- Straight to Video
- Director: Steve Galler
- Written by: Alex Boon, James Cullen, Octavio Medieros
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: UNRATED
- Cast: Richard Lee, Douglas Miller, Joe Parro, Tracy Rankin, Lee Anne Simms, Mike Upmalis, Tim Vince
In the opening minutes of “Psycho Scarecrow” two hardened detectives stumble upon a tape recorded message in the apartment of an apparent suicide victim. To their surprise, it’s not the usual desperate sorrowful goodbyes from a woman at the end of her proverbial rope, instead it’s a narration of a weekend getaway involving five teens. Interestingly, all five of those teens have since gone missing or have turned up dead in the past week, leading up to that night, Halloween night.
Hoping to find any clues that might indicate what’s going on, or why the young woman may have wanted to leap to her death on Halloween night, the two detectives hunker down and listen to the recording. Her story, which starts out simple enough, continues to grow increasingly more bizarre and chilling with each passing minute, and before long the detectives find themselves increasingly at odds with each other over its authenticity. Both have taken a firm side in the plausibility of the events described by the woman and neither wants to back down. One of the detectives, Hammond, played by Tim Vince, is a gruff, cigar-chomping, unshaven fellow in his early thirties. He is resistant to the woman’s extraordinary tale, thinking that she’s simply a paranoid delusional crackpot and drug addict who simply leaped to her death for fear of running low on drugs. The other detective, Jones, played by Joe Parro, who appears to be a few years younger and a tad more stable, is much better prepared to accept the woman’s story as something real -- despite its eccentric nature. Having discovered a bunch of knives hidden under her mattress, he firmly believes that the woman was being stalked and that she might very well have been pushed.
In a direct nod to Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., the suicide victim, Sheila, played brilliantly by first time actress Tracy Rankin, thoughtfully narrates the story of a how a weekend getaway in the country turned tragic, all of which unfolds on-screen in a series of lengthy flashbacks. After packing, the group of five teens, Karn (Lee Anne Simms), Spider (Richard Lee), Floyd (Mike Upmalis), Eric (Doug Miller), and Sheila (Rankin), head off to an abandoned farmhouse way up north in the country. When their car unexpectedly breaks down on the outskirts of a supposedly haunted cornfield, they determine that it’s not far and decide to walk the rest of the way to the place. After gathering their things, they trudge off into the field in the direction of the farmhouse, which lays just off the road on the other side of a wide pasture. A hard breeze whistles over the rows as the victim recounts in detail how the field left her feeling cold and frightened. Galler’s use of strong winds and narration to enhance the growing sense of anxiety felt by the lead actress, is pure genius and helps to establish atmosphere early on.
As the shroud of nightfall sets down on them, the group finally lays roost inside the farmhouse. They head outside into the cool air for a long night of drinking, pot-smoking and singing, all by the light of a raging campfire. As the hours creep by, a couple of the teens, Eric and Karn, head off into the woods for a quick fling. This is where the story turns a corner, as Floyd, a kind-hearted but socially maladjusted type, and obvious outcast of the group, stumbles upon Eric and Karn together. Floyd jokingly reacts by taking their picture. A harmless gesture. Sadly, Eric, a James Dean-type, and the unofficial leader of the group, takes it upon himself to see that Floyd never photographs him with another girl again. Eric’s rage and hatred of Floyd is exhibited in a short but brutal beating. Bloody and hurt, Floyd stumbles off into the cornfield. Sheila, who rejected Floyd earlier in the night, is distraught, and begs her friends to help her find him. Eric insists that he’s fine. “He‘s probably just scared,“ he mutters nonchalantly. It isn’t until later when they turn up Floyd’s dead body in the field, that the sheer magnitude of their actions take hold. Eric, fearing a lengthy prison sentence, insists the group help him hide the body. They determine the best place to conceal Floyd’s corpse is inside an old ugly scarecrow that they passed on the way to the farmhouse -- not exactly the smartest choice, even by horror movie standards. In their attempt to fully conceal the body, they even take time out to gather a pumpkin, complete with a wicked snarl, and place it over Floyd’s head. They gather their things and head back to the car, praying that this grisly subterfuge will buy them enough time to get back to the city.
As it turns out, the cornfield is actually consecrated ground, revered by the local Indians and feared by the townsfolk. As the group attempts to head out, Floyd’s blood, which has run down and mixed with the soil, somehow invokes a demonic being. The supernatural entity marshals itself into its human form by utilizing Floyd’s rotting carcass as its host. And thus, the fun begins. At this point, with the arrival of our vengeful axe-wielding pumpkin-headed killer, all the standard slasher genre clichés are adhered to including cars that won’t start, beautiful damsels that scream while nearly missing being impaled on that wild crashing blade, and, of course, a killer that just won’t die no matter what the leads actors do to him. If you love slasher films, trust me, the entire second half is pure gold, as the killer, complete with glowing demonic eyes, haunts the cornfield, methodically slashing and hacking his way through all those who conspired to hide his body.
Director Steve Galler has some genuine talent, that’s apparent, but by merging elements of a campy slasher film with a serious downbeat detective crime drama, he more often than not throws the viewer off. It’s sort of like watching two distinct films going on simultaneously, and it’s really hard to get a feel for either. Imagine if Wes Craven had pieced “CSI” into “A Nightmare on Elm Street“. It just doesn’t work. And, except for a few occasional moments, much of the dialogue between the detectives is inconsequential and, at times, feels forced, as if they are trying to pad out the film’s running time. The actors are adequate enough, but the chemistry between them never materializes. Tracey Rankin, who plays Sheila, is the finest actress in the lot, rendering the only fully developed character in the film. Her character's turn-around is pivotal and makes the ending all the more tragic. The “psycho scarecrow” of the title is played by another first time actor, Michael Upmalis. Upmalis is an interesting fellow who doesn’t say much but manages to convey plenty through his eyes. His sense of loneliness, and the pain of being rejected by Sheila reads perfectly on his face especially in one of the film’s more uncomfortable scenes.
Shot on SVHS, “Psycho Scarecrow” is a Canadian film photographed in and around Peterborough, Ontario - about an hour drive from my house. It was produced by Tempest Video and distributed by Tapeworm Video. Last year, Brentwood video released “Psycho Scarecrow” as part of a four movie DVD pack titled “Sleazy Slashers”. Not the worst way to spend a dark night.
Interesting side-note; After "Psycho Scarecrow", Doug Miller (calling himself Douglas Kidd) would go onto a rather successful career in the movies, appearing in over a dozen television shows and films, including "H2O: The Last Prime Minister", "The Perfect Husband" and "Mind Over Murder", and even has a film, "Smash Cut", scheduled for 2009.