dies three days later. The bones are then sealed in the Earth under the spot where a new scarecrow is resurrected every year. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that someone would accidentally release him from his tomb and all hell would break loose. In this case, the hell involves the Warlock’s spirit occupying the scarecrow and going on a brutal hack and slash campaign in order to recover his sacred book, a book (handed down through each generation of the Goodman family since) that contains all of his secret incantations and for which will allow him to “reunite the bones with the spirit” or something like that.

Southern stereotypes abound once the Goodman family bustles onto the screen during a dinner scene, lead by the black sheep daughter Claire (Elizabeth Barondes) of the boisterous town mayor William Goodman (Gary Lockwood). She’s been away for a while but, judging from the reaction of daddy-Mayor, that’s not such a bad thing. Apparently Claire has a bit of a reputation with the boys, and such a thing can harm a Mayor’s political sitting, don’t you know, especially when you’re worried about a big land deal. Her uncle Thaddeus (Bruce Glover) is the town’s hypocrite Priest, who likes to brow beat his daughter, Stephanie (Cristi Harris), also a town tramp, for ordering lingerie catalogues (ironically called ‘Our Secret’) in the mail, while minutes later, scurrying off to the church to spank it to those very same catalogues.

Her uncle Frank (Stephen Root) is the town’s sheriff, a man whose allegiance to his family his outweighed by his dim-witted Barney Fife effectiveness as the town’s number one lawman. Her other uncle George (Dirk Blocker) is a widower, who happily lost himself in his bottle. A dysfunctional lot, they seem to paint a pretty interesting, sometimes ugly, portrait of Hanford, a town with plenty of secrets that they are more than happy to keep buried.

Even though the film seems to follow the modus operandi of most other slasher flicks, this film does however make great use of its central character and the locations for which such a character would thrive. A great majority of the killer scarecrow movies I’ve seen, with the exception of maybe “Scarecrows”, the actual cornfield -- a pretty frightening milieu, if you ask me, is usually under-utilized. With “Night of the Scarecrow” the cornfield makes for a pretty exciting and effective set piece.

The scarecrow, rendered a useless one-dimensional boogeyman in the first half - that is until the back-story is given - eventually relaxes into a decent and occasionally startling villain, whose pleas of 'where's my book' sounds a lot like grandpa's pleas for 'where's my cake' from "Creepshow". There’s even a nod to “Wizard of Oz” and the use of a line from that film that I absolutely loved. The kill scenes are quite imaginative and value high on the production end. Even though the opening scene involving Uncle George being killed off-screen by some farm equipment feels like a direct homage to "Dark Night of The Scarecrow", the rest of the film relies on original kills to get by.

The sequence where Gary Lockwood has straw explode out of his eye and finger-tips is amazing, as is the sequence where Bruce Glover has his lips sewn shut. Note the interesting bit of foreshadowing as his wife earlier is shown stitching a 'Do Unto Othere' embroidery. The explosive ending also features some highly dangerous pyro work that is sure to entertain, enchanced by some glorious cinematography by Thomas L Callaway, a man who has worked in over 70 films, including a couple of my favourites "Doll Graveyard" and "Creepozoids".

Elizabeth Barondes (2005’s “Black Dawn”) as the heroine of the piece is an absolute stunner, who tackles her performance with plenty of oomph, and even offers up an unnecessary but titillating nude scene. John Mese (2001’s “Song of the Vampire”), as Dillon, one of Claire’s father’s employees, is also attractive enough and confident enough to pull off his hero role. These two are hot together and the audience should have no problem connecting to them, as their individual character flaws are on display from the opening of the film. With Stephen Root (2008’s “Over Her Dead Body”) leading the pack, “Night of the Scarecrow” is an interesting film, if only for the sheer number of recognizable character actors who appear. John Lazar, an actor made famous for his role in “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, in his brief role as the devilish Warlock, was my favourite.

An exciting entry into the killer scarecrow sub-genre that I can't recommend enough.