Among the many newly formed independent film companies, entities truly removed from the mainstream workings - and watchful eye - of the industry, Wicked Pixel stands alone. They're dedicated to more than just jerryrigging the old form genre's into occasionally exasperating examples of geek love. They avoid the standard monster movie machinations to explore more ethereal, evocative terrors. And with production chief Eric Stanze in charge, there's an artistic aesthetic that carries across as well. As part of their ongoing exploration of the eerie, the morbid, and the shocking, Elite offers up the company's latest DVD release - in this case, a sequel to a superlative 1997 effort, Savage Harvest. While this revisit may not match the first film's blending of ambiance and arterial spray, it has its own unique charms. Not only that, but it argues for Wicked Pixel's continuing dominance of the outsider auteur domain.
After a fatal on-set accident, director Tyge Murdock decides to return to his hometown, just until things cool down. There, he reconnects with best friend Deke Myrick, and ex-girlfriend Ashley Lomack. Both have issues leading back to an infamous mass murder ten years before. Deke is babysitting alienated loner Zack Ledanakoh, who lost most of his family in the massacre. Desperate to discover the truth, our isolated man is slowly coming undone. Similarly, Ashley's sister Mikki killed herself after what she saw that night, and her grieving sibling seeks equal, if similarly evasive, closure. After retracing the events of that fateful night, and concluding that a return trip to the property is warranted, the foursome finds themselves facing the same Native American demonic forces which caused the chaos before. Even worse, the Kerrigan family is now involved, and with so much potential possession fodder around, it appears the forces of evil will have a field day destroying their human hosts. It will be another Savage Harvest, this time spilling a great deal of October Blood.
Like slamming two separate and somewhat independent ideas together into one two hour test of your terror tendencies, Jason Christ's earnest Savage Harvest sequel feels bifurcated and slightly askew. Leaving the Evil Dead dimension of the excellent original (as created by writer/director Eric Stanze) for a more subtle, eerie J-Horror fear feel, this production protégé wants to make sure his aesthetic is represented on every fascinating, flawed frame. The first hour of the film is an intriguing four character drama, an attempt to use the bedlam of the initial storyline to argue about how death and destruction affects those left behind. In this case, we focus on Ashley and her inner inability to accept the suicide of her sister. Thanks to the excellence offered by casting Stanze regular Emily Haack in the role, we believe the psychological upheaval. Stanze himself is also very good as a messed up radio reporter whose obsession with runes and Native American legend may be responsible for all the dire demonology occurring. His beer guzzling gloominess works well. On the opposite ends of the performance paradigm, Benjamin Gaa is merely adequate as our lumbering leading man. He's supposed to be a director, driven to self-doubt when an actor dies on one of his sets. But instead of actually emoting, he tries to get by with his feathered hair and facial stubble. He's not entirely successful. Neither is David Propst as the constantly complaining Deke. He's like a wet blanket at a beach barbeque.
Still, thanks to Christ's smart writing and his way with atmosphere (there are sunrise/sunset shots here that rival the work of noted visionary auteurs), we manage to muddle through. In fact, when the Kerrigan family shows up at around the 45 minute mark, you wonder why the script is even bothering with new characters. We've grown rather accustomed to the ones already onscreen. Unfortunately, the answer is self-evident - we need more victim fodder. Since there has to be a hero or heroine (or both) to champion throughout the frightmare finale, we can't just have two senseless slayings. No, the second tier substitutes show up, mumble a few lines, and suddenly start going Deadite on everyone. This is where the second film kicks in, and one has to admit that Christ has a way with gratuitous grue. It's not really spoiler to reveal that Ashley ends up with an axe in one hand and a chainsaw in the other. Before we know it, she's slicing and dicing her way through torsos, cleavage, arms, legs, crotches, and heads. Bloody without being overly excessive and brutal without slipping into sadism, Savage Harvest 2 will definitely delight gore fans looking for a little bodily fluid to fulfill their human hack and slash needs. Similar to the set-up, Christ takes his time delivering the kills. He's not about to rush us through the movie macabre routines.
