Thursday, June 4, 2015

SCARECROWS (1988) Blu-ray review

Scarecrows (1988) d. William Wesley (USA)

A small group of military mercenaries decide to rip off the government, making off with $3.5 million and hijacking a small aircraft to Mexico. When one of their own, Bert (B.J. Turner), decides to double-cross his partners by parachuting out of the plane with the loot, they pursue him to the ground, following him to an abandoned farmhouse near a field of scarecrows. Unfortunately for the crooks, these straw-filled dummies have the nasty tendency of climbing down off their crosses and picking up sharp implements with which to plunge and dice and slice.

With a solid body count, impressive makeup effects, and a bare-bones plot that still allows for a welcome amount of ambiguity, here is one of those low-budget '80s flicks that continues to surprise viewers upon discovery and rediscovery.

Conceived and directed by Wesley, a former military cameraman, the extended Twilight Zone premise holds up quite well nearly 30 years later, despite the fact that almost all involved were first-timers. That it clocks in at a lean, mean 80 minutes – six of which are dedicated to the closing credits – is just the icing on the beer n’ pretzels cake.

Shot on a shoestring in 1985 in Florida as “Evil Stalks,” Scarecrows ultimately underwent an extended post-production period where tons of additional dialogue, including much of the radio chatter and Tuner’s internal monologue, were (clearly) added in order to liven up “the dead space” as Wesley puts it. (The director credits Richard Jeffries with much of the dialogue; whether that’s a compliment or not is open to personal tastes.)

The frustrations continued when, a few months after completion, the film found itself trapped in limbo when its distribution company, Manson, went bankrupt. Happily, it was finally released to VHS by Virgin and Forum in 1988, where it was quite successful, and then later on DVD by MGM in 2007.

Now, Shout! Factory unearths the ’Crows once again, with a treasure trove of extras to honor the occasion. The first of these being the wonderfully chatty audio commentary with Wesley and producer Cami Winikoff, hosted by esteemed genre journalist Rob Galluzzo, which is filled with tons of hilarious-in-hindsight anecdotes, such as the cast and crew being beleaguered by mosquitoes to the point that many were stricken with malaria, and marveling at how much they were able to accomplish on-set with a tiny budget and practical effects. There is also a separate track comprised of three equally entertaining interviews conducted by Michael Felsher with co-screenwriter Richard Jeffries, DP Peter Deming, and composer Terry Plumeri.

The two featurettes, “The Last Straw” with FX artist Norman Cabrera (16 min) and “Cornfield Commando” (8 min) with actor Ted Vernon, who plays our resident bald bruiser Corbin, are also produced by Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures. Cabrera, who has gone on to carve out quite a reputation working with Rick Baker, KNB, and Spectral Motion, was only 18 years old when he was tapped to create the effects (on a $5000 budget, no less). Still exuding an enormous amount of youthful glee and exuberance, the Hollywood veteran explains how a chance meeting with Wesley through a mutual comic book shop acquaintance in Miami led to his film debut.

For Vernon’s piece, the former wrestler and current reality-TV personality (South Beach Classics) comes off as extremely gregarious and down-to-earth. As Scarecrows’ credited executive producer, his conditions were that he would put up the initial seed money if he – and his dog Dax – were given roles in the film! He reflects good-naturedly about the rigors of working at his car dealership job during the day and shooting all night on the set, while hinting not-so-subtly about on-set tension between himself and Wesley. (“He’s lucky I didn’t wring his frickin’ neck.”)

Original storyboards, still gallery, and “theatrical trailer” (even though it never received a theatrical release) round out the extras.

Scarecrows is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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