A murderer disguised as a magician seeks a teenage girl as his next victim. Can her brother save her?
One summer's morning, 14-year-old Ned Poindexter and his friend Les discover that their chickens have been stolen. At the same time, 250 miles away in the city, a teenage girl is found floating in a pond - her throat cut.
The two crimes, one so trivial and the other so diabolical, belong to the same story. In fact they're the opening frames of the film. A film in which an adolescent boy grapples with manhood, morality and the consequences of chicken stealing (both inflicted and perpetrated) while a murderer and sex maniac stalks his beautiful and beloved sister, the ripening Prudence.
It's a funny film. The setting is the fictitious New Zealand small town of Klynham in the early 1950s, where each day's trivial events and each character in the motley population serve to divert Ned and Prudence from the truth of what is going on around them.
It's a scary film. Hubert Salter (played by John Carradine) is the Scarecrow. Magician and murderer, hypnotist and sex maniac, he insinuates himself into the heart fo the town, somewhere between the pub and the funeral parlour. Prudence (played by award-winning Australian actress Tracy Mann) is soon the object of his lust. The significance of this is lost to everyone except the audience, as Salter calculatingly eliminates interim victims - the eccentric, the deranged, the aged, as he advances inexorably towards his prize.
It's also a moving film. It's the story of a boy and his sister who, because somehow they are different from the others, stick together and by accident, by love, by luck, manage to survive. Survival here means avoiding the best that the small town can throw at you. It also means recognising absolute evil for what is, when everyone around you embraces it.
Above all, it is Ned's story. The wise, witty and poignant story straight from a boy who knew more than anyone realised. "Certainly", he tells us "the most hectic and the darkest chapter in the whole history of our town".