Savage Harvest (V)

When a group of post-collegiate friends gather together for a weekend to clean out an old barn at one of the gang’s uncle’s house, they accidentally awaken an ancient Indian demon spirit that, one-by-one, possesses and slaughters the group.

Shot on video in 1993 and originally released in 1995 by first time feature filmmaker Eric Stanze, SAVAGE HARVEST is something of a cult film by today’s standards. It launched the career of Stanze and his Wicked Pixel filmmaking collective—a group of artists that have given the DIY marketplace some notable films (ICE FROM THE SUN and SCRAPBOOK) and some poor excuses for exploitation fare (I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE, I PISS ON YOUR GRAVE). Still, for their inherent unevenness, the gang at Wicked Pixel rarely offers a film that is dull.

SAVAