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Dark Harvest/Escapes (DVD)

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Starring Vincent Price, Patti Negri, Cooper Steve Anderson, David Zyler

Directed by James I. Nicholson, David Steensland

Distributed by Severin Films


In today’s film industry, thanks to current technology, making a movie is easier than ever – a blessing and a curse. Audiences have dozens of titles hitting a multitude of platforms each week, making it harder for filmgoers to keep their finger on the pulse of the market. Back in the good ol’ days of video store glory it was much simpler: either a title hit VHS after theatrical release, or it premiered directly to the format. It would be ignorant to say filmmaking was more D.I.Y. back then, but without the benefits (i.e. ease) that come with technology making a movie was no simplistic task. And “fix it in post” wasn’t such a common phrase because digital advancements weren’t there yet. This is why I have a soft spot for DTV horror, especially if it originated during my Wherehouse-roaming heydays. A bad film is a bad film, but a bad film that was clearly made with reverence for the craft is like a warm, tattered blanket – it might not be much to look at, but there is a certain comfort and charm to be appreciated.

Dark Harvest (1992) is a film that debuted to the format on which it was shot: video. Made on a shoestring budget, this is an example of passion being poured into a product because based on the location, acting, set design, and creature FX no one was ever going to be getting rich – or famous – off this thing. It’s the sort of film that would have been easy to dismiss or outright hate when it came out but now, with the rosy tint of nostalgia fully engaged, I found myself appreciating the lo-fi atmosphere more than ever – despite an avalanche of evident shortcomings.

After the standard horror opening, wherein a couple lost in the desert is killed by a strange scarecrow, we’re introduced to a group of twenty-somethings getting ready to head out into the heat for a hiking trek. Their van is unreliable and not long after setting out the fuel pump seizes, leaving the group stranded in the middle of nowhere. Not having the option of calling AAA or texting a friend for help, everyone decides to set out on foot a little earlier than expected, hoping to come across help along the way. Eventually they stop at a seemingly abandoned home and meet a crazy shotgun-wielding dude, who warns them his family is “all dead” and cautions them to be careful. They quickly leave. As they continue to hike under the blazing sun suddenly a scarecrow is spotted, hanging by his lonesome and looking awfully suspect.

The group settles in for the night, building a roaring fire around which Alex (Cooper Steve Anderson) regales them with an epic tale of “bodacious babes”. He’s the “m’lady” type who would’ve made a glorious mod on some white-knight subreddit. The next day the group is splintered as couples and singles begin to wander off on their own. Two of the girls come across a pair of redneck twin brothers, who do the expected and try to rape them. The rest have their own problems, though, as the scarecrows begin to appear and slash their way through our hapless hikers. Unbeknownst to all, they managed to stumble upon an old Indian burial ground… and you know how those things go when it comes to horror.

Writer/Director James I. Nicholson’s story doesn’t exactly make much sense – at all – but that didn’t entirely deter my enjoyment. There is no other way to put it: Dark Harvest is a bad film, filled with amateur-level talent in every department… and yet, for some strange reason I did not hate it with every fiber of my being. Maybe that’s because killer scarecrow movies are far and few between, so you take what you get. This film never reaches the upper echelon of the subgenre, alongside titles like Scarecrows (1988) and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), but it is such a bizarre and atypical entry that a modicum of credit is due. I found it best to ignore whatever attempts were being made at delivering a cohesive plot, content to soak up the camp factor.

The scarecrows, while inherently creepy in their own right, are unintentionally amusing, too. One of them is credited as “Gay Scarecrow”, while a woman plays another – and this is only of note because during a scene when the scarecrows are chasing down a man one seems to be – how to put this delicately in 2017 parlance? – well, running “like a girl” and struggling under the oppressively hot sun. It’s cute.