Still, it's hard to say if all of this really works. We care about the characters, but once they're on the deadly defensive, all such consideration evaporates. Similarly, the vivisecting is ghastly and gratifying, but it seems tossed in from another movie completely. Since we're prepared for almost any and all tonal shifts (independent dread seems to specialize in them) we buy the narrative break. But there's also an inconclusiveness to what happens, a feeling like everything we see and hear - the mythology, the in-crisis explanations, the attempted and re-attempted resolutions - is being manufactured at the moment. It's not part of some greater supernatural system or a well planned paranormal anomaly. The original film had its harkening back to Raimi's Book of the Dead dynamic, but most of Savage Harvest 2's horror appears second hand and rather last minute. It's doesn't destroy the movie's menace, nor does it take away from its all around professionalism as a motion picture. But it once again argues for Christ's 'sum equaling the parts' strategy. You will love aspects of this movie. You will sigh over other segments. And then there will be those pieces that just won't fit, no matter how hard you force them. This makes Savage Harvest 2: October Blood good, but definitely not great.
Shot on video and given a fine film patina for DVD release, Elite makes sure we understand that the original aspect ratio of 4x3 - read: 1.33:1 - is being preserved. So those looking for an anamorphic widescreen image are simply out of luck. Still, the full frame presentation offers little grain, lots of depth, some intriguing detail, and a regular rainbow of colors. This is especially true of the many landscapes and vistas Christ uses to set his tone. The transfer is top notch, and really helps sell the passion and professionalism Wicked Pixel wants to be known for.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix is amazingly suggestive, presenting an understated score and subtle acting turns with equal efficiency. The dialogue is easily discernible, and the sporadic use of rock music makes for an intriguing aural combination.
Elite goes all out with this two DVD special edition. It showcases the wealth of talent in Wicked Pixel's available pool, while letting the company clearly and convincingly speak for itself. Disc 1 contains nothing added except three (that's right, THREE) separate commentary tracks. One features director Jason Christ solo, the second has FX artist Patrick Voss, executive producer Eric Stanze joining the filmmaker, and the final one sees actors Emily Haack, Benjamin Gaa, and David Propst joining Stanze. These are well spoken and engaging individuals, and they have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Since these films usually take years to complete, everyone has anecdotes about lifestyle changes and career choices. Equally interesting are the discussions regarding inspiration, horror homages, and personal preferences.
Disc 2 dives in with the rest of the material. There's a very informative behind-the-scenes documentary with lots of production footage. Christ is then on hand to walk us through the deleted scenes. There's the mandatory blooper reel, a still photo montage, and some preview trailers. We also are treated to three intriguing short films. Entitled Vision, Blurred, and The Quite Place, they provide an excellent illustration of the visual aesthetic Wicked Pixel strives for. Christ is even on hand to offer a discussion of Place's cinematic statement. Such contextual concentration really elevates the value of this digital package. It provides the kind of detail and insight we expect from the multifaceted medium.
Though it tends to ramble when it really should rock and roll, and asks us to accept a great deal of subtle set-up before grooving on the gore, Savage Harvest 2: October Blood stands as a significant outsider effort. Few filmmakers in the homemade movie arena would have the huevos to give us so much character development, so many scenes of backstory and individual angst. Even fewer would find a way to add a last act chainsaw maelstrom into the mix and make it all work. But Jason Christ more or less achieves the impossible. He fuses a decent drama with a daring gorefest and comes up mostly aces. Easily Recommended for those looking for a little substance with their sluice, this semi-successful sequel definitely supports the suggestion that Wicked Pixel is one of independent cinema's great gatherings of viability and vision. By consistently offering high profile and production valued efforts like this one, the company secures its place in the medium's rapidly changing future.
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