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Case Number 12089

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Scarecrows

MGM // 1988 // 83 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // September 21st, 2007

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All Rise...

Thanks to this film, Judge Bryan Pope now has an irrational fear of corn, and Michael Jackson in THE WIZ.

The Charge

They only want a brain…yours.

Opening Statement

This cornfield creepshow was somehow overlooked back in its '80s horror-movie heyday, but now it gets a much-deserved second life on DVD. And just in time for harvest season.

Facts of the Case

En route to Mexico in a hijacked plane after pulling off a multimillion dollar heist, a band of ex-military criminals make an emergency stop in a seemingly deserted cornfield.

The Evidence

With this nasty, lean little thriller, director William Wesley demonstrates two things: scarecrows are freakin' scary, and he's not afraid to exploit it. Watching Scarecrows brought back nightmares that gave me many sleepless nights as a child. They were usually about clowns, but it's six of one really. Still, there is something distinctly sinister in how scarecrows hang there watching you. They're like those paintings found only in museums and Hammer horror films. You know, the portraits of wrinkly old people with the eyes that follow you no matter where you go. That's what scarecrows do, only they're smiling.

They're also usually perched in fields in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but corn, the occasional bird and an abandoned farmhouse in the distance. That's where Wesley takes us, and in a hurry. Purposely slim on story, his Scarecrows is efficiently told and very well paced. It takes him a speedy six or seven minutes to establish the characters and their predicament, just enough time for the opening credits to finish up. After that, he spends the next 75 minutes or so getting down to the business of scaring the pants off of us. He succeeds enough times to make this movie worth recommending.

This is clearly not an expensive movie (my six-year-old could have probably bankrolled it with his weekly allowance), but that doesn't keep Wesley from turning out a film of considerable style. In fact, it looks pretty darn fantastic. For starters, he's picked a corker of a cornfield, one with lots of twists and turns for chasing and being chased, and one with plenty of trees for hiding…well, unpleasant surprises. He has several especially tense sequences involving two-way radios, and he places his camera at interesting angles that heighten the nightmarish quality.

But where Wesley really earns points is in how he rolls out his straw-stuffed baddies. The movie opens with a jolting closeup of one's featureless face, a ghoulish visage that suggests a burlap sack pulled over a leering death mask. The effect is heartstopping. They give you goosebumps even before sprinting after you with a pitchfork. Wesley leaves them on their posts for almost the entire movie. Thankfully, he can't even be bothered to dream up an explanation for their existence. This is horror done right, folks.

One of the film's more subtle achievements is how it avoids the fashion and music pitfalls of the slasher era. Scarecrows was released in 1988, but it neither looks nor sounds dated like, say, George Romero's Day of the Dead.

Scarecrows is sometimes too talky when silence would be golden, and the scarecrows become less menacing in the third act when they begin to roam, but these are small complaints. The rich atmosphere and quality scares (no false alarms, thank you very much) compensate.

One final thought: When old friends believed to be dead are summoned back for one final visit, it's best not to open the door.

MGM gives Scarecrows a fantastic DVD transfer. The movie is presented in its original widescreen format with an anamorphic transfer, and it looks almost as fresh as if it were filmed last year. Not bad for a nearly 20-year-old, low-budget horror flick. The black levels are solid (important, since the story takes place almost entirely at night), and there are few nicks and scratches, not to mention very little grain. The Dolby Surround audio wasn't on par with the video, but it was still fine. It showcases Terry Plumeri's creepy score, and the dialogue is clear enough. If you have trouble hearing, you can turn on the subtitles. As far as extra features go, the package doesn't include so much as a trailer.

Closing Statement

No extras, but who cares? This fun chiller is stuffed with gruesome little tricks that will have looking over your shoulder. Add to that a terrific transfer and you have a near-perfect Halloween movie. Recommended.

The Verdict

This field of screams is worth a visit.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 80
Story: 90
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Genre:
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• None

Accomplices

• IMDb








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