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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

DARK HARVEST -- DVD Review by Porfle

The tagline reads "Death Reaps What You Sow."  Shouldn't that be "You Reap What Death Sows"?  And while we're at it, why a duck? 

But any way you put it, the result of all this reaping is a DARK HARVEST (1992), and I don't mean corn.  Sure, it's corny, but not that kind of corn. More like "so bad it's good" corn. 

A nifty pre-titles sequence gets things off to a shivery start when a bickering young couple lost in the desert in their car have a gross encounter of the worst kind with what appears to be a horrible walking scarecrow in a Don Post shock mask.

Then we join a group of young people in a big white van who, like the unfortunate group of young people in a big white van in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, are on their way to some fun thing that we're pretty sure they're never going to get to.  As Chuck Heston tells us in ARMAGEDDON: "It happened before.  It WILL happen again."

There's an oversexed couple, a bickering couple, some devoted roommates, and the usual loner or two. Some are upbeat and looking forward to their upcoming horseback and hiking vacation, some are spoiled city brats who want to go back home, some are bright, some are dumb, and at least one will turn out to be the most craven sort of coward, giving me at least one character to identify with.

Alex (Cooper Anderson) is the horny lothario who's supposed to be their guide but got them all stranded in the desert when his stupid van broke down (and this was AFTER the hick back at the last-chance gas station warned them NOT to go that way) so he deserves to die right there at the start.

With everyone hiking through the desert on their way to some hypothetical horse ranch in the middle of nowhere, interpersonal relationships start to erode and the chances of them actually making it to where they're going get slimmer by the minute.

 Especially after they split up--never a good thing to do--and start encountering hostile local hicks with guns who seem to have an aversion to city folk.

But even these inbred goons are preferable to the scarecrows.  In this cursed neck of the desert, it seems, the scarecrows are alive, and they aren't just content with actually scaring crows.  The film's title, in fact, could easily have been THE HILLS HAVE SCARECROWS.

There are scarecrows with pitchforks, scarecrows that fling acid, scarecrows in cars ("Going my way?"), gay scarecrows, wisecracking scarecrows, and even a scarecrow who--don't ask me how or why--sits around in his own military helicopter waiting to punk lost travelers looking for help. (Director James I. Nicholson, we learn from one of the bonus interviews, worked anything they happened to encounter into the story.)

Before everyone starts getting killed, Alex tells a spooky campfire story that turns out to be the most entertaining thing in the whole movie.  After that, it loses what tenuous grasp on logic it may have had with these doofuses running around the desert like chickens with their heads cut off until the story finally runs out of gas and pulls over to the side of the road. 

While DARK HARVEST starts out okay for a no-budget shot-on-video feature, by the final scenes it looks as though the whole project has been passed off to someone's kid brother to finish.  Which is great if you're into bad movies, as I am, but others may find it about as exciting as watching a real scarecrow scare crows.  

The second, bonus movie on this disc is the 1986 made-for-TV anthology film ESCAPES, which benefits from the presence of venerable horror superstar Vincent Price as its host.

Price also cameos as a mailman who delivers a mysterious package to young Matt (Todd Fulton) containing a VHS tape of a movie called "Escapes", hosted by Price, which Matt didn't order but seems to be in since we're watching him.  (His unwilling participation will become even more uncomfortably first-hand later on.)

There's a nice nostalgic aspect to this segment since getting a new videotape in the mail is still sufficient cause for Matt to call a friend and invite him over to watch it.  Matt also has a vintage toploader VCR like the one I bought in '81, the kind that you couldn't wreck with a hammer and never had tracking problems.

The rest of ESCAPE is basically the usual grab-bag anthology with some longer and more involved stories mixed with a couple of shorter blackout vignettes with a punchline like "Night Gallery" used to do sometimes ("A Little Fishy", "Who's There?").

"Coffee Break" is a rural tale in which an old codger (Robert Mitchum's brother John) teaches a young upstart from the city not to be in such an all-fired hurry all the time.  In "Jonah's Dream" an old woman carries on her late husband's dream of striking gold on their mountain. 

"Think Twice" cautions us not to use a benevolent gift from the beyond for evil, selfish purposes. And finally, "Hall of Faces" brings back Vincent Price to wrap up Matthew's story.

An added tale not in the original version, "Hobgoblin Bridge", is the highlight of the collection and showcases just what a talented director David Steensland was despite ESCAPES being his one and only IMDb credit. 

This story of a little boy who must cross a covered bridge on his bicycle despite the local legend of its being inhabited by a malevolent hobgoblin is a real virtuoso piece of direction and editing that depends almost entirely on visuals for its impact.  

These short tales were often used as filler on The Sci-Fi Channel and others during the 80s and, while not especially remarkable, are well-made and fairly absorbing. The bookend segments with Vincent Price wrap things up nicely and, overall, ESCAPES is a modest but satisfying effort.


The double-feature DVD from Intervision offers these nice bonuses: some goodnatured recent interviews with Patti Negri and Dan Weiss of DARK HARVEST, and distributor Tom Naygrow's recollections of ESCAPES writer/director David Steensland.

Runtime     1 hr 29 min (89 min) (USA)
Sound           Dolby Digital Mono
Aspect Ratio     1.33 : 1
English subtitles

Tech Specs: ESCAPES
Runtime     1 hr 12 min (72 min)
Sound         Dolby Digital Mono
Aspect Ratio     1.33 : 1
35 mm
English subtitles

Street date: May 30, 2017

Buy it from Severin Films


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