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Director: William Wesley
Writers: William Wesley and Richard Jefferies
Cast: Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan
Length: 83 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: LPCM 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Newly Commissioned Audio Commentary with Co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies, Director Of Photography Peter Deming And Composer Terry Plumeri
- Audio Commentary With Director William Wesley And Producer Cami Winikoff
- The Last Straw: Interview With special make-Up effects creator Norman Cabrera
- Cornfield Commando: Interview With Actor Ted Vernon
- Original Storyboards
- Still Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
Artwork has always been an increasingly important factor for horror cinema, and that will probably not change. It is a way to engage a feeling to audiences, promoting and often exploiting elements of the film in question. For brands like Empire or Cannon, it was even a way to sell a film before it had been made. In the 1980s VHS boom, artwork grew more graphic and detailed. This is where, it could be argued, artwork started to misrepresent films. Sometimes the artwork could even be better or more exciting than the film itself. The artwork for the film in question, here, has always been one that has intrigued this reviewer. It’s bone chilling; the shadows adorning the scarecrow’s face give it a demonic presence. It feels as lifeless as it does animated. This is the feeling that resonates through the majority of William Wesley’s 1988 low-budget film Scarecrows. While it is far from a perfect film, there are many obvious reasons that Wesley’s vision has stuck with audiences and made it a cult hit. Now available for the fist time ever on Blu-Ray via Scream Factory, those reasons have never been more present.
Wesley’s film has an almost disjointed start. The lull that usually accompanies films of this era is not present; rather, the film begins with a bang. Aboard a hijacked plane is a gang of mercenaries who have fleeced their way into a major payoff and have taken the plane’s captain, daughter, and elderly dog (actor Ted Vernon’s dog) hostage in order to escape. Exposition is provided by a 1930s-esque news bulletin that overlays the image, grounding the viewer with the details of the heist. Before the audience is even able to get their footing aboard the plane, however, the next line of action is already being developed. Once safely distanced from the scene of the original crime one of the mercenaries aboard, Bert (B.J. Turner), drops a live grenade and escapes from the plane via parachute. The remaining mercenaries proceed to force a landing in a nearby field and take off on foot after Bert…only they aren’t alone in their pursuit.Admittedly, the plot for Scarecrows is bare bones. It could be summed up to ‘a couple of mercenaries, in search of a rogue member of their clan, are systematically picked off by a gaggle of malevolent, zombie scarecrows.’ Some of the character development is underwhelming and, to be honest, the backstory revolving the origin of the killer scarecrows is nearly incoherent. The plot isn’t really that important and is only in service of the film’s atmosphere. Lucky for Scarecrows, though, the atmosphere is incredible.
Judging back the later output from Wesley, it would seem fair to credit the majority of the film’s successes to cinematographer Peter Deming and special effects artist Norman Cabrera. While Wesley only went on to make one more film (the Lou Diamond Phillips vehicle Route 666), both Deming and Cabrera have, since, had great success in and outside of the genre. It is said that the film was shot with almost no budget but, to the credit of everyone involved, it really doesn’t show up on the screen. Deming gives the film a surprisingly large feel by utilizing the environment and lighting to the full effect. He paints a beautiful palette of shadows and fog. In the same manner, Cabrera’s effects are among some of the better low budget offerings from the 1980s. It should come as a surprise to many that Scarecrows was his first real gig, because of the professional feel of not only the scarecrows but also the gore.
Unfortunately, Wesley really isn’t the craftsman that Cabrera and Deming were. Despite a palpable eerie atmosphere, Wesley’s choice to utilize an excessive amount of slow motion, especially during the attack scenes, undermines the overall feel of the film. As can be imagined, this comes at critical moments in the film and really works against the otherwise effective design. It would seem as if the slow motion choices were all decided upon after the film because, rather than have the smooth look of an overcranked camera, it seems that frames were just duplicated in post that, leading to a choppy aesthetic. In addition to Wesley, the score by Terry Plumeri is a little bit too ‘on the nose.’ There are times when Plumeri relies more on brooding, minimalist undertones, which help the mood of the film, but overall the score is far too generic — and even at times awkward and silly. Another aspect of the film, thankfully abandoned early on in the film, that does not work is excessive voiced-over inner monologue by BJ. Most of it is extraneous, adding little to the overall plot. Perhaps Wesley felt that the audience needed a character to identify with but it ultimately leads to a distancing effect.
Scarecrows has not had the best home video track record. Despite outcries by fans, it took almost twenty years for the film to see a DVD release following its run on VHS, and then almost another decade for it to transition to HD. Now that Scream Factory has given us a fully restored HD version, we are really able to reassess the film on its visual merits. It really is a very stunning film for its budget. The 1080p transfer, licensed from MGM, is quite pleasing. There are, however, some minor scuffles that could be had that are quite common with many of MGM’s genre output — a bit of compression issues, etc — but overall the print holds up rather well. Due to the abundance of low light night shots, there is heavy presence of grain but nothing that wouldn’t be present in the original elements. While it won’t be a transfer that people are talking about for years to come, it certainly does the film justice.
Scream has provided both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes for this new release of Scarecrows. Both mixes offer a fine representation of the original elements, neither of which feature signs of age-related damage.
For this new release, fans will be happy to learn that Scream have provided three new features, previously unavailable. There are two nice interviews — shot and edited by Red Shirt Pictures, who have proven to be a very reliable source for Scream and we hope they keep working with — with Cabrera and actor Ted Vernon. Cabrera’s piece tends to be a bit more informative, but Vernon offers quite a charming bit of dialogue nonetheless. Additionally, there are two commentary tracks. The first is a fine piece ported over from the DVD featuring Wesley and producer Cami Winikoff. In this commentary Wesley and Winikoff spend a great deal of time discussing the filming, highlighting the low budget nature of the shoot. The second commentary, featuring co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies, Director Of Photography Peter Deming And Composer Terry Plumeri, is newly commissioned by Scream and is a brilliant addition to the package. The disc also features an original trailer and a storyboard featurette.
Scarecrows is a bit unbalanced. Wesley’s ineffective direction often works against the otherwise well-crafted film. Overall, however, the film has far more positives than negatives and is a fine representation of 1980s horror. Despite the film’s micro-budget it delivers a beautiful, eerie atmosphere that ranks high among the best in horror. The creature design by Cabrera is outstanding, giving the film a sense of credibility. With only a few blemishes, it is safe to say that Scream’s release of Scarecrows will be a fan favorite of the year.