"Based on true events".

It is October 1973. The arrest of Charles Manson and his Familyís subsequent trials are all over the American news. Itís enough to give a young lad nightmares.

In this instance, the boy in question is curly-haired dinosaur-loving Steven (Joshua Ormond). Heís unsettled by his mother Bonnieís (Tara Reid) abusive marriage to his stepdad Barry (Faust Checho).

Perhaps itís not one of Bonnieís better ideas then when she decides to take off to her friendís house for a couple of weeks in order to find herself, and leaves Steven with his real dadís parents on their remote farmhouse.

The place is a breeding ground for Stevenís furtive, paranoid imagination. His fears are only heightened by grandmother Gladysí (Cloris Leachman) constant talk of violent death, and her warnings that he should never stray into the surrounding cornfields.

On his first afternoon at the farm, Steven does just that, following a crow into the corn and eventually stumbling across the body of a young woman.

Fleeing back to the farm, he later confesses to granddad Hiney (Bev Appleton) about what he saw. However, his claim is quickly dismissed as a crazy dream brought on by his obsession with the fact that Charles Manson is about to break free from prison and come looking for him. But, as they venture out into the nearest town for supplies, could that be the face of the dead girl adorning a "Missing" poster in the convenience storeís window Ö?

Surrounded by toy clowns and dinosaurs in his bedroom on an evening, missing his mum and having to endure his grandparentsí almost comedic fascination with the prospect of meeting a dark demise, poor Steven is soon convinced that death lurks around the farmhouse. His fears are hardly allayed by a meeting with the strung-out Eugene (Louis Morabito), a greasy hippy working at the nearby milk farm. Even he warns Steven to stay out of those cornfields.

Why? And, who are the hippies lurking not so far away who remind Steven of the Family members heís seen on the TV? Whatís going on in the farmhouse basement? And, when he eventually turns up, will Stevenís dad prove to be of any use whatsoever?

THE FIELDS, from co-directors Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni, along with writer Harrison Smith, takes a gander at a minor incident from the perspective of an outsiderís point of view. And the filmmakers ensure itís as dull as that sounds.

Although polished-looking and with a healthy dose of attention given to atmospheric lighting and camerawork, the film seems to be restraining itself for too much of its running time. Itís as if it wants to creep the viewer out, but not a great deal. Perhaps this is a knock-on effect of casting someone like Reid in your film: the producers maybe felt the need to water the screenplay down to ensure her demographic audience wouldnít turn away.

Truth be told, though, Reid doesnít feature too heavily in the film. Thank God Ė her mumbling was beginning to irritate the life out of me, especially as this disc is not equipped with subtitles.

The rest of the cast are generally good (even the moon-faced Ormond). Appleton takes the honours for most trustworthy performance. Unfortunately theyíre all saddled with an often laughably overwrought script which relies heavily on clichťs, signposts and predictable screenplay advancements. Even the flashback sequences are achieved in a tired, derivative fashion.

The period detail is good if obvious, focusing on Stevenís T-shirts and toys, old analogue TV sets and some lovely of-their-time cars. Allusions to Americaís disillusionment with its role in the Vietnam war and the air of general uncertainty that greeted the nation at the end of the peace generation are interesting but never explored to a satisfying degree. At least the concept of a little boy who believes scary people are going to get to him, is one that most of us can probably somehow identify with.

Whatís left then is a rather lacklustre, familiar set-up that fits best as a drama (packaging it as a horror film doesnít do anyone favours) and that isnít likely to hold the interest of seasoned genre audiences.

THE FIELDS comes to UK DVD uncut courtesy of Arrow Films. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced for the benefit of 16x9 television sets, and looks pretty good. Relatively sharp and boasting nice vivid colour schemes during exterior shots, itís a fair if not great presentation.

English audio comes in options of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are good, although the latter only really excels when the over-the-top score occasionally kicks in.

The disc is defaulted to open with a trailer for THE SHRINE. From there, an animated main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to THE FIELDS via 12 chapters.

There are no extra features Ö unless you count a limited edition release boasting a lenticular cover.

THE FIELDS is a below par thriller about nothing much, where nothing much happens. Itís served here on a basic disc from Arrow Films.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Films
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review