With autumn not far down the road, my mind turns to scary things. Actually, it is that way quite a bit of the time. Nevertheless, movies about farms are often the setting for the creepy—the sense of isolation, the sharp implements farmers use, the rustling of the drying crops in the wind. A couple years back I watched The Messengers. As a horror film it had a number of good scares, but the menace always seemed somewhat restrained. Nothing profound happens, and it is a film fairly easily forgotten. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon and The Messengers 2: the Scarecrow suggested itself to me. I began watching in an ambivalent mood, but when the first scene began with the protagonist (whose name I’ve forgotten) dropping his Bible on the porch chair as he loosens his tie to work on a derelict water pump, I was curious. When his wife arrives home and asks why he left church before it was over, my interest grew. This direct-to-video prequel turned out to be a cut-budget horror flick based squarely on a religious parable.
In a faustian moment of abandon, and at the advice of a jocular neighbor named Jude (Iscariot, anyone?), our hero erects a scarecrow to try to improve his lot (literally). To give credit where it is due, the scarecrow is distinctly disturbing. The scene of John (okay, I looked it up) nailing the scarecrow to the cross is clearly a crucifixion scene, and the blood that will later appear at the foot of the cross bears this out. Before he realizes that the scarecrow is evil, John hears ghostly children singing in his cornfield. The song is “Jesus Loves Me.” There is a strong fertility goddess theme running through the film and when Jude reveals that his wife has a magic book that explains all the benefits of the scarecrow, John decides to cut it down. The scarecrow, predictably, resurrects.
Meanwhile, John’s Christian family thinks he has gone insane. Or worse, backslidden. As he tries to explain to his wife what has happened, John shows her the magic book and she insists “It’s just your old Bible,” and it is. Heathenish occult instruction transubstantiates into Christian scripture. It is tough to tell one sacred writing from another. For cut-rate horror fodder, this is wonderful commentary on religious sensibilities. Although straight-to-video movies are not high art, and will never receive academy award nominations, they do reflect popular religious beliefs. Scholars are now in search of such beliefs in ancient societies since “official religion” almost never reflects what actual hoi polloi think. Lived religion seldom conforms to the intricacies envisioned by religious founders, and yet it is out there on the Internet for all to see. Maybe the messengers in this film are not the crows after all. The point of the parable? Stay true to your Christian upbringing or else the scarecrow will get you.