After dispatching the town’s sheriff in a barrel-o-death, the kinsfolk of Pleasant Valley travel North in an opening credits montage to continue their bloodlust. Upon stopping in Iowa, they set up camp, and a traveling television show echoing Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s The Simple Life runs across Mayor Buckman’s (Bill Moseley) jamboree. The small production team sees potential ratings in the backwards clan, but little do they realize the cavernous, buxom citizenry have already entrapped them.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, you know? After reading director Tim Sullivan’s heartfelt liner notes on the DVD’s inside cover, I felt genuinely jazzed about what I was about to pop in. Of course I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but merely a fun time as I sat on my ass at two in the morning with beers in check. I was also strangely affirmed. In those notes, Sullivan just comes out and states his previous 2001 Maniacs (2005) was a case of too many butchers in the slaughterhouse. Too much input on how far that film should or shouldn’t go in the horror and comedy directions by his “superiors” resulting in something that wasn’t quite his own. After pressing onward come short schedules and nearly no cash, Sullivan hustled to make this sequel, which he assures is his “100% full vision.”
I was affirmed because I never cared for Sullivan’s 2001 Maniacs. So finally discovering that the film wasn’t really what he intended filled me with an assumption Sullivan would get to make the wrongs right. Unfortunately, Field of Screams is more of the same, just much more lazily comedic and juvenile. Now before I get charged with heresy for downing childish chuckles in low-budget horror, please let me explain why after about ten minutes in, I longingly looked over to my immediate “to-watch” pile and contemplated casting off this sequel to the “to-sell” stack.
In the same vein as Uncle Wes’s defense of real exploitation filmmaking (read that article to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song), Field of Screams is so damn much of a pseudo-exploiter that you’ll grate your alcohol soaked teeth while watching. Stuffed with cheapjack laughs, boobs, and bad effects to such a degree that there’s a transcendence into cookie cutter annoyance. Judging by Sullivan’s sentiments on this disc’s extra features, one gets the impression that he really believes throwing these three elements at a wall results in a Top Ramen-style of “cult classic” exploitation. Yet these simple ingredients, along with a ridiculously low budget, do not exploitation make.
I can hear the echoes now. “Fuck you, Jayson, I’ve read enough of your shit to know you love some real stupid trash, what about H.G. Lewis’s original 2001 Maniacs?”
Well, Lewis’s foundational gore series brings up the Jackson Pollock argument in art criticism. Sure, the famed artist threw globs of paint on a large canvas. Big friggin’ whoop, right? The thing is no one had done that before Pollock and for that–the artist remains a major influence today. No matter how many outsiders scoff at his pieces for their supposed simplicity. This same truism applies to the ’70s cycle of exploitation partially founded by Lewis. The films of the era might seem pedestrian and easy to throw together. Sometimes they were, but their groundbreaking, unabashed originality still stands as a lasting testament to their impact. The filmmakers Sullivan was trying to both ape and pay homage to encouraged an expansion of filmic boundaries. Not kitschy carbon copies decades after the fact. These new 2001 Maniacs features and the recent slew like it are as hollow and artistically worthless as the sunglassed polar bears that adorn Coke cans every holiday season.
But then again I might be wrong about all this jaded copycat talk. Perhaps if a budding young horror fan sneaks by the parents with this one now, they’ll look at Field of Screams in the same rose-colored tint in a decade as horror children of the ’80s look back at “their” similar films today. Same deal with all these remakes. Shit, we rapidly aging, seasoned horror fiends might actually be the outsiders scoffing at today’s horrifying norms. Or maybe not. Or we hate Jackson Pollock. Or something…
That’s not to say Field of Screams is totally devoid of some laughs. Bill Moseley seems built for roles like the cantankerous Mayor Buckman and easily surpasses Robert Englund’s turn in the first. Chalk it up to the southern fried Chop Top, Otis, and even Moseley’s Cornbugs collaboration with real guitar hero Buckethead. The prolific Lin Shaye returns and is again wonderfully ribald as Buckman’s longtime squeeze. The scenes involving Moseley and Shayne’s twisted relationship end up being the most effective as the pair have an effortless chemistry. Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy is also pleasingly diabolical and naturally looks the part given his band’s blood soaked stage show. Some of the original supporting cast returns, but none rival Moseley or Shaye. If you can enjoy even the lowest common denominator in goofy blood n’ boobs than have at Field of Screams. All others should be seriously cautioned with a rental; we’ve been here many times before with better accommodations.
First Look’s anamorphic, interlaced (boo!) transfer looks fine, but the real story is the aural mess that is both the Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Assumingly, in an effort to save money, about 96% of Field of Screams‘s dialogue and foley effects were dubbed in post production. The dialogue often has the cadence and tone of sounding recorded in a booth. Many times, the volume level of speech is noticeably higher than the very distant foley sound effects. Even the sound quality wavers to the point I had to turn the volume way down and read the subtitles track. The cumulative effect is very off-putting and distracting. I’m aware many low budget wonders sound like garbage, but this is one of the worst I’ve ever heard on DVD. If this were a major home video release, the studio responsible would have already issued a recall from the deafening criticism of reviewers and pissed buyers. Though this issue appears to be inherent to the bad (or extremely rushed/cheap) mixing of the soundtrack. A shame really, as it makes this experience even more laborious. The extras include a commentary by Sullivan (who seems like an incredibly nice guy) and various cast members, separate Sullivan interview (w/ Moseley snippets), photo slideshow, and the red band trailer. If you’re still interested, be sure to rent/pick up the 86 minute unrated disc instead of the 82 minute R-rated disc.