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Feature


After a band of ex-military criminals pulls off a multi-million dollar heist, they hop aboard a plane headed for Mexico. But when one of their own betrays them, they suddenly find themselves on the ground and on the run through a field of scarecrows near an abandoned farmhouse. And, as night sets in, the real nightmare begins. The men discover that there's a reason the farmhouse is empty... and, now, those who thought they were the hunters are being hunted by an unimaginable and malevolent force! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

 Scarecrows
According to facts, William Wesley’s Scarecrows (not to be confused with Frank De Felitta’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow) was a planned as an assortment of common B-movie institutions, but you’d be forgiven for assuming that it was cobbled together from at least two unproduced scripts. The first script is a heist movie told from the point of view of a ragtag group of criminals that don’t trust each other. The second script is an EC Comics-style horror story told using slasher conventions, complete with zombie-like scarecrows doling out ironic punishments. Either script could be forgettable on its own, but, cobbled together, they create a singular film that is at once conceptually original, yet brimming with genre clichés. At its best, it’s a smart, super-cheap variation on John McTiernan’s Predator.

Wesley didn’t make many movies, but had a pretty interesting career. He began by shooting training films for the military, which probably informed the precise tactical aspects of the film’s criminals’ paratrooping heist plans (not to mention the fact that the criminals are portrayed as ex-military). Following the relative success of Scarecrows (it wasn’t a hit, but it had a moderate release and gained cult popularity on home video), he made a single episode of Monsters ( The Maker, 1991) and made a series of acting appearances (usually as unnamed characters), before finally returning to feature directing with a 2001 STV horror/action movie called Route 666. It’s a shame that he didn’t have a more lucrative B-horror career, because his talent for action and suspense on a budget surpasses the industry average.

 Scarecrows
Scarecrows is particularly limited, not only in terms of budget, but scope – the entire movie revolves around one location and takes place over a short timeframe. Wesley and cinematographer Peter Deming avoid redundancy with an eerie, yet austere look. It could be described as Southern Gothic naturalism, like Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead, minus the strobes, gels, and other bells & whistles. The usual mundanity of story development is evaded during the first act, because Wesley and credited co-writer Richard Jefferies cleverly fit their characters with radios. This plot device allows their communications to unload exposition without slowing the action. As the film ticks by and the criminal’s plans are dashed, radios (including news reports via a car radio) become part of the subtly surreal supernatural backdrop, which is a nice and spooky inclusion. The filmmakers can’t always overcome the repetition of their concept (like most slasher-patterned body-count movies, it does become a bit of a slog between murder scenes), but, really, the only time the clichés are a nuisance is when they are applied to the dialogue. Even the thinly-drawn, autonomous cast of characters sort of work within the simpler confines of the genre and, unlike most cheapo post-slashers of the late ‘80s, the gore effects really are relentless and uncompromising – at least in this unrated version.

 Scarecrows

Video


When originally released, Scarecrows’ most violent scenes were cut for an R-rating (late ‘80s MPAA standards were pretty strict). VHS versions were available in R and unrated cuts. Then, in 2007, MGM released an anamorphic DVD version of the unrated cut. A 1080i HD scan of the uncut version also appeared on cable television. Scream Factory was originally planning on releasing it as part of a double-feature with Robert Kirk’s Destroyer (it’s actually a great pairing, because they’re both supernatural variations on slasher themes from the year 1988), but decided it was popular enough for a solo disc. This full 1080p, 1.85:1 release is, indeed, the uncut version (despite the R-rating on the back cover art). Image quality is tight and clear, despite a fair bit of fine grain, a few flecks of print damage, and a whole lot of very dark photography. The entire film takes place over a single night, so there really is no escaping the heavy blacks and dim lighting schemes. Yet, the transfer is clear enough to capture the presence of delicate elements, namely fog and smoke. Fine textures and patterns are sharp, thanks to bright highlights that frame characters and environments. The colour scheme is limited to mostly grays and browns, but everything (including skin tones, green backdrops, and the red of gore/blood) appears natural and consistent. Overall hues are more vibrant than the slightly muddy DVD release.

 Scarecrows

Audio


Scarecrows’ original Ultra Stereo soundtrack is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 alongside a (new?) 5.1 remix, also in DTS-HD MA. Both tracks have their advantages. The stereo mix is a bit louder, including more aggressive foley work, but the dialogue tracks are spread over the front channels. The 5.1 remix doesn’t offer much more depth or directional movement (both tracks use hallucinatory, echoed dialogue to represent the scarecrows’ ‘teasing’ their prey), but it does center and regulate the dialogue. Composer Terry Plumeri’s title theme remind me of Fabio Frizzi’s minimalist work for Lucio Fulci’s movies, while his more incidental cues feature surprisingly classy, chamber music orchestrations (lots of what sounds like a bass clarinet). Though it sounds ever so slightly compressed on the 5.1 track, the music does get a decent LFE boost and sounds cleaner with the dialogue relegated to the center.

 Scarecrows

Extras


  • Commentary with director William Wesley and producer Cami Winikoff – This sweet and pleasant director and producer track is moderated by Rob Galluzzo from Icons of Fright. It’s full of fond memories and good stories, but also has its share of long silent streaks and off-topic diversions.
  • Commentary with co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies, director of photography Peter Deming, and composer Terry Plumeri – The second commentary is more technically-minded. It is not a screen-specific track, but, rather, a collection of audio interviews hosted by Blu-ray producer Michael Felsher. The quality changes from interviewee to interviewee – Jefferies is fun, lively, and full of information that doesn’t overlap much with the previous track, while Deming and the super-quite Plumeri are more technical and dependent on Felsher’s moderation.
  • The Last Straw (16:40, HD) – Interview with special make-up effects creator Norman Cabrera. He was only 18 at the time of Scarecrows and remembers the good and bad experiences on his first film.
  • Cornfield Commando (8:50, HD – A shorter interview with actor Ted Vernon, who didn’t appear in a lot of other movies, but still wears his signature ‘stache.
  • Original storyboards
  • Still gallery
  • Theatrical trailer


 Scarecrows

Overall


Scarecrows is a fine sampling of extra-low-budget, late ‘80s genre filmmaking. It doesn’t quite transcend the confines of its limited scope, but blends together a number of prototypical story elements from heist movies, slashers, and EC Comics-inspired pulp horror – all without being a bland imitation. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray looks surprisingly good, considering how dark the movie is, includes two solid, uncompressed audio tracks, and a nice collection of brand new supplemental features.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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