SCARECROWS: MONEY, MURDER AND STRAW
What a wonderful world we live in. If we want a pizza, we just pick up the phone and order one to be delivered right to our front door. If we want to rent a movie we just fire up Netflix and boom goes the dynamite. Whatever we want, we can have from the comfort our couch. It wasn’t always this way. I remember a time when if you wanted a movie you had to go a movie rental place. I’m not talking about Hollywood Video or Blockbuster that were or are in the process of being destroyed by Netflix and VOD. I am talking about the rental stores that came before Hollywood Video and Blockbuster. The mom and pop shops that we all frequented before the nation wide chains. These were little “hole in the wall” stores that were tucked away in a strip mall or wherever commercial space could be found. You would walk in and see video boxes everywhere displaying what the store had to offer. The beauty of these places was that each one was unique because each one had something different to offer. What movies they had to offer depended on who was doing their choosing of movies. They all had the big blockbuster films but beyond that it was up to the individual store to fill out the rest of their selection with whatever they wanted. Some would be good for comedies, some would be good for action and others would be good for horror. Part of the fun of those stores was the surprise of what one might find. It was such a treat to walk in and suddenly see the box art for something you never heard of. The experience was more tactile and immediate. There was an element of treasure hunting that was fun, at least to me. On one of these search and enjoy missions, I stumbled across a movie that I had never heard of but the title of the film and the box art were too tempting to resist. That movie was William Wesley’s phenomenal Scarecrows (1988).
Movie opens in the belly of a twin engine plane as the credits roll. The camera glides over some tough looking guys dressed in black paramilitary gear. They’ve got hi-tech communication gear and are heavily armed. They are securing some cargo with a parachute. In the cock pit, an an older gentleman is piloting the plane and a younger women is in the copilot’s seat. In between them, another member of the men in black holds them at gunpoint. The radio is on and we hear a news report talking about a bank robbery that has occurred. A group of robbers has taken their loot and hijacked a plane. We are on that plane. One of the men, he wears night vision goggles and sports a pretty fancy machine gun, sets a timer on a grenade. He quietly and deliberately attaches the parachute cable to the roof of the plane and pushes the loot out of the side plane with chute in tow. The timer goes off on the smoke grenade which sends everyone into chaos.He then to pulls the pin on a grenade and tosses it into his former comrades. He jumps as the plane flies low over a wooded area. The rest of the group scrambles to deal with the grenade. Crisis is averted with a few quick moves and the plane circles around to find that wooded area marked by a lone rural home. All of this happens while the opening credits are still rolling. The movie hasn’t started and I’m already a little frothy with excitement.
After the opening credits, Scarecrows just keeps on rolling. This is one of the strengths of Scarecrows. It just keeps on moving forward for the entire run time. The film does it’s best to make us believe that what is occurring is all in real time or least in a consecutive timeline. The events in the movie appear to have taken place in a span of about 3 or 4 hours. Time is an important factor in the movie. These guys are robbers and the police is looking for them. They must find the loot and find it quickly. The audience must feel the time crunch and for the most part it comes across. After the credits we pick things with Bert stuck in a tree by his parachute. Things move to the plane where the rest of Bert’s crew parachute over the wooded area and home all the while talking to Bert over their radio headsets. The headset chatter goes on to become an important part of the film. The rest of the film is basically Bert trying to get away with the loot and his fellow thieves hunting him down while taunting him over the radio headsets. This turns out to be a creepy plot device as the films rolls forward. Most of exposition is related to the audience through the headset chatter. This helps to keep the movie moving at a nice pace because we can have characters involved in action and the headset chatter will fill in the holes.
The 3 best characters in Scarecrows are the music, the editing and the unsettling atmosphere that Scarecrows manages to generate. I’m not saying that Scarecrows has the best music ever written but it does seem to know it’s place. It knows when to sit back and let the movie shine and it knows when to punch you in the face because you need a good punch in the face. The editing is really well done. This is a great example of how editing can make or break a movie. A director can film all he wants but if the footage is not sown together in a comprehensible way, then it is all for naught. Scarecrows manages to put together a very effective and creepy movie with a runtime of 83 minutes with only a scary house exterior and a bunch of night shots with some trees in the background. Talk about making a silk purse out of sow’s ear. How Scarecrows manages so much creepiness and interest with so little is testament to the writing and and execution of the production.
The delicious premise of the robbers turning on one another forcing them into a cat and mouse game played out on a scary ass property that does not like trespassers is genre genius. Creatively dropping our squabbling bad guys into their own nightmare proving karma is a bitch just adds to the fun. The way the film’s story uses the greed of the robbers is just perfect. The robbers are constantly teased and lured with their own money by the forces of the abandoned house. They are divided and conquered using the lure of the money. They are manipulated and lead to their demise all by the lure of the money they killed for. The money is used against the robbers to such great effect that at a certain point in the story, the robbers say to hell with the money and they just want out of the nightmare that the money has sucked them into. Some of the robbers even begin to doubt reality and even their own sanity. Do underestimate this little movie because it’s a beast with many layers. Scarecrows works as action thriller and as a supernatural thriller which gives the film a little wider appeal.
Scarecrows is not an overly bloody film but it does have some interesting bloody bits that grow more so as the film moves forward. Most of it is weighted towards the second half but it is found through out it just starts mild and grows more and more gruesome and brutal as the film progresses.
“The scarecrows man! They’re not human!” screams one of the robbers as he verges on insanity from the trauma of his predicament. The title of the film would lead you think that it is about scarecrows that attack but it is much more than just scarecrows. There is more at work here than just scarecrows. The film verges on a Lovecraftian vibe implying that there is something bigger, something evil that is a play but stops short of explicitly telling us what is going on. This leaves it the audience to fill in the holes.
Scarecrows impressed me when I saw it in the late 80′s and it impresses now. It is easily in contention for my top 20 of all time. Scarecrows is a busy little film, we are given the main story plus a couple of other little sub plots that appear then disappear only to reappear later. The pilot father is a good example of this, when we see him make a move to save his daughter from the robbers but then he is not heard from till later. Tight story construction and editing keep this little gem moving at a nice clip that never let’s the film get bogged down or boring. Performances were adequate and even good especially in the second half when the characters begin to breakdown mentally from the onslaught of terror. Scarecrows is a low budget film but it sure does not feel that way. You get your dollars worth in excitement, interesting narrative and atmosphere. The supernatural aspect of the film is just the ticket for the material. The premise and story are just so well executed it is hard not to be impressed by this film. The ending to the film is so wonderfully eerie, unsettling and but perfectly dark. A perfectly dark package. Love it.