September 15, 2007

DVD Review: Scarecrows

Before it arrived on my doorstep Scarecrows was an unknown entity. I have seen movies with scarecrows, most notably the awful double feature Scarecrow/Scarecrow Slayer. Of course there is also Jeepers Creepers, and its sequel, which feature a monster that will occasionally disguise itself as a scarecrow. Though, those could scarcely be called scarecrow movies. The movie at hand is the first DVD release of William Wesley's cult favorite horror film. I saw cult favorite because I doubt that many of you are familiar with it, but if you are you probably like it. At least that is what I surmise from the positive comments at IMDB. All that said, the movie is a rather middling affair that has about as much to like about it as there is not to like it.

If you want a plot, you'd best look elsewhere. Scarecrows has less than nothing when it comes to having any coherent story or plot. What is there is just enough to get us through the 83 minute feature (with 5 minutes of credits on either end). For what it's worth, the story picks up shortly after a group of para-military thieves have just robbed Camp Pendleton. The group has kidnapped a pilot and his daughter (this isn’t apparent until a little later on) forcing them to fly to Mexico so as to escape prosecution with their stolen millions.

En route to their destination one of the group decides he doesn't want to share the booty. A struggle ensues and this backstabber grabs the loot and parachutes out of the plane into a field of, you guessed it, scarecrows! He grabs the cash and starts to make his getaway. Before he can get very far, his former compadres have circled back and are in hot pursuit. While the gaggle of goons try to retrieve the money the field of scarecrows make their move. Whomever they are able to get their hands on will be gutted and stuffed. That brings us to the end of the plot.

Let's start with the bad side of the coin. Something that a movie always needs is a hero or heroine with whom to identify, somebody to root for in the face of evil. None of the characters filled the bill. First off, there are all thieves, why would I care about their survival? To quote a Samuel L. Jackson film: "Yes, they deserve to die. And I hope they burn in hell!" Well, I didn't have enough feeling to really go that far, but you get the idea. Yes, there is the captive pilot and his daughter but it took too long to figure out their place and they had little to do to win me over. Next up is all the radio chatter. Many of the characters are wearing radios, which are used as their primary conversation tool. Often, it was tough to decipher just who was talking. If that isn't enough, the backstabbing thief talks to himself a lot in the early goings.

The characters are dumb, but I am willing to let that go. If you plan to garner any enjoyment from B horror movies there are some things that you will have to accept from the outset. While I can deal with dumb, I do like to have some sort of explanation. I don't need much, but definitely more than I got here. There was an allusion to the former tenants of a central farmhouse being involved with the occult, there is also a mention of them potentially being dead and in some sort of hell. Unfortunately, neither is explored to any extent. As for the scarecrows themselves, they have all sorts of abilities. Among them are the ability to animate the dead and cannot be stopped by bullets to the body, but...... if you get the head just right. These are more like straw filled zombies than scarecrows, but never mind that.

Now for the good, and it is good enough to make this a movie worth seeing. First up is the atmosphere. Scarecrows oozes eerie. Yes, that's right, it oozes. Atmosphere is dripping off of this, and as soon as you accept the bad dialogue and acting the faster you can get involved with that creepy feeling it gives you. The entire movie takes place at night and director William Wesley uses the darkness to his advantage delivering some creepy shadows that play across the frame. Beyond that, the design of the scarecrows is downright fantastic. They are covered in canvas that is a mixture of potato sack and bandage, stitched up faces with creepy grins, tattered clothes covering straw filled bodies, an atmosphere of menace rounds out the cornfield critters. They don't move much, there are many shots of them hanging on their crosses, waiting. That may be more effective than if they were seen running through the cornrows.

The score by Terry Plumeri is also rather effective. I doubt that it would work as a standalone album, as it seems to be more accents than anything else. Still, it is very effective at accenting the mood of the quiet field of night. Finally, the gore effects are decent, though I wish there were more. We get stitched up bodies, severed limbs, and a man tied to a cross with barbwire.

As I mentioned, this DVD runs 83 minutes. The box claims this is the unrated cut, although I have read that the full cut is 88 minutes in length. So, I think there is some debate over whether or not this is complete. Whatever the case may be, what is presented here is definitely effective.

Audio/Video. This has to be the best presentation since it's 1988 theatrical run. Audio is in Dolby Surround, and is pretty effective in delivering the creep. Video is anamorphic widescreen in a ratio of 1.85:1, replacing the full frame transfer of the VHS release. It is dark and a little murky at times, but that probably is more due to low-budget roots than to any transfer issues. Fans should be more than happy with how it looks and sounds.

Extras. None, not even the trailer.

Bottomline. While there is a lot to dislike about Scarecrows, the atmosphere is terribly effective. The creature designs are excellent, which is always a plus. In the end, the characters are pretty forgettable, as is the story. What makes this worthy of a recommendation is said atmosphere. It is one creepy movie even when you are hoping these guys get killed.



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