In honor of the release of the novella collection, CHILDHOOD FEARS (Samhain, 2015), containing our novella Nightmare in Greasepaint, as well as J.H. Moncrieff's The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave, J.G. Faherty's Winterwood, and Christine Hayton's Scarecrows, L.L. Soares and I discuss our own childhood fears, in particular: Scarecrows...
(THE SCENE: A cornfield at night. DAN KEOHANE and L.L. SOARES meet in the middle of the stalks. DAN sees a flashlight beam and waves his arm.)
DAN: There you are. I thought you’d leave me waiting here all night. And there have been lots of spooky noises…
LL: This cornfield is so weird. I actually feel smaller. (Looks behind stalks). Hey kid, where’s Dan?
DAN: It’s me. I’m a kid again. So are you. There’s something magical in this field.
LL: (holds his hands out in front of him) Wow. This is so weird. And it must be close to Halloween, because you're dressed as… who are you dressed as?
DAN: G Daniel Gunn
LL: Who? Oh, never mind. So why did you ask me to come here at midnight?
DAN: So we could discuss our CHILDHOOD FEARS of course. And we’ve been given a topic. Scarecrows.
LL: Like the one hanging over there (Points flashlight). I have to admit, that’s the most lifelike scarecrow I’ve ever seen. I almost expect it to jump off its post and dance around.
DAN: When I was a kid, scarecrows were usually fun. I never considered them frightening in any way, just big like pillows stuffed with leaves, with badly-made paper bag heads. Not to mention the Scarecrow from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) was one cool dude.
LL: If he only had a brain! Maybe he was a hungry zombie!
DAN: All was Great Pumpkin fun, until—and I’m dating myself here—I saw a commercial for the Wonderful World of Disney’s Sunday night movie THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH (at least I think that was it, 1964… though for me it must have been a re-run since I would have been only 1 year old).
LL: Hey, I remember THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH on Wonderful World of Disney, too. It must have been a rerun, since we would have been way too young when it first aired. They basically took a British movie called DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW from 1963 and chopped it up into chapters for TV. Dr. Syn was the leader of a band of rebels who dressed like a scarecrow and rode around on horseback scaring people. Or something like that. I remember the scarecrow left a big impression on me, too. At the time, I thought it looked so cool!
DAN: Not that I went running in the other direction when I saw a real scarecrow (like I did, and still do, with clowns), but suddenly there was a darker side to a normally fun tradition. During the day they were still fun, dog-pee laced leaves raked in a pile and stuffed into old pants and shirts.
LL: Ah, the joys of suburban life.
(A RUSTLING sound is heard. LL turns his flashlight beam on the scarecrow behind them, but the pole it was tied to is empty)
LL: Where did that scarecrow go?
DAN: He probably just fell down…..I hope. Anyway, years later I’d be shocked to learn the man behind the ROMNEY MARSH scarecrow mask was one of my favorites, Patrick McGoohan, from THE PRISONER TV series.
LL: Yeah, I liked McGoohan, too. He was also in the Disney production THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA (1963), about a cat that brings a girl and her father closer together. How sweet! DR. SYN/ROMNEY MARSH was actually the second version of the story. The first one was in 1962 and was a Hammer film called NIGHT CREATURES, which featured Peter Cushing in the lead role as Dr. Blyss. But instead of dressing up as scarecrows they dressed up as skeletons on horseback!
DAN: But back to scarecrows. When evening fell in Octobers, and the winds picked up and everything got very Ray Bradbury-ish, I’d remember that stupid, scary commercial and a sense of dread would begin creeping in. Hollywood (and all those friggin' horror writers) has a nasty way of peeling back the goofy marker faces of our childhood joy and adding a dose of our nightmares to the mix. I remember the commercial for ROMNEY MARSH more than the series. Much like the commercial for MAGIC (1978) gave me ventriloquist dummy nightmares for years, this commercial put a dark, terrifying spin on such a fun aspect of October. Granted, I was a bit of a sensitive little soul, I was.
LL: That commercial for MAGIC was amazing—and much scarier than the actual movie. I’m sure lots of kids had nightmares about that one. The best/scariest commercials when I was growing up were that one and the one for Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1977), where a woman has her back to us and is brushing her hair and suddenly she turns around and SHE HAS A SKULL FACE! Ahhh, the days of great movie commercials. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
(More RUSTLING among the corn stalks. DAN and LL wave their flashlights around, but they don’t see anything. Now it sounds like multiple RUSTLINGS)
LL: I always thought scarecrows were very atmospheric and had the potential to be great movie monsters. There’s also a cool TV movie called DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981). I always wondered why there weren’t more movies about supernatural scarecrows. They look so great. It just seemed natural to me that they should become horror icons, especially since scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns are so strongly identified with Halloween. But unfortunately, they never caught on in the movies, like vampires or zombies.
DAN: Yea, because the nature of scarecrows can be pretty frightening. String up a likeness of a man in a field, and let the wind move it about. A makeshift, rural crucifixion. There's something macabre and wild about these things.
LL: Not to mention they're so closely associated with autumn, the harvest and slow death of summer.
DAN: So, what scared you as a kid?
LL: I remembered other kids would have nightmares after seeing horror movies. That never happened to me. I guess I identified too much with the monsters. I seem to remember seeing stuff on the news – “real life” horrors – that were scarier than any scarecrow or clown.
DAN: Funny you say that. Between us we've got the universe of fear covered. You'd peer under the shades of your bedroom at night and see a serial killer standing there, looking back up at you.
LL: Dressed as a scarecrow!
DAN: Me, I'd see a demonic scarecrow with a scythe.
LL: Or a clown.
DAN: A scarecrow and a clown?
LL: Why not? Everyone needs a friend.
DAN: Of course there was that night when I was cutting across a field as a short cut and passed a scarecrow mounted up on a stake, then heard a rustle behind me, turned and noticed it was gone. But the rustling continued, and got closer. But that’s another story. It probably just fell.
DAN: No, I made that up.
(RUSTLING gets very loud, and LL turns to train his flashlight on a whole ARMY of scarecrows approaching them, some holding pitchforks and scythes)
DAN: Where did they come from?
LL: I don’t know, but they look angry. Maybe they don’t like us talking about them in the middle of a cornfield.
VOICE (suddenly very loud and close): I am He Who Walks Behind the Rows!
DAN: You don’t have to tell me twice. Let’s get out of here!
If scarecrows scared you as a kid, or still do, check out Christine Hayton's novella ScarecrowsSamhain Publishing's collection CHILDHOOD FEARS.
They do more than frighten birds. Much more.
Early one morning in the fall of 1964, Robert searched for his missing six-year-old daughter, Cathy. He found her asleep in a nearby cornfield, covered in blood and holding a small axe. A few feet away lay the mutilated body of her classmate Emily.
Assumed guilty of murder, Cathy lived in a hospital for insane children. She always gave the same account of what happened. She talked of murderous scarecrows that roamed the cornfield on moonlit nights. Her doctors considered her delusional. The police, her neighbors and the press thought she was dangerous. And so she remained incarcerated. No one believed her. That was a mistake.