Review of "Dark Harvest" (2004) DVD

Review of "Dark Harvest" (2004) DVD
"Dark Harvest" (2004) - Director: Paul Moore - Starring Jeanie Cheek, B.W. York, Aimee Cox.
Updated: 07-15-2004

Not to be confused with Silent Warnings (aka, Dark Harvest), a Signs rip-off about aliens in the cornfield, this Dark Harvest is about Sean Connell, a young man who inherits an old family home deep in the mountains of West Virginia. Gathering a group of friends to make the trip with him to collect his inheritance, Connell is soon made to reap what his family has sown… an unspeakable evil that has endured generations of the Connell family and now wants to get its hooks into him.

After you've seen this Dark Harvest, you'll wish it had been the other one. Bad as the alien dreck was, it wasn't physically painful to watch.

Dark Harvest, written and directed by Paul Moore, is obviously a very low budget foray into filmmaking. But just because it's low in budget doesn't mean it has to be so high in incompetence. Sam Raimi, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Don Coscarelli, et al, all made no-budget horror flicks on the weekends that are now revered as classics. The only thing Dark Harvest will ever be revered for is the fact that it hoodwinked somebody and was actually released in the public marketplace.

As an artist myself, I am sometimes at odds when I have to give a bad review. I can't help but feel badly for people who've followed their dream and then made it happen - just going to bat is an achievement in and of itself - and it falls flat. But on the other hand, my job as a critic is to warn the public about really, really bad movies. Just because some guy suffered for his art doesn't mean you should have to suffer for his art, too. If I can save one horror fan his $3.00 rental fee and an hour and a half off his life, then I consider my job is well done.

Dark Harvest starts off promisingly enough: As the credits roll, we learn the back story of the original Connell ancestor who started the curse. Using 1930s newsreels and a decent murder scene set in the old farmhouse, it's easy to see (later) that this must be the trailer that was shopped around to potential investors. This part of the movie - all three minutes of it - isn't half bad. Then it switches gears to modern times and you get your first whiff of the incompetence to come when the screen text reads, "West Virgina."

We meet our hero, Sean Connell (Don Digiulio), in his attorney's office learning of his inheritance. This scene looks and feels for all the world like one of those office training videos from the 80s - only worse. Cut to an exterior shot, where the cinematographer (Ryan Gill) finds himself in deep trouble. As the actors continually block each other's key lights and can't keep their eye-leads straight, extras walk by, each casting approximately five shadows (note to DP: there is only one sun, dude!). Anyway, it's in this disastrous outdoor scene that the plot advances to get "the kids" out of the city and into the country. We have a lesbian couple (one of whom has the worst fake English accent, used for no apparent reason), a token black and white hetero couple, plus our hero Sean and his whiny gal-pal, Jessica.

When they arrive in the small, isolated town, it seems that no one knows or remembers what happened there in the 1930s. Seems odd that a tale of blood sacrifices, the murder of the sheriff, and the death of the murderer himself at the hands of his deputy, would not be some kind of a legend in that dry old settlement (or at least still in the memories of the oldsters who've been there all their lives). They find the farmhouse, and get to work on cleaning it up (while taking a break to get naked and jump in the local swimming hole… here you have confirmation that these are not Hollywood actresses: they are weight-appropriate and have natural breasts). This is about 45 minutes into the movie, but feels more like 45 hours. It's right about here, with the sun shining brightly, when one of the swimmers says, "It's getting dark, we'd better go back to the house." Cue the moon and the howling of wolves (note to screenwriter: Bounties were paid in West Virginia through the late 1800s with the last recorded wolf killed in 1900; there are no wild wolves left in West Virginia).

So they go back to the farmhouse, and we know it's nighttime now because all of the windows have been plainly covered with Dubatine (a type of black cloth). Somehow, despite the presence of only a single light bulb, the entire inside of the farmhouse from ceiling to floor and from corner to corner is as bright as a nuclear explosion (and each actor is casting the customary five shadows).

Right around here, "the kids" find Old Mr. Connell's hayloft from hell: this is where he committed murder, dressed the victims up as scarecrows, then hauled them down to nourish his corn crops with their  blood. Gory hooks, scythes and knives provide the evidence - sharp, dangerous evidence the police from the 30s apparently "forgot" and left behind after cleaning up the grisly murder scenes.

Finally, an agonizing hour into this embarrassing escapade, somebody dies. Unfortunately he doesn't die with dignity - he's dispatched by a scarecrow in a very cheap ready-to-wear Halloween mask who's about as scary as my cat taking a nap. Worst of all, the death is no surprise because you can see the pre-cut hole in the door and when the victim falls against it, you just know some sharp implement is soon to follow.

It seems the scarecrows are on a mission to rid the world of bad actors, because from here on out it's a bloodbath. The girl whose bra straps change from scene to scene (now you see them - now you don't!) is probably killed for the pitiful dialogue she so awkwardly spews. As one of the interchangeable girls stands before a murderous, menacing scarecrow, she yells: "Who are you kidding? You don't even have a nose!" Interesting; I wasn't aware that a proboscis was a necessary component to killing.

During the end credits, the so-called "outtakes" are shown (I submit that the entire movie is an outtake), even further illustrating the incompetence of the crew. My favorite example? The so-called pyrotechnician holding a bottle of charcoal starter fluid and squirting it onto a ground fire (note to fire-guy: flames can travel up that stream and set you ablaze). Fire Marshall Bill (Jim Carrey's 'In Living Color' character) would have been a step up.

When you pick up this seemingly innocuous DVD, please don't be fooled by the slick cover art. Rest assured, 90% of the film's budget went into the packaging. I wish I could say that Dark Harvest is so bad it's good, but sadly, it's just so bad it's bad. Take my advice: stay away in droves.

Review by Staci Layne Wilson for

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