Scarecrows Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by William Wesley
Written by Richard Jeffries and William Wesley
1988, Region A, 83 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on June 2nd, 2015
Ted Vernon as Corbin
Michael Simms as Curry
Richard Vidan as Jack
Kristina Sanborn as Roxanne
Victoria Christian as Kellie
David Campbell as Al
B.J. Turner as Bert
Five soldiers have robbed the payroll of Camp Pendleton and hijacked an airplane, taking the pilot and his daughter hostage. There is no honor among thieves and one quickly betrays all when Jack tosses a grenade into the cargo hold and jumps from the plane with the money. His attempt to kill the others fails and the crew circles back and monitors his descent. Jack lands near a cemetery surrounded by ominous scarecrows, but he loses track of where the money fell. A nearby farmhouse offers shelter but things take on an uncomfortable vibe once the hallucinations begin and the scarecrows appear to be alive. The rest of the gang follows the trail to the dilapidated structure, but once they arrive, their double-crossing buddy is nowhere to be found. Something is not right about this place and rather than stick around, everyone agrees to recover the money and get the hell out of here. The titular villains have other plans, however, and this supernatural thriller quickly grows a body count.
Scarecrows is a movie that turned up on video shelves in the late 1980s and frequently played on Cinemax. The film distinguished itself from other horrors, as it did not follow the popular slasher or rubber reality subgenres that cluttered screens. The filmmakers instead presented a non-traditional ghost story that was unique enough to employ an underutilized but iconic villain. Outside of the made-for-TV Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), there wasn’t a glut of killer scarecrow movies at that time. It has been years since I watched this title and am happy to see how well it holds up.
I would love to claim clever insight as to how the scarecrows are just doing their job as a bunch of symbolic crows fly in during the night and trespass on private property, except that the closing credits list the actors in two categories: crows and scarecrows. Okay, so in hindsight it is a fairly obvious bit of business, especially with the cast dressed in black and falling from the sky, but that being said, the film is actually full of fun ideas. One nice touch finds victims stuffed with both straw and stolen cash, but instead of being freaked out, our thieving mercenaries are greedy enough to overlook the threat and simply squeegee off the blood(y) money. What humor is on display is of the blackest and bleakest variety, including an unexpected fun surprise in the final moments.
William Wesley (Route 666) took on countless jobs to pull off this debut effort. He is credited as producer, editor, director and co-writer among other positions. Influenced by episodes of the classic Twilight Zone series, Wesley paired with writer Richard Jeffries (The Vagrant) to tell a haunting tale of greed and consequences. In a refreshing twist, the screenwriters are okay with leaving some elements of the story unexplained. By not spoon-feeding the exposition, audiences are forced to entertain the mystery and try to draw their own conclusions. Before I lavish too much praise on the script, I need to address the awkward decision in post-production to add excessive voice-over and radio chatter to keep things moving. Some of this dialogue may be considered an internal monologue, as there may only be one person in the room and his lips aren’t moving. Jeffries denies any ownership of such additions in his audio interview found on this disc. The film takes place over the course of one long night and Cinematographer Peter Deming (Evil Dead 2) keeps light levels low enough to leave viewers in the dark on a lot of the minor plot points.
What I always enjoyed about this flick is how gritty and no-nonsense it was. There’s not a lot of time for silly jokes or false scares and no forced love interest. These guys are on a mission and things are falling apart around them, but nobody wants to be the boy that cried monster. The scarecrows are really creepy looking, even when standing still. The characters do some really dumb things, but the script wisely introduces the idea of hallucinations early on and suggests that people are not always in control of their surroundings. The violence is pretty mean and there’s some decent blood, but the main reason to check out Scarecrows is the atmosphere and tone. The film is deliberately paced, but once you get the rhythm, I think you will find it pretty creepy.
Video and Audio:
Scarecrows has always been a dark film with a VHS release that practically dared viewers to understand what was going on in the murk. The DVD was a step up, but still pretty mysterious when it comes to picture content. This new Blu-ray edition shines the most light possible on the material while remaining true to the original intent. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film reveals an unexpected level of detail from the darkness. There are some who may complain that the image is still too dark, but I encourage them to check out earlier releases for comparison and hold off on their complaints.
There are two audio options, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track that faithfully presents the original audio recording, and a preferable DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. While the former is serviceable, the latter really opens things up both in the wooded environments and around the creepy farmhouse location.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
There is a nice selection of bonus features on this disc, starting with two audio commentaries. The first track features Producer Cami Winikoff with Director William Wesley, and the two cover a lot of ground with a stream of production tales both positive and negative. The biggest problem in filming stemmed from the working conditions that come from shooting in a Florida swamp. Enough time has passed for them to laugh off some of the more ridiculous challenges and watching the film again entices Wesley to consider a return to the director’s chair.
The second commentary track is actually a trio of interviews conducted by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felscher, who sits down with Richard Jeffries (29 minutes), Peter Deming (19 minutes) and composer Terry Plumeri (25 minutes). All three separate pieces are highly informative and entertaining, though not scene-specific.
Make-up artist Norman Cabrera discusses his work on this, his first film job, in the excellent featurette The Last Straw (17 minutes). His enthusiasm for this project all these years later is endearing and Cabrera is instantly likeable as he reflects on how he got this gig, what the challenges were and the career he has enjoyed since.
Lead actor and executive producer Ted Vernon is more than happy to share his memories of this film in the segment Cornfield Commando (9 minutes). He discusses how he got involved with the picture, working with Wesley, and his beloved dog that appears in the movie with him.
An extensive storyboard slideshow (4 minutes) plays over music from the soundtrack and offers a look at some of the prep work that went into making Scarecrows.
A photo gallery (62 images) provides a look at the making of the film through a series of promotional shots featuring both monsters and victims.
The original theatrical trailer completes the special features on this disc.
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