Goosebumps #20: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight
This was a mixed bag overall. The book started out strong with a great creepy atmosphere, but never really took off in a way that was remarkable or interesting. I wanted the scarecrows to do more than just walk. I wanted them to have and motives of their own. I wanted a less obvious climax. The characters were fairly strong all around, but the stakes never quite felt high enough to justify some of their actions. The twist at the very end was a fun one, too. With a few tweaks and some changes to the third act, this could have been one of the better books in the series.
ERMAHGERD #20: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight. Photo by Dierre Taylor.
Observations & Spoilers
It’s almost more frustrating to read a book that falls short of it’s potential than it is to read one that never had any. Almost. I will take Scarecrow Walks over Monster Blood II and You Can’t Scare Me any day of the week. The book starts out strong by establishing an ominous tone in the first chapter. When Jodie and Mark first arrive at their grandparent’s farm for the summer things seem just a little bit off. Stanly, the farmhand, gives an unprompted warning about the scarecrows walking at midnight. Then Grandpa refuses to tell his usual scary stories before bed, and Grandma refuses to make her famous chocolate chip pancakes. Something is wrong, and Jodie is gonna figure it out.
After that, the kids start seeing some serious scarecrow action. They seem to be moving in the fields at night. They jump out and scare them while the kids are horseback riding. Jodie suspects the culprit is Sticks, the farmhand’s son. He’s always teasing Mark and Jodie about being city kids who have it easy. They decide to play a prank on Sticks by having Mark dress up as a scarecrow and hiding out in the fields. It all goes wrong when they realize Mark is not the only walking scarecrow! It’s not exactly shocking, but there is a nice eariness to the story up to this point. I guess I never thought about the inherent creepiness of large empty cornfields at night.
The big reveal turns out to be that Stanly bought a book full of superstitions and accidentally awakened the scarecrows. He got Grandma and Grandpa to start doing things differently around the farm in order to put them back to sleep. But his spell didn’t work, so they ended up making all those concessions for nothing. Eventually, Stanly sets all of the scarecrows all on fire, which begs the question: why had no one tried that earlier? In fact, I was left with a lot of questions about the titular scarecrows. I wanted them to do more than just walk. I wish they had a motive other than mimicking a zombie hoard. The scarecrows could have wanted some creepy shit. Like, they could have wanted the family to join them. The kids wake up one morning to find a beaten-up grandpa tied up like a scarecrow in the fields. Tell me what the scarecrow wants, Robert. I need to know.
The other baffling thing about the ending is how Stanly isn’t promptly fired for terrorizing Grandma and Grandpa with the threat of walking scarecrows. It’s not even discussed. The moment he had an inkling of power, he lorded it over them by putting a stop to scary stories and chocolate chip pancakes. Instead of consequences, Stanly goes back to his book that wasn’t confiscated for some reason and resurrects the giant taxidermied bear in Grandpa’s den. As frustrated as I was by the last act, I appreciated this classic Goosebumps twist ending that heavily implied that Jodie gets eaten by a bear. That gets a thumbs up from this reviewer.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight is ranked 16th of 62, placing it in the middle-high tier of the series.
The concept is basically laid out in the title, and it had plenty of potential for creepiness. Unfortunately, it did not go any further than that.
Had some great setup and creepy atmosphere, but without giving the scarecrows any kind of motives of their own, it just fell flat.
Probably the strongest point in the book. Nothing out of the ordinary. Gullible old grandparents, city kids vs farm kids, Stanley being a creep.
Scare Factor: 1/2
If the scarecrows did more, this would be a 2 out of 2. The atmosphere and potential were there, but the follow-through was not.
All of this comes back to the scarecrows being mindless zombies. And not something more unique, unfamiliar, and therefore unsettling.
Body Count: 0 (or roughly 10 if you count scarecrows).
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• This was pretty much the same as the book, minus the twist ending.
• Stanly was a lot more aggressive right off the bat, but they had less time to establish him.
• The scarecrows had a good look, but just like in the book they don’t really do anything aside from walk towards the kids and try to grab them
• It’s hard to think of a being as threatening when its head keeps falling off. Giving them a motive would have gone a long way.
• I found myself thinking about how a body made of hay might carry itself. It would be really light and fast. The slow lurching like Romero’s classic zombies didn’t sell it.
• The scarecrows just standing around while the thrasher mowed them down was way less climatic than the book, but suppose pyrotechnics do cost money.
• The twist ending was nowhere near as good as the book. Haunted farm equipment just doesn’t have the same knife twist as mauled by a bear.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #21: Go Eat Worms
Coming in November 2020.
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror blog series:
Christopher Pike’s Fall Into Darkness.