Although movies are made all over the United States, horror movies which are made outside of Hollywood earn the distinction of being called "Regional Horror". These films are typically very low-budget projects which are being helmed by horror film fans. Occasionally, one of these films stands out as a movie which transcends its monetary restraints and emerges as a true find. Unfortunately, Dark Harvest is not one of those films.
In Dark Harvest, Sean (Don Digiulio), who is aware that he was adopted, learns that his biological father has died and that Sean has now inherited his biological family's farm in West Virginia. Along with his fiancée Jess (Jessica Dunphy), and their friends, Darcy (Jeanie Cheek), Angela (Jennifer Leigh), Bryan (B.W. York), and Alex (Amiee Cox -- I think, as Alex isn't listed in the end credits), Sean decides to visit the farm for himself to decide if he wants to sell it. Upon arriving at the property, the group finds that the farm-house is in ill-repair, has no running water, no refrigerator, and gets electricity from a generator...so they decide to stay. While his friends are partying, Sean learns that his biological grandfather had murdered drifters during the Depression and used their blood (through a pact with Satan) to ensure a plentiful harvest. (The film actually shows this part of the story in a pre-credit sequence.) Sean also learns that the Earth will seek vengeance (?) during the Harvest Moon, which is happening that very night. As Sean attempts to warn his friends of this impending doom, the farmhouse is attacked by 2 or 3 scarecrow-zombies, and a night of death ensues.
Dark Harvest is the first project from Stormcatcher Films, a small group out of Richmond, Virginia. And as I always say, God bless 'em for having the guts to make a movie, but Dark Harvest is awful and suffers from every cliché which plagues low-budget filmmaking. Actually, this movie goes above-and-beyond those clichés and appears to be tailor-made for a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style bashing. The movie was shot on 16mm film, so at times, it has a professional look, but those thoughts are quickly banished by the numerous out-of-focus shots, which were so frequent, at one point in the film I began to wonder if I needed an eye exam. This may be one of the first films that I've seen which is shown in widescreen, but still has a pan-and-scan feel as the camera will often violently swing to the left or right to catch an actor who has wandered out of the frame. (There's a moment at the 16:00 mark where Digiuilo looks as if he's trying to flee the film as he walks out of the shot.) The director and/or editor apparently disliked Dunphy as we only see her back during her dialogue scenes. (Actually, I assume that proper coverage wasn't shot.) The film's 76-minute (minus end-credits) running time is often padded by flashbacks to previous scenes, lest we forget the crap that came before. The old-woman who tells Sean about his past is wearing a special-effects make up appliance which clearly ends at her chin, as it's a different color from her skin. The scarecrow masks look as if they were purchased at those "Halloween Super Stores" which pop up in malls in early October. The acting is mediocre at best, and there's a skinny-dipping scene which gives T&A a bad name.
OK, so it's an amateurish, low-budget film, but if the story is good, that could save Dark Harvest, right? Well, what little story there is here is chock full of ideas that we've seen before. When Sean goes into the general store to ask for directions, I began saying, "I wouldn't go up there if I were you...", just as the man behind the counter began to launch into that same, time-worn speech. We never learn anything about any of the characters, and the reasoning behind why the scarecrows attack is razor-thin at best -- and once again, there were only 2 scarecrows at first, and a third just shows up at some point. Maybe he was running late for the vengeance. I must say that one of the deaths was surprising, but by the time that it happened, I was far beyond caring. In a world of bad, cheap horror movies, Dark Harvest is a quintessential stinker, and joins many others on the list of horror movies which screw up the promising notion of a scary scarecrow.
Dark Harvest plows onto DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. (They apparently inherited this baddie from Artisan as a result of the merger.) The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For a movie shot in 16mm film, the transfer on this DVD looks OK, but there are some problems. First of all, defects from the source print are visible throughout the film, and the daytime shots show a fine sheen of grain. In many shots, the artifacting gets way out of hand and any moving object loves behind a trail of streaky images. Video noise abounds in several shots and horizontal lines wreak havoc as well. Having said all of that, the image is clear during the night-time scenes, and the action is always visible.
It's amazing how the audio can be sweetened to surpass the video defects on a DVD. The Dark Harvest carries an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and there is no hissing or distortion. The surround sound and subwoofer effects are quite nice, and certainly enhance the film. The scarecrow sound effects sound as if they were lifted from a dinosaur film, but they zip through the speakers, showing off the fine soundfield on this track. What a waste of good audio.
The only extra on this DVD (aside from bonus trailers) is the trailer for Dark Harvest, which is very brief and still carries the Artisan Entertainment logo.
It's always nice to see people working closely with their relatives and Dark Harvest was presumably a family affair, as it was written and directed by Paul Moore, with costumes by Kelly Moore. (However, composer Caroline Moore isn't part of the clan) But, after suffering through the film, all that I can say, is please, no Moore.