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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Scarecrows  (1988)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2 Stars
(Release Date: June 2, 2015) – When a group of mercenaries make off with three million dollars from military base Camp Pendleton, they hijack a plane piloted by Al (David Campbell) and teenage daughter Kellie (Victoria Christian) and go on the run. When one of their own, Bert (B.J. Turner), parachutes with the loot in his possession, they land the aircraft near an abandoned farmhouse and cemetery in hopes of tracking him down. As the night wears on and their rank is systematically compromised, they gradually come to realize that the scarecrows hanging out back may not be as harmless as they look.

A supernaturally tinged 1988 action-horror film directed by William Wesley and co-written by Wesley and Richard Jefferies, "Scarecrows" is rough around the edges and sometimes wildly uneven, but the entrenching portent and atmosphere of the piece makes up for some—if far from all—of these misgivings. Shot on an obviously low budget, the picture is like "Predator" but with killers made of straw. The locations are suitably eerie, while a few of the deaths are effectively grisly. Sadly, there is no one to root for; most of the protagonists are criminals who have gotten in way over their heads, while the female lead, Kellie, is confusingly written—devastated one minute when her dad is killed, vain the next as she spends her time in front of a compact mirror, and somehow concerned for her abductors by the end as she pleads for one of them to leave with her and then risks her own life to save another. The use of voiceovers early on to explain certain characters' thoughts is clunky, to say the least, but fortunately lessens as the body count kicks into high gear. Additionally, there are too many recycled shots of the scarecrows as they hauntingly hang in the fields; shooting a wider variety of angles would have instantly solved this.

"Scarecrows" can be picked apart quite easily, but there is also a reason the film has gained a small yet passionate cult following in the decades since its release. The picture is poorly written and performances are merely serviceable. As an exercise in mood and cinematography, however, it is a step above lowest-common-denominator filmmaker, and in this respect has a fair amount to offer genre fans. Just don't expect to be emotionally invested in what is happening on the screen; there is no one in sight worth the audience's worries.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Having seen "Scarecrows" on VHS and later on DVD, I can say with first-hand authority that "Scarecrows" has never looked as good as it does courtesy of Scream Factory's 1080p transfer. What was once overly dark and lacking in pretty much all fine detail has now come to life with a newfound clarity and accurate, nicely resolved colors. The photography is still on the dark side (it takes place entirely at night), but no longer do the characters and action get lost in the muddy grayness of standard definition and videocassette. Black are solid overall, while browns, reds and bursts of greenery give depth to the image. As is typical of a title from this time period, age-related dirt is apparent here and there, and detail is still soft when it comes to facial features and clothing. These are minor observances, though; the film looks great. On the audio side, the disc comes with two options: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a respective 2.0 track. The 2.0 track, predictably, sticks mostly to the front channels and is perhaps more accurate to the way it sounded when it came to limited theaters in 1988. With that said, the 5.1 track is the preferable listening experience, expanding the sound mix across the front and back channels and showcasing composer Terry Plumeri's often chilling musical orchestrations.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director William Wesley and producer Cami Winikoff
  • Audio Commentary with co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies, director of photography Peter Deming and composer Terry Plumeri
  • "The Last Straw" Featurette (16:35, HD) - an interview with make-up effects designer Norman Cabrera
  • "Cornfield Commando" (8:46, HD) - an interview with actor Ted Vernon
  • Original Storyboards (3:48, HD)
  • Still Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:32, HD)
Bottom Line
I have a soft spot for "Scarecrows" due to my history with the title as a kid, but its problems have become much more pronounced the few times I have revisited it as an adult. William Wesley's direction is inspired considering how modest his resources were when pulling it all together, and with more time and a bigger budget he might have had what it takes to go further in his career. Alas, this is the most prominent credit on his filmography. Kudos to Scream Factory for reviving "Scarecrow" on Blu-ray, and for putting out the more graphically violent 83-minute unrated cut. The film may not exactly be what one would consider underrated, but it is worth a look all the same and yet another welcome high-def release from Scream Factory. Recommended.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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