Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gasping at straws

Damn, 1988 was a long freaking time ago, wasn't it?

I remember thinking '88 had such a modern, almost (Thomas) Dolby-like ring to it. By contrast, '08 strikes me as primitive and infantile. Maybe it's because I seem to be drooling more these days, I dunno. My point is, twenty years ago, the Home Video revolution was in full swing, and there wasn't a horror flick on tape that I hadn't crammed into my Panasonic player's hungry, humming slot. "Long live the new flesh!" I would whisper, caressing the remote's then-dizzying array of perhaps ten buttons. Hell, even Jaws: The Revenge was worth a couple of rewinds.

Somehow though, 1988's Scarecrows escaped my notice completely. You can imagine how intrigued I was to learn that it had been chosen as this month's Final Girl film club selection.

The film employs the same set-up you might remember from 2004's Dead Birds, where Confederate-era thieves broke ranks among the haunted cornstalks of a creepy abandoned farm. Here the bandits are equipped with high-tech gear, including night-vision scopes and microphone headsets, but the general idea is the same; murder, mayhem, betrayal, paranoia, telepathic scarecrows practicing their needlepoint, etc, you know the drill.

Wait, what? Oh the scarecrows right, sorry. In case you thought this movie was meant to be an exercise in gothic, atmospheric, mood-driven, psychological horror? Like, say Dark Night of the Scarecrow? Think again.

"I'll swaller yer soul!"

This is 1988, people! Evil Dead and Aliens were the two horror movies you couldn't go wrong ripping off, so why the hell throw up pretensions? Especially when you can be throwing up fingers!

"Blaarggghh....fuckin' Wendy's, man."

And who the hell said "blush" back in 1988?

Not Bonnie Tyler, that's for sure! She says "rouge"! As in (to her female hostage) "here, try a little rouge, it'll make you look happier."

And you know what? She's right. Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I dash straight to the men's room and apply a little rouge. Works every time. Don't believe me? Look!

I'm like a new man!

Anyway, the scarecrows themselves are a pretty effective bunch for a lot of reasons. For one, they can replenish their numbers just by stuffing you with straw! Ok, it's an agonizing death and whatever they cut off (or out) of you they get to keep for themselves, but you get to live forever as a scarecrow. Pretty fair trade, in my opinion. Don't worry - their needlework is top-notch.

Also, as mentioned above, they're telepathic. Not the kind of ordinary mind-reading that slashers seem to use when stalking prey, either...these straw zombies will fuck with your head. They even lure a girl away from safety with the sound of her dog's barking! At least I think that was telepathy. I don't imagine it was a scarecrow crouching behind a tree going "ruff ruff!", but you never know. These guys were freaking hardcore...

"I'm gonna miss you least of all scarecrows...OW! Oh GOD!"

I love how they had the decency(?) to cover this guy's head with a sack seconds before stabbing him right in the face. In fact, the sack-thing made this kill even more horrible than it would've been otherwise. Sadistic straw-bastards!

Perhaps the thing I loved the best about "The Scarecrows" was how there was no explanation whatsoever as to how these straw-stuffed simulacrums became evil and animated in the first place. There might have been a cursory reference to three farmers and some devil-worship, but it was pleasantly brief. Maybe the writer figured that if people wanted long-winded expository speeches and a whole lot of scientific twaddle, they'd go watch C-SPAN or read National Geographic. Whatever his motivations, it was the right call.

Overall, the film is pretty entertaining and well crafted. I can see why fans have considered it a minor gem amongst the schlock of eighties video fare. The only drawback was that the final girl was a bit of a pain in the neck - always whingeing about "stickers". I'm assuming she meant those little burrs that get on your clothes in the woods. Seriously, who - besides Stephanie from "Newhart" - complains about burrs during a hostage crisis?

Pipe down and put on some rouge.

This film gets three Spazmoticons out of five, and I'm adding half a point for this line of dialogue alone:
"They'll rip your tight little asshole out before you can say QUE FUCKING PASA!"

Words to live by.

"Time for you creeps to join Ray Bolger in HELL!"