A moderately exciting, average monster movie with good production values and a few good ideas, “Night of the Scarecrow” looks to have its longest life on homevideo.
Hundreds of years ago, a small town made a pact with a traveling evil warlock (John Lazar) to insure its prosperity and good crops. Later, the townspeople regretted the deal, killed him and buried his bones in a field. When the grave is accidentally upturned years later, the warlock’s ghost inhabits the body of a scarecrow and goes on a rampage.
As a killer scarecrow is not an archetypical monster rooted in mankind’s subconscious, pic takes a while getting started, especially as the background to the tale is explained only after the first murders have occurred. So, for the first third of the movie, the audience doesn’t get a feel for any real evil lurking behind the murderous stuffed shirt.
The main characters and storyline are largely formulaic. Claire (Elizabeth Barondes) and Dillon (John Mese) meet, decide to sleep together, stumble upon the murders, get chased by the scarecrow, unravel the mystery, and kill the scarecrow.
Claire’s dysfunctional, hypocritical family has more substance, as it characterizes the small town’s dark underbelly. Her priest brother Thaddeus (Bruce Glover) is torn by his knowledge of the price the village has paid for its prosperity and, what’s more, his daughter is a slut. Family head William (Gary Lockwood) is a greedy, heartless father who wants to cover everything up for the sake of a big land sale. The other brothers are dumb, fat Southerners.
Pic’s fright value turns on how the serial-killer scarecrow gradually gets more imaginative. The first murder is a basic run-him-over-with-a-farm-machine job, but later ones feature effects like straw growing out of eye sockets.
Barondes makes a feisty, lively enough heroine and Mese is a good looker, but both could have profited from a little more character in their dialogue. Other performances are standard enough.
Production values are excellent, with clean, precise lensing from Tom Calloway, and action scenes are slick and enjoyable. Director Jeff Burr has more luck with physical scenes than he does with coaxing inspired performances out of his actors.