SCARECROWS (1988) Blu-ray
Director: William Wesley
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

"Trespassers will be violated" in Scream Factory's brand new Blu-ray special edition of the 1980s horror sleeper SCARECROWS.

A paramilitary band of criminals – ruthless Roxanne (Kristina Sanborn), steely Corbin (Ted Vernon, HAMMERHEAD JONES), tense Curry (Michael Simms, HARD ROCK ZOMBIES), slow-witted Jack (Richard Vidan, PAYDIRT), and calculating Bert (B.J. Turner, JACK'S BACK) – mount a daring heist of $3.5 million in payroll from Camp Pendleton, hijacking a cargo plane and taking the pilot Al (David Campbell, KILLER WORKOUT) and his daughter Kellie (Victoria Christian) hostage as they make for the border. When Bert parachutes with the loot and sets off a grenade in the cargo hold, his four partners in crime are out for blood. Bert lands in the middle of a graveyard of ominous-looking scarecrows and seeks getaway transportation at a nearby farmhouse that turns out to be abandoned. With the persecuting voices of his buddies literally buzzing in his head by way of his radio headset, Bert's attempt to recover the cash and get away from the farm turns increasingly nightmarish. Meanwhile, Curry, Jack, and Corbin have parachuted down onto the condemned farm in search of him while Roxanne forces Al to land and takes Kellie along to the farm as insurance that he will not take off without them. Even the tough as nails ex-soldiers are creeped out by the abandoned farmhouse, the contents of which suggest that the previous owners practiced some sort of black magic. When Bert turns up gutted and stuffed with hay and the absconded cash but very much walking around and no less deadly, the other soldiers and their captives realize that the scarecrows in the fields do more than just ward off feathered intruders.

An imperfect but wonderfully creepy 1980s horror film that went under-the-radar, SCARECROWS was the first and best of the scarecrow horror films (the seventies TV movie DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW excepted, of course). The scarecrow creations of then eighteen-year-old Norm Cabrera (KILL BILL) are chilling with their burlap sack heads and skeletal features and the fates of their victims are suitably grisly (although we can be thankful that the film shies away from the most explicit details even if only because the five thousand dollar effects budget did not allow for it). While "nightmare logic" can explain away a lot of the creepy happenings – one of the characters suggests that they might not have even made it alive out of the robbery and are now in hell – it cannot even remotely forgive Roxanne's surmising after the attack by zombie Bert that someone is just trying to scare them to keep the money for themselves. The film does drag in spots, but it sports an admirable atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Peter Deming (MULHOLLAND DRIVE), composer Terry Plumeri (ONE FALSE MOVE), Cabrera's effects, and the production design of Gary Roberts (SHALLOW GRAVE). Lead performances are fine with the soldier characters having a nice chemistry in shallowly-scripted roles, with only Christian sticking out as particularly bad as the final girl. The end credits list the cast of victims under the heading of "Crows" though only one of the possessed victims actually caws in one creepy bit. An unacknowledged remake popped up as the inferior but reasonably entertaining "After Dark Originals" entry HUSK by Brett Simmons (THE MONKEY'S PAW).

Released direct-to-video in 1988 by Forum Home Video in R-rated and unrated versions (and on laserdisc by Image), SCARECROWS wound up with MGM who released a barebones anamorphic widescreen DVD in 2007 of the unrated version in conjunction with Fox (the same welcome batch of titles that included THE BURNING and WITCHFINDER GENERAL). Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer may indeed be the same HD master. Demings's night photography is not quite as luminous as similar scenes in his later works but that has more to do with the production limitations more so than an older master. Cabrera's make-up effects are still grisly even if the increased resolution does make them look a bit more latex-y. Audio options include the UltraStereo surround track in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and a 5.1 upmix that effectively spreads out the score, the rustling winds, and the beckoning and tormenting headset voices. Optional English subtitles are also included.

