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The Fields is one weird film. I give all credit to writer B Harrison Smith and directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni for putting this together. Everyone gets props for coming up with something as odd as a gothic suspense movie headlining Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid. The former, a name you don't often associate with genre movies, and the latter, a name that doesn't seem to have been involved in movies much at all lately. This movie however, based on actual events, is the place where subtlety and flat-out weirdness meet in a decrepit farmhouse.
When his parents can't stop pointing guns at each other in the summer of 1973, eight-year-old Steven (Joshua Ormond) finds himself living with his wacky parents in the middle of a Pennsylvania cornfield. Steven's obsessive fear of the Manson clan combines with his demented grandmother Leachman's predilection for horror movies, (and a warning not to go into the cornfield) steaming up a heady mixture of rural fear and paranoia. It sure doesn't help when a malicious group of evil hippies begins to harass the family, but it sends the movie hurtling towards a weird, multi-faceted climax that will leave you scratching your head in appreciative bemusement.
A confluence of plots - whether solidly rooted in fact, extrapolated upon, or cut from whole cloth - struggle to gel, making The Fields a fractured experience that borders on the surreal. It's not as if clocks are melting off the walls, but how do you relate a possible supernatural force in between the corn rows, with mom Tara Reid's efforts to forget her husband, and the junior Manson gang, or grandpa (Bev Appleton) and grandma's comedic, profane relationship? What's to keep little Steven from fading into the background, a mere touchstone for all this other weird stuff?
Not too much, actually, mainly due to Ormond's blank performance. He's pretty comfortable and natural, and gets his share of running and screaming time, but at other times he just looks sort of bored. Even with some nice (albeit varied) set pieces; weird assaults on the house in the night, feverish car chases, and evil hippie torment, the movie belongs to Leachman and Appleton (doing his best as the heir apparent to Peter Boyle). Leachman's not afraid to look bad, haggard from a hardscrabble life, and to act foul, coarse and funny. Her harridan has layers of concern beneath the exterior, while Appleton acts the lout, the puckish father figure who gripes about the wife, has a complex relationship with the boy, and lopes around the house in the night with a rifle.
The Fields is in a class by itself, encompassing much of the darker half of genre movies, and coming out weird and disorienting. That doesn't mean it's a great movie. It's tough at times to figure out what it all means, what's happening, and why. Great performances from Cloris Leachman and Bev Appleton hold the thing together, even as it threatens to blow apart. It's unsettling, spooky fun. Schizo-nutso fun, but fun nonetheless.
This 16 X 9 ratio presentation from Breaking Glass Pictures certainly has an evocative appearance. Sepia tones seem to suffuse the air, not so much so this looks like a picture from the 19th century, but almost as if the movie was lived in by a chain smoker for 20 years. There's a bit of grain and softness to the image that feels natural, lending this something of a 16mm look. Once or twice a tiny bit of posterizing and DNR crops up, but the image is mostly free of compression problems, and there is certainly no film damage.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio in English is nicely atmospheric, and highlights a pretty weird musical score. Effects are subtle, but effective in placement and audio range. Dialog is clear, understandable and mixed well with the soundtrack, for a pretty nice listening experience
You get what appears to be a ton of extras on this disc, though in total minutes, it's probably about an hour's worth of stuff. First is Behind The Scenes: The Making Of The Fields, which includes 18 minutes of interviews with the writer and directors, plus lots of on-location footage. No less than 14 mini-featurettes, about two or three minutes each, gathered under the umbrella of Real Stories & Faces Behind The Film. They run the gamut of recollections, interviews, old Super 8 films from the directors, plus other entertaining stuff. Hey, No Funny Stuff delivers a few minutes of on-set goofing. Ladies And Gentlemen, Cloris Leachman! is about three minutes of the delightful actress cutting it up on set, and while trying to record a promo for the premier. A Photo Gallery, the Original Theatrical Trailer and other Breaking Glass Trailers round out your night.
If headliners Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid don't tip you off to the fact that this is no ordinary horror-type movie, watching it will certainly convince and confound you. Part American gothic, part suspense, part horror, part whacked-out character study, The Fields mixes the creepy with the hilarious, as Leachman and Bev Appleton portray a pair of truly weird grandparents. This movie, based on actual events, can't convince you it's a great genre film - it's too all over the place for that - but it's pretty entertaining nonetheless, and worth the price of admission for Leachman and Appleton alone. Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke