Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1995)


NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1995)  

Label: Olive Films

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 85 Minutes 
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 
Video: HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Jeff Burr
Cast: 
Stephen RootBruce GloverGary Lockwood,John HawkesDirk BlockerMartine Beswick, 
Dirk Blocker, Elizabeth Barondes


When the local troublemaker of a small agricultural community accidentally disturbs the crypt of a long buried warlock the spirit magic man is released. Taking the corporeal form of a scarecrow who immediately sets about wreaking his vengeance on the village whose forefathers betrayed him decades earlier. 


At the top of the film Claire Goodman (Elizabeth Barondes, Not of this Earth), the estranged daughter of the Mayor (Gary Lockwood, 2001: A Space Odyssey), one of four brothers who seem to own the town, we have the priest Uncle Thaddeus (Bruce Glover, Chinatown), the farmer Uncle George (Dirk Blocker, Poltergeist) and the sheriff Uncle Frank (Stephen Root, Office Space). Of course we have to have a love interest for the Mayor's daughter, enter Dillon (prolific TV actor John Mese) as the construction foreman for the Mayor who winds up in her bed pretty damn fast, all you had to do was talk some trash about her blowhard father, because it's just that easy gentlemen. 

A killer scarecrow movie is still pretty fertile ground to mine these days, there are not too awful many but here were definitely a few prior to this one, including the seminal TV terror Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) and the thriller (1988), so even at the time it was not an original idea but it is quite a bit of fun. Shot in the mid '90s the film feels very '90s with director Jeff Burr at the helm, one dimensional characters played by a cast of somewhat limited ability, s a cool scarecrow design for our iller and a bunch of fantastic practical in-camera special effects that should please the gore fans, there are a few pretty awful CGI morphing shots but for the most part they keep it old school cheap thrills, some of which are executed quite nicely.

One of the first kills is a character being thrashed to death by a threshing machine in a barn, which brought to mind Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing (1981), a few others cannot help but conjure the TV terror Dark Night of the Scarecrow, most of these scarecrow films owe that one quite a debt. A lot of the effects have to do with something getting under the skin of the victims, usually straw, sometime tendril type roots the burst out and drag the victim screaming beneath the ground, just on a fun effects driven level this one is a lot of fun. 

The scarecrow does bust out a few groan inducing one-liners in the vein of later era Freddy Krueger but it's kept to a minimum, aside from some wooden performances from a few of the younger cast members this one doesn't stray too far into the realms of camp, thankfully. I loved the design of the scarecrow, a one-eyed (button) menace wrapped in stitched burlap and tattered clothing, with a slightly too affected vocal effect that makes it hard to decipher just what he says from time to time, but it's a small complaint in an otherwise entertaining b-movie. 

Back to the cast I was surprised to see bona fide Bond Girl Martine Beswick (From Russia with Love) in the role of the preacher's wife, I was less surprised to see that the priest's daughter had been singled out for onscreen nudity, the very cute Cristi Harris (Demons 2) with her perky breasts definitely spices up the screen and her ensuing death is one of the best! Stephen Root is always brings something more to the screen, this is a serious turn as a straight-faced sheriff who wants to put an end to the string of murders plaguing his formerly quiet town, he's not threatening to burn down the office over a stapler but he does the job.. 

The story itself is nothing special, a typical small town setting with some shady business dealing, a weak love story and at the kernel of the film, the story of a vengeful warlock having his vengeance, what saves the film is a brisk pace and some quality deaths. There are a few flashback sequences that tell the back story of the warlock, shot is sepia tone they depict one of the most unattractive orgy scenes ever committed to film, these shots are pretty grainy but not near grainy enough to obscure what's transpiring, you've done something wrong when I d not want to see the orgy!

Audio/Video: Night of the Scarecrow arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films with an AVC encode presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and the source material is in pretty good shape, with some heavy grain in the darker scenes and occasional dirt and debris. Colors are sold and nicely saturated but the image quality varies from scene to scene, which I would attribute to the source material and the low-budget nature of the film, none of which ruined my experience. The DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 does a decent job exporting score and dialogue creating a nicely balanced stereo presentation, the unremarkable synth score adding only a modicum of atmosphere to the proceedings. 

Special Features: Bonus content on the disc begins with a very informative commentary from director Jeff Burr moderated by Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. Burr is loaded with technical and behind-the-scenes commentary and it makes for a fascinating listen as he speaks about producers forcing the awful '90s digital special effects on the film, there's never a lull in the conversation and if you are a Jeff Burr fan there's a lot there to enjoy. 

Additionally there's a vintage featurette with participation from special effects man David Miller, Elizabeth Barondes, John Mese, Gary Lockwood, John Hawkes, Christi Harris plus an 8-minute still gallery with some of Jim Manzie's score and commentary from director Jeff Burr. 

Verdict: Night of the Scarecrow (1995) is a fun bit of murderous scarecrow business with some decent kills and plenty of cheap horror thrills, a b-movie that makes for a decent Friday night viewing with a bowl of buttery popcorn and some tasty brews. 

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