Night of the Scarecrow Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Olive Films
Directed by Jeff Burr
Written by Reed Steiner and Dan Mazur
1995, 85 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on April 30th, 2013
Elizabeth Barondes as Claire
John Mese as Dillon
Stephen Root as Sheriff Frank
Bruce Glover as Thaddeus
Martine Beswick as Barbara
Gary Lockwood as Mayor William
John Hawkes as Danny
Cristi Harris as Stephanie
John Lazar as The Warlock
When two drunken delinquents joyride through a corn field, they accidentally awaken an evil spirit that once plagued their quiet town. Taking the form of a scarecrow, this malevolent force is intent on harvesting a long-sought revenge by tracking down the descendants of those who wronged him centuries ago. Claire and Dillon are determined to solve the mystery and stop the creature before it destroys everything in its path. Unfortunately it is Claire’s family the scarecrow is now after. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the plot to this “killer scarecrow movie” because, honestly, it’s a killer scarecrow movie.
In the wake of the highly successful A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (1984 – 1994), countless wannabes lined up to challenge the reigning horror icon, Freddy Krueger. Screenwriters Reed Steiner and Dan Mazur took their shot with Night of the Scarecrow, a fairly typical offering from the mid-1990s that follows many of the popular trends of the era. This classic revenge thriller was originally set to include countless one-liners from the titular villain and the producers were determined to showcase cutting-edge CGI visual effects. What could have been another sub-par, run-of-the-mill “stalker” flick, was given an additional advantage with the decision to bring in veteran genre director Jeff Burr (From a Whisper to a Scream), whose first creative decision was to remove most of the scarecrow’s jokes.
Cinematographer Thomas Callaway (Slumber Party Massacre II) disguises the limited budget with some impressive lighting and camera movement. Working closely with Burr, the two elevate the general appearance of the picture and deliver a good-looking and visually entertaining film that moves at a surprising pace, despite the weakness of the script. David Miller (A Nightmare on Elm Street) designed the frequently impressive special make-up effects and his efforts are greatly appreciated. The kills are creative and Miller’s work sells them well, as victims meet a variety of nasty deaths, including some that are stuffed with straw while others are filled with rapidly growing vines, to name but a few. There are a few unfortunate CGI trick shots involving the scarecrow’s revival, but luckily the gore was handled in a traditional practical manner as opposed to using digital enhancement techniques.
The cast is divided into two generations. The young are led by Elizabeth Barondes (Not of this Earth), as Claire Goodman, not your typical final girl. She is feisty as the mayor’s estranged daughter and has little time for local superstitions. John Mese (Dangerous Proposition) doesn’t fare as well as Dillon, the resident stud trying to win Claire’s heart. He is frequently dull and potentially expendable. John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) is a lot of fun as Danny, the young drunk punk that accidentally sets the trouble in motion. Hawkes is engaging and makes the most of his under-developed character and it is easy to see why he has gone on to enjoy such a fruitful career. Cristi Harris (Night of the Demons 2) provides the nudity as Claire’s rebellious cousin, Stephanie. She is a fun girl that comes to an unfortunate and unexpected end. This is more a highlight than a spoiler as it is a body count movie.
The real stars of this movie are a quintet of slightly older character actors that include Gary Lockwood (2001: A Space Odyssey), Stephen Root (Monkey Shines), Dirk Blocker (Poltergeist), and Bruce Glover (Simon Says) as brothers William, Frank, George and Thaddeus Goodman, with Martine Beswick (Trancers 2) playing Thaddeus’ wife, Barbara. The four brothers run the town as mayor, sheriff, landowner and preacher, respectively, and are the central targets of the scarecrow’s wrath. Glover and Beswick make a lovely couple and film fans will appreciate the James Bond connection they bring to this picture. Lockwood does a fine job as a stubborn hard-ass, while Root steals the show as the reluctant hero. Appearing only in flashback, John Lazar (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) is effectively creepy as the warlock behind all of the trouble.
Night of the Scarecrow is neither the best nor the worst killer scarecrow movie I have ever seen, but it has more heart than a lot of the competition. The strong direction, talented cast and brisk running time make for a fun horror movie experience. Although it never really found its target audience and failed to launch a franchise for the producers, this film does everything it sets out to do. It entertains, and for that I can easily recommend this to anyone looking for a creepy spin on a familiar tale.
Video and Audio:
Night of the Scarecrow is finally available in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks all the better for it. While there has not been a full restoration of this film, the original source elements are in fine condition and fans are in for a treat. Color and contrast levels are solid and there is plenty of small object detail.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is more aggressive than expected and is quite satisfying. Music cues are surprisingly loud, without stepping on dialogue levels.
Jeff Burr commentary tracks are usually pretty informative and entertaining, and this one is no exception. The guy knows how to tell a story and he keeps things interesting. There is a moderator in the room to keep him on track, but Burr rarely strays. In one nice touch, the director is quick to lavish praise on the similarly titled Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) and its star, Larry Drake. Burr is a consummate professional who is clearly a fan of the genre and when he isn’t sharing tales from this production, he is offering advice to aspiring filmmakers. This is a great commentary that you should definitely check out.
A photo gallery (8 minutes) is narrated by Burr, who continues to provide information in a relaxed and conversational manner. There are some behind-the-scenes stills and a look at the promotional artwork, but the majority of the content is compiled of production forms, storyboards, script pages and notes. This is a nice glimpse at the volumes of work that go into making a film of any size.
A vintage featurette (3 minutes) takes a look at the making of the film and appears to be the same one included on the 1995 VHS release.
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