Lacey Chabert soon learns that a homecoming isn’t always a party of five (or more) in the original thriller Scarecrow, which premieres Saturday night on Syfy.
The actress, best known for her teen work as Claudia Salinger in the 1994-2000 Fox family drama Party of Five, stars in this new chiller as Kristen Miller, who has come back to her rustic hometown after failing to make it in the big city. Kristen has returned to sell the dilapidated Miller family homestead out in the countryside, but in short order she becomes more focused on not buying the farm, if you catch my drift.
She has an awkward reunion with her old flame Aaron Harris (Robin Dunne, Sanctuary), now a teacher, who pulls up with a schoolbus-load of the local Breakfast Club, high school students who have been given detention. Previously unaware Kristen is back, Aaron has volunteered his misbehaving students to help move an ancient, moldering scarecrow from the Miller cornfield, the original site of the local fall Scarecrow Festival, and relocate it to the town square.
None of the group realizes that an ancient legend about a murderous Scarecrow that stalks its victims among the corn is actually true – or that a couple of teenagers hoping to score a literal roll in the hay in the rotting barn nearby have had a grisly accident that has reawakened the creature.
As the body count on the farm starts to skyrocket, Kristen and Aaron desperately attempt to keep their freaked-out charges safe while trying to figure out what is driving the Scarecrow’s latest terrifying psycho-spree.
Like many of Syfy’s Saturday night movies, Scarecrow is a Canadian import shot on a limited budget, but it’s no Sharknado campfest. Rick Suvalle’s tightly constructed teleplay takes time to flesh out most of the teenage characters, which are often nothing but (literally) dead meat in horror films like this, and Chabert’s Kristen is plucky and resourceful, no mere victim. Director Sheldon Wilson keeps the action moving along, delivering a film that looks a good deal more expensive than its budget could have supported. There’s a bit of relatively minor gore, but most of the big carnage, like an incident that involves a large piece of farm machinery, is kept off-camera.
As for the CGI Scarecrow, it’s a wonderful thing of intertwined sticks, vines and stalks that can “grow” without warning out of the ground at any given moment, sprout killer tendrils and scale horizontal surfaces like a spider. It’s pretty creepy.
Chabert, who turned 31 last Monday, has done a couple of earlier films in the thriller genre, but never one where she was the primary character in peril.
“It was really fun to just have the experience of filming something where you’re trying to create for an audience all those scares and jumps,” she explains. “A lot of it was at night and it was freezing in Vancouver and raining, so we would all just huddle around these heaters outside in the mud. We actually filmed it on a farm. We started to feel like we were actually living the movie, kind of.
“We were all covered in blood and dirt, but it was like being at camp. For the most part, the Scarecrow is CGI, so we couldn’t see what the audience will see, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
She also says she’s glad her movie isn’t too over-the-top horrific, because she finds movies like that hard to take herself.
“The truth is, I’m a real scaredy-cat,” Chabert says. “I prefer movies where it’s about, like, a killer scarecrow rather than something that’s more like a psychological thriller or about a serial killer, where it’s more realistic that it could happen. Those genuinely scare me, and I can lose sleep over them. This movie kind of falls in the middle, where it is scary and all our performances were intended to be kept as real as possible, but we’re in very elevated, unreal circumstances. To me, this movie is meant to be a Halloween fun ride.
“A horror movie is not my first choice for a movie to see, though,” she adds. “I’m more a fan of romantic comedy. I remember when I was very little seeing Poltergeist. I think that still is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.”
The busy actress rarely stops working, both as a voiceover artist and in on-camera roles, but she says she’d love to find time to do more sitcom work like her recent arc on the ABC Family series Baby Daddy.
“I had such a ball in that,” Chabert says. “It was the first time I had done a sitcom in front of a live audience, and I couldn’t believe how nervous I was the first episode. Once I got into it though, I had so much fun with it. It’s just an amazingly talented group of people. I’d love to (do more sitcoms).”