Paired up with Dark Harvest is a completely unrelated horror anthology called Escapes (1986), featuring the legendary Vincent Price. Although this film preceded a more well known and celebrated horror anthology, Jeff Burr’s From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), fans of that picture should not expect the same level of quality or involvement here. Price likely wrapped up all of his scenes before lunch was called on set, and his participation must have been secured on the strength of the dollar and not the quality of the script. This little-seen oddity was written and directed by David Steensland, who according to his IMDb went on to do nothing else. Ever. Anthology films are ostensibly a showcase for vignettes but there is usually some sense of cohesion throughout, yet Escapes has a particularly cobbled-together feel to it. This is likely because Steensland created his feature using a combination of existing shorts and new chapters. None of the segments work, but a few are commendable in their ability to capture a certain nostalgic feeling.

“Hobgoblin Bridge” shows the most promise, as a young boy is goaded into riding his BMX bike over a decrepit old bridge, having been told a hobgoblin lurks beneath. The boy hesitates to make the short trek, but the fear of being seen as weak and afraid is a powerful lure so with great trepidation he starts the short jaunt. His concerns materialize in the form of a tiny stop-motion hobgoblin, and a race to the “finish line” is underway. “A Little Fishy” is about a drunk who goes fishing in a lake and soon finds himself on the other end of a hook. “Coffee Break” is a weird one; with a strange old man insisting a tired truck driver stop off at a specific diner to try their coffee. It’s the kind of fever dream Dale Cooper might’ve had. “Who’s There?” concerns a few escaped lab experiments that play a seemingly deadly game with a man in the forest. “Jonah’s Dream” is the longest story – and you feel it – as an old prospector lady pans for gold and eventually makes the find of a lifetime thanks to her departed husband. “Think Twice” has a ruthless thief stealing an arcane magic crystal from a homeless man, intending to use it’s powers for evil, but as expected he gets his comeuppance in due time.

Price appears in the wraparound as a mailman who delivers a tape to a teen, who has no recollection of ordering it. In a meta move, the tape is called Escapes, starring Vincent Price, and after Price delivers an opening and closing monologue on the stories about to be seen our unwitting teen finds he may be an unexpected participant in the film he’s watching. Whoa.

While neither of these forgotten films is likely to attract even a minor cult following, there is plenty of charm to be found for old-school horror fans who appreciate the subject matter – scarecrows and anthologies – and are forgiving of glaringly clear shortcomings. I would much rather watch “crap” from the ‘80s and ‘90s than nearly any of the horrid DTV horror offerings hitting every streaming service today. Kudos to Severin Films for giving these relics their due even if they aren’t due very much.

Dark Harvest was shot on video, while Escapes is listed as being lensed with 35mm; regardless, both pictures look like VHS tapes transferred to DVD. And I was completely fine with that. Neither of these films should look any better than they do, and honestly if they did a massive part of that archaic charm would be lost. Each film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, perfectly replicating the VHS experience. The image on both looks like a clean – i.e. hasn’t been watched a thousand times – tape with the expected lack of fine detail, minimized grain, bold colors, etc. We all know how a VHS looks, right?

In terms of audio, both have an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Dark Harvest sounds compressed, with very little wiggle room for the soundfield. Dialogue is often marred by high desert winds, and the bugs at night are loud. But Rob Hopping’s score has a slight Pumpkinhead-style twang to it, which is nice. Escapes is equally poor, with Price’s opening bits sounding like they were recorded in an echo chamber. Once the film itself gets going things tighten up a bit, but expect results similar to Dark Harvest in that deficiencies often appear and you just have to accept them as part and parcel of making a no-budget feature.

Dark Harvest Bonus Features:

“Remembering Dark Harvest with Patti Negri” is a straightforward chat with one of the film’s actresses, who discusses a bit about her career before turning the chat to shooting the picture.

“Dan Weiss Remembers Dark Harvest via Skype” is another chat, covering the film’s production along with a few fond memories.

Escapes Bonus Features:

“Tom Naygrow on David Steensland” finds the film’s distributor talking about the kind of man Steensland was, with plenty of back patting and praise but not much in terms of meaty information.

Special Features:

  • Remembering Dark Harvest with Patti Negri
  • Dan Weiss Remembers Dark Harvest via Skype
  • Tom Naygrow on David Steensland

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  • Dark Harvest
  • Escapes
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.83 (6 votes)
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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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