The Excellent Eighties: Scarecrows (1988)

When Shout! Factory restored this popular cable-played and home video renter to disc and offered it as an Amazon stream, we had to review it — back on December 18, 2018. And here it is for its first bow on a Mill Creek set, in this case, their Excellent Eighties 50-film pack that we’re unpacking all this month. If you’ve never seen Scarecrows, this Mill Creek bow is a great way to enjoy it and decide if you want to buy the superior Shout! Factory reissue.

As for moi: I enjoyed this movie (somewhat), which I ended up renting as result of its write-ups in all of the various monster and horror rags of the day. And the video stores I frequented had the promotional posters up; a couple of stores had the film in the wall racks as their “Pick of the Week.”

Sam, in his review, feels Scarecrows is “never boring.” I, on the other hand, was bored by the film back then; this is only the second time I’ve watched it since those VHS rental days of yore. And I still find it to be a “muh, eh” flick. However, I agree with Sam: the splatter is good. But I feel it’s ultimately undone by a rickety script (across four screenwriters, including director William Wesley), “meh” acting, and its low-budget.

As I re-watch this all these years later, I can’t help but think Quintin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez watched this back in the day — and it bled through into their formulating From Dusk Till Dawn, which flips-its-script from being an action caper into a vampire flick.

Here, we have another unfolding “crime caper,” as five paramilitary types ripped off $3 million dollars from Camp Pendelton — and have taken a pilot and his daughter as hostages. Before their stolen cargo plane can make it out of the country, one of the soldiers — in a move that reminds of Sly Stallone’s robbery-plane caper Cliffhanger — greedily parachutes out of the plane with the loot. Think of D.B Cooper, instead of landing in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, he lands in a foggy cornfield. And instead of zombies showing up, you get, well, you know.

Welcome to Scarecrows.

At that point, we head off into Romero land, with the soldiers and their hostages banning together in an abandoned farmhouse to ward off the demonic scarecrows in the fields around the home — who intend to add our ne’er-do-wells to their sackcloth and flannel ranks. And, as with Romero’s farmhouse classic: this has its own, downbeat ending.

Scarecrows was a vanity production by South Florida wrestler and amateur boxer Ted “Wolfman” Vernon. (To that end: Scarecrows was filmed in his hometown of Davie, Florida.) He later moved into the world of reality TV with the Discovery Channel and Velocity show South Beach Classics (2017), which spotlighted his classic car business. That reality show unraveled in a whirlwind of his domestic abuse allegations (New Times Miami article). Another of Vernon’s projects was working as one of the executive producer’s on John Carpenter’s nobody-asked-for-it-remake of Village of the Damned (1995). Did anyone see Vernon’s feature film acting debut as the title character in the wrestling drama Hammerhead Jones (1987)? No, us either. And neither has anyone on the IMDb: critic or user.

Scarecrows was the feature film debut of William Wesley, a U.S. Army vet who parlayed his work here into contributing to the syndicated horror anthology Monsters (1991). He followed up with his second — and final feature film — Route 666 (2001), an even low-budgeted and not-as-good-as zombie romp starring the on-their-way-down Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori “Tank Girl” Petty (who’s great in Prey for Rock & Roll). One watch and you’ll wonder if Wesley seen John Hayes’s zombie romp, Garden of the Dead (1972), with its formaldehyde-sniffing prisoners returning from the grave. (Hayes gave us Crash! and the utterly-whacked End of the World.)

While Ted Vernon and William Wesley vanished, cinematographer Peter Deming went onto bigger and better films with Hellraiser and Evil Dead 2.

Now, for the behind the scenes drama:

Although it was shot in South Florida, Ted Vernon, who raised-bankrolled the $300,000 for the film, was the only local actor; the rest were L.A.-based. Vernon and Wesley also came to reportedly hated each other, with Vernon seeing the first-time writer and director as an incompetent that not only squandered the budget halfway through shooting, but wanted more funding. So Vernon ended up physically choking-out Wesley; the father of Wesley’s then girlfriend fronted the rest of the money.

The planned theatrical release of the film fell part when the distributor, Manson International Pictures, went bankrupt; however, the film returned $3 million on the home video market under the well-known Orion Pictures banner. Manson is a name you know, as the studio also gave us Terror at Red Wolf Inn (1972), Star Knight (1985), Brain Damage (1988), and Slaughterhouse Rock (1988), just to name a few of the 80-odd films in their catalog. All of those films — only to go under upon the release of Scarecrows.

As is the case with ultra-low/low-budget SAG-shot films (see the box office failures that are Zyzzyx Road (2006) and Christian Slater’s Playback (2012), as examples), Scarecrows had a one-week theatrical engagement on a single screen in a Des Moines, Iowa theater to contractually satisfy SAG, investors, and video distributors.

A valiant attempt at a case of “what might have been,” indeed.

You can watch Scarecrows on Amazon Prime or buy it from Shout! Factory. There’s also now out-of-print DVDs in the online marketplace issued by MGM and 20th Century Fox. In addition to the embedded trailer above, we found a nine-minute clip to enjoy on You Tube

And how many “scarecrow” movies are there: more than I realized, courtesy of Tubi.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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