DARK HARVEST/ESCAPES Review (Intervision Picture Corp. DVD)
Neither of the films are very good, too amateurish to really be considered as good representations of SOV horror. However, it's nice to have them on DVD thanks to Intervision, and the company does a good job with the special features here.
Dark Harvest is a 1992 shot-on-video scarecrow slasher from James I. Nicholson, a writer and director who apparently went on to do no other projects besides a writing credit on another obscure SOV film called Prison Planet. Intervision has – kindly, I guess? – seen fit to give Dark Harvest a DVD release, collecting this rare film for other horror connoisseurs to experience. However, there’s definitely a reason why the film hasn’t been reaping the benefits of an age of classic revivalism: it’s a pretty awful experience all around.
The film follows a group of hikers as they begin their lengthy hiking trip through the desert. Their van eventually breaks down on the road, and they’re forced to begin their journey early, staying in a portion of the desert that has apparently been infested with killer scarecrows that like to toy with their victims before killing them. There’s also a family of hillbilly maniacs nearby, so overall it’s just not a good place to be stranded.
There’s truly not much to say about Dark Harvest except that it’s a disappointing slasher film. Nicholson’s script is far too unfocused and much of the film spends an exorbitant amount of time on unmemorable characters. One must certainly admire efforts to make the characters a bit more dynamic than most slasher films attempt: Nicholson explores a couple of relationships including one with a guy (Dan Weiss) and his mistress (Patti Negri) dealing with his wavering about divorcing his wife and another couple struggling to figure out if they want to get married. However, it’s wholly unnecessary considering the haphazard main plot, and none of the actors are truly up to the job of selling a realistic relationship.
Most of the film is quite boring, and even clocking in just under 90 minutes, Dark Harvest feels like it’s overly bloated. The scarecrows themselves have a couple of suspenseful scenes, but for the most part they’re underutilized; their scares are ruined, too, by a couple of hokey lines of dialogue. Nicholson’s main focus is getting as many boobs on-screen as possible, which isn’t an entirely flawed decision; it’s just that Dark Harvest is too stuffed with filler for its own good.
Dark Harvest is about as frail as its scarecrows, and although it’s nice for nostalgic viewers to have the ability to revisit this lost SOV on DVD, it’s a sure bet that most will want to steer clear of this harvest.
Click next for the Escapes review.
Intervision has paired the 1986 TV movie Escapes with Dark Harvest on this DVD, which is an interesting decision considering they have few similarities. The film is probably most notable simply because it does feature Vincent Price in a very small role that was mostly agreed upon due to money; it also contains a couple of shorts that were featured as buffers between TV shows. Escapes, though, is also not a very good film despite featuring six very different Twilight Zone-esque stories.
Perhaps its most interesting offering is a meta-storyline that bookends the film about a man who receives a mysterious Escapes VHS in the mail, delivered by Vincent Price who should basically have appeared with “$$$” stamped on his forehead. At least this wrap-around arc is quite truncated, which is more than can be said for the rest of the shorts in the film.
Director David Steensland has a tendency to draw out these stories to extreme lengths. “Hobgoblin Bridge” is probably the best of the six shorts, about a kid who gets stranded in an area supposedly haunted by hobgoblins. There’s some pretty good effects, but Steensland mistakes tension for characters standing around doing nothing: what ultimately could have been a tense five-minute short becomes nearly fifteen unbearable minutes.
Similarly, “Jonah’s Dream” spends far too long depicting its main character panning for gold in a stream, only to have its spooky twist occur in the last two minutes. This means that the supernatural element occurs literally out of thin air, involving an alien ship crash-landing and revealing the presence of gold all along. Other shorts included, like “Who’s There,” seem to have no point whatsoever – a runner eating Twinkies rather than exercising meets with experimental creatures who just want to play tag.
Escapes is far too long and pointless, and it’s sad that most of its notoriety comes from Vincent Price’s name and picture plastered on the cover. Most viewers will soon figure out they want to escape from this black hole once putting the movie on, though.
Click next for the DVD review.
Kudos to Intervision for bringing both of these SOV films to DVD. whether they truly deserve it or not. It’s important to preserve films like this, and while neither Dark Harvest nor Escapes looks very good, it’s pretty much expected from this films of this quality. Dark Harvest certainly features a rough image, sometimes suffering from tracking lines toward the top of the picture with a blurry, detail-less presentation. Still, there’s little room to complain since finding a copy of Dark Harvest would be nearly impossible otherwise.
Similarly, Escapes boasts a muddy appearance that I think looks slightly better than Dark Harvest. There are some noticeable glitches, though; a couple of scenes look like they pause briefly before the image resumes. I think that this film has had better preservation, but it’s still a blurry watch.
Audio is presented in mono for both films and sounds pretty good, all things considered. Any issues with the tracks are most likely due to the filmmaking itself. There are also English subtitles for both movies.
The special features are surprisingly robust for films of this ilk. Dark Harvest gets two interviews, one with Patti Negri – more well-known as a psychic now than an actress – and one with Dan Weiss over Skype. Escapes distributor Tom Naygrow is interviewed about David Steensland for around five minutes, discussing his work on Escapes and his deeply religious beliefs that prevented him from working on more horror films. All told, about thirty minutes of extras that do add some much-needed context to the films, and it’s a good bonus for viewers.
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