Like their recent release of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the Blu-ray does not sport the "Collector's Edition" banner or slipcover with newly-created art; yet, it certainly seems like one with its host of new extras. Director William Wesley (ROUTE 666) and producer Cami Winikoff – who married Wesley and went on to work at Trimark – appear on a brand new commentary track discussing how they came across funding for the film from auto salesman Vernon who was looking for a project he could produce with a role for him and one for his dog Dax as well as the happy accident of learning about young Cabrera – sculpting masks in his bedroom in his mother's house – from the owner of a comic book store. They recall that the working title was OLD McDONALD'S FARM (in Cabrera's interview, he refers to the original title as the punny EVIL STALKS), the Florida swamp shoot (and the accompanying malaria symptoms), adding the voiceovers after the painful rough cut, and regret that distributor Manson International gave it such a small release. They also discuss narrowly escaping death when they got on the wrong plane to Los Angeles to cut the film when the plane they were supposed to be on – Delta Air Lines Flight 191 Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, crashed, killing 136 of the 152 passengers.

A second commentary track is actually three successive audio interviews conducted by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. For the first half-hour, we hear from co-writer Richard Jeffries (COLD CREEK MANOR) recalls how he started out writing concepts for horror films out of film school since they seemed like surefire projects in the early eighties. He got the job to direct BLOOD TIDE through producer Nico Mastorakis (ISLAND OF DEATH) who was trying to salvage a deal with Paramount. The production would test his resolve thanks to animosity between Mastorakis and the other producer (Jeffries refers to his nationality as British, but it may be Australian Brian Trenchard-Smith), inclement weather, actors and crew members striking, and money failing to arrive. His script for THE VAGRANT was a way of exorcising the bile built up from that experience and it would catch the interest of Wesley who was advertising for script submissions in an ad in the Hollywood Reporter. Although Wesley could not raise the money for the film – which would be picked up a few years later by Mel Brooks' Brooksfilm and helmed by Cris Walas – he contacted Jeffries a year later from Florida and proposed SCARECROWS. Jeffries describes their working relationship and how the film changed in production (from logistical deletions to the additions of the headset voiceovers). He is satisfied with the final product and reveals that he and Wesley have indeed discussed a remake/reboot.

Cinematographer Deming speaks for about eighteen minutes about what was technically his first job as a cinematographer (the earlier HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE was shot over a period of four years that overlapped with this one), how the single location allowed him to make the best of the limited lighting package, the intentional combination of handheld and dolly work, lighting the make-up effects, and his subsequent work on EVIL DEAD II and the films of David Lynch. Lastly, composer Plumeri discusses how his earlier work as a musician, conductor, arranger, and ghost writing composer before seeking out a career in film composing himself (which started out with Jean Claude Van Damme's BLACK EAGLE). He recalls the film's TWILIGHT ZONE elements and how both he and Wesley decided to completely eschew electronics in favor of a chamber orchestra. The discussion is a little more technical and may be of less interest to some viewers.

Effects artist Cabrera appears in a video interview (16:35) recalls the grass roots nature of the production and the energy and enthusiasm that drove him to design thirty scarecrows (and half a dozen variations on the Fowlers) and the make-up effects single-handedly (with the exception of a single assistant on the set). As mentioned elsewhere, the film would not be released until three years later, by which time he was working in Hollywood for Rick Baker on higher-profile productions (a fact that the video distributor would exploit on the back cover synopsis). Actor/producer Vernon also appears in a new interview (8:44), remarking on how SCARECROWS lead to more work internationally from filmmakers who still remember the film from their youth. He warmly recalls his co-stars (including Vidan with whom he recently worked with in an American/Russian zombie film), but also notes the tension on the set and the days in which he was close to walking off the set and writing off his investment in the production. Other extras include a short montage of original storyboards – which includes a shot of lightning striking the three crosses just abandoned by the resurrected Fowlers – a photo gallery, and the film's theatrical trailer. (Eric Cotenas)