Why are Scarecrows Scary?
Scarecrows have been used by farmers for thousands of years to keep intrusive animals out of their fields. In fact, scarecrows have been around as long as agriculture itself. Farmers in ancient times learned from the fact that birds and other animals would avoid human figures, and would place scarecrows in their fields to protect crops.
But why are people scared of them too? When did the tradition of the horror scarecrow start? You would think that a simple representation of a human, with a well-understood, mundane purpose, wouldn't inspire any shivers. But today, scarecrows are accepted as one of horror's typical monsters, alongside zombies, vampires, and crazed supernatural murderers.
The biggest irony is that some birds don't care in the least about scarecrows, so they just scare humans, not their intended targets. Many animals get used to the stationary humanlike figure and just ignore it. This has led to the invention of more advanced types of scarecrows like Japan's Super Monster Wolf, a robotic canine beast with glowing eyes and a roar sound effect. It's funny that we have to go to these lengths to scare animals, but humans continue to be frightened by nothing more than burlap and ratty old clothes stuffed with straw!
So, let's take a closer look at scarecrows and what makes them scary.
The Power of Symbols
Religious and spiritual traditions around the world and throughout history have explored the idea that symbols have power. Instead of just representing a thing or idea, a properly-created symbol has a spiritual connection to the thing or idea it represents. People who left offerings to statues of gods were following this belief. The statue was more than just a piece of stone: it symbolized the god, so in a way, it was directly connected to the god.
The human form has been used as this type of symbol in several ways through all time periods. A mundane example is the burning of effigies in political protest, while a mystical example would be a classic voodoo doll. Both are human symbols with certain meaning, but they only derive that meaning from their perceived connection to the person they represent.
People have been using human forms like this for such a long time that we all understand this type of symbolism when we see it. But that also means we instinctively assign the same symbolism where it doesn't belong. A human form has to have some kind of meaning or power, especially if it's prominently displayed as if to be watching over something, and that's exactly how scarecrows are set up. Plus, we know the purpose of the scarecrow is to protect the crops, so we're already assigning it some level of ability. Our subconscious minds turn scarecrows into minor gods of the fields, even though we're unaware we do it.
Corpses and Sinister Faces
The other reasons scarecrows can be scary are more prosaic. One is that we often mentally connect life-sized immobile human forms to real human bodies, and the way scarecrows are hung up can make them resemble corpses. The idea of a human corpse strung and propped up in the middle of a dark field is just creepy (and fields are creepy in their own right).
The face is another issue. Anything non-human with a humanlike face can quickly become shudder-inducing. Our connection to faces is another mental thing, and we get deeply unnerved when a face isn't "right." This is the same reason some people are afraid of clowns, dolls, and the human-like robots that are currently being developed. A face that is human, but not human enough, is said to evoke the feeling of "Uncanny Valley" which is the unsettling sense that something may look harmless but is deeply wrong. Of course, a face that's barely human at all can be creepy too, especially if it's just a burlap sack with black, staring eyes drawn or sewn on.
Of course, once people realized the sinister potential of scarecrows, we started making them scary on purpose!
Scarecrows in Horror
We've also seen villainous scarecrows as far back as 1941, which was the first appearance of Scarecrow the Batman antagonist. Their move into the horror genre took place gradually. A 1988 movie called (appropriately enough) Scarecrows was a major player in alerting the general public to the idea that scarecrows could be truly menacing. The past decades have also seen several more scarecrow-centric horror films including Night of the Scarecrow, Dark Harvest, and Hallowed Ground, and scarecrows have appearances in other films including Jeepers Creepers 2. Kids who followed the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series were introduced in 1991 to a murdering scarecrow named Harold.
As the idea of the human-scaring scarecrow became more solidified in pop culture, people started making scarecrows scarier just for the hell of it, examples of which can be seen here (and as a side note, number 1 on that list also made an appearance on Snopes for being mistaken for a real dead body).
Of course, there's still plenty of room for friendly scarecrows. The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz is a beloved character who doesn't have a sinister bone (or any bones, really) in his body. Happy scarecrows with smiling faces are often seen in fall collections in home décor shops. Personally, as much as we love the horrifying type of scarecrow, we're glad some of them are still on our side.
Scarecrow Masks & Costumes
Whether you want to dress as a friendly scarecrow or an evil one, we have some great scarecrow masks and costumes at Halloween-Mask.com, ranging from The Wizard of Oz Scarecrow to Batman Begins Scarecrow and all kinds of twisted and unique characters in between. We have scarecrow masks with pumpkin-based heads as well as a variety with different sacks, some of which look like they're stretched over a skull. We even have zombie scarecrows (you knew that was coming)!
The full costumes are great for added effect, but you can also combine any of our scarecrow masks with a set of dirty old farm clothes and look like the real deal in minutes. Of course, we always welcome you to contact us for help with choosing your mask.
And if you really want to have some Halloween fun as a scarecrow, might we suggest finding a place to stand and holding still until someone approaches you?
Better yet, try to get back in position before anyone else turns to look.