“Scarecrow” (2002) : Something To Crow About, Or Straw Man?

Posted: February 16, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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There’s absolutely no doubt about it : the scarecrow image is one of the most enduring and iconic archetypes in all of horror. From the Jeepers Creepers films to Messengers 2 : The Scarecrow to the classic made-for-TV movie Dark Night Of The Scarecrow to —shit, literally countless other examples —you can’t swing a dead cat, or dead crow as the case may be , without hitting one of these grim-faced straw ghouls. The reason for their prevalence probably goes well beyond the purview of this simple review (unless it’s just that, hey, they look creepy — which could very well be the long and short of it), but said ubiquitousness does bring two rather important questions to mind, the first being : if you put one of these things out in a corn field, do they actually work?; and the second being, well — exactly which scarecrow-themed flick are we talking about here, anyway?

As far as the first query goes, I’m afraid I can’t answer that one for ya. No clue, sorry. But the second one I can help with — it’s 2002 straight-to-video slasher cheapie Scarecrow that’s in our critical cross-hairs today, a relatively early effort from The Asylum directed by Emmanuel Itier, who also had a hand in its scripting.

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Here’s the setup : life’s rough for Lester Dwervick (how couldn’t it be with a name like that? Shit, slap that down on your kid’s birth certificate and he’s got no choice but to be a hopeless dweeb by the time his teenage years roll around), a small-town uber-loner who lives in a trailer park with his morally fast-n’-loose mom and is picked on mercilessly by the jock/popular-kid types at his high school. He’s got no friends, no social skills, and no hope —you know the drill. Then, one day more or less out of nowhere, a sorta-punkish, sorta-gothish, sorta-alternativeish girl named Judy (Tiffany Shepis) decides he’s not the worst thing in the world after all and the other kids oughtta cut poor Lester a break. Heck, she might even be developing a little crush on him — which normally wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but shit, her dad’s the local sheriff, and you know that’s bound to complicate matters, right?

Then, of course, the obligatory bad night happens — one of the jock kids tries to get a little bit too familiar with Judy at a party. Lester sees it and assumes she’s kissing the guy willingly. He runs home to Jerry Springer Estates where he has a confrontation with drunken mom’s even drunker boyfriend, and it ends badly — Lester’s taken out into a corn field and murdered by mom’s Knight In Stained Wifebeater T-Shirt under the watchful eye of, you guessed it, a scarecrow.

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Give mom and her fella points for originality, though — rather than ‘fess up to killing the poor schmuck, they tell the cops and the press that Lester actually committed suicide, and since no one really gives a fuck about him, they don’t ask too many questions and life pretty much proceeds as normal. With, of course, one little wrinkle —

You guessed it : at the moment of his death, Lester’s soul somehow passed from his expiring body into the scarecrow and now he’s back  — and, of course, royally pissed.

Exit actor Tim Young, enter Todd Rex as the guy in the scarecrow suit. Gone are Lester’s awkward stand-offishness and timidity, and in their place stands a tall dude made outta hay who can’t be killed, gets his kicks lobbing off people’s heads with his scythe, and has a penchant for snappy (if painfully obvious) one-liners. Shit, if dying had a positive impact like this on the life of every picked-on teenage outcast, they’d all be giving it a try!

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Now, bear with me, because this next statement is gonna sound downright weird : it’s when the film enters this second act, with Lester being replaced by his new out-for-blood persona, that Scarecrow actually goes off the rails. Yeah, I know — nerdy high school reject becomes killer scarecrow is the whole point of the movie, but once the transformation takes place, things really do take a turn for the worse, and it’s all down to one thing: Tim Young was actually really, unbelievably good as dorky Dwervick, quite possibly (and yes, I’m theorizing here — bear with me) because his own experiences with diabetes (he feel into a coma and damn near died during the course of this film’s eight day production schedule) led to social rejection in his “real,” non-acting life. You get the sense that he truly knows his character’s pain and has lived it, so completely unforced and natural is his performance.  He’s not just “inhabiting” the role he’s playing, he’s sliding into it effortlessly.

Then, killer scarecrow makes the scene and he’s really nothing much more than a lame Freddy Krueger knock-off. Yawn.

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Don’t get me wrong — it’s still kinda fun seeing all the folks who did wrong by Lester get their come-uppances, and Itier shoots some of the kill scenes with a bit more flair than you’d think his budget (reputed to be around $250,000)  would allow for, but it’s pretty much by-the-numbers revenge-killing stuff. If you’re mildly entertained by the average DTV slasher — and I’m not too proud to admit that I am — then this’ll keep your attention until it runs its 85-minute-or-so course, but there’s really nothing too terribly memorable about it, by any means.

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Echo Bridge has recently released Scarecrow in a bargain-basement DVD package along with its two increasingly-absurd sequels, Scarecrow Slayer and Scarecrow Gone Wild, as part of its “Midnight Horror Collection” series. It’s presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound, and while the transfer isn’t the greatest by any means, it gets the job done. It’s a single-disc release that retails for somewhere in the $6-$8 range, and that’s probably about what it’s worth.

Come to think of it, though, that statement might be a little bit harsh. Scarecrow at least merits a look for its curiosity value — it’s a movie that’s interesting when it’s supposed to be dull, and dull when it’s supposed to be interesting. Surely that requires some sort of special talent to pull off?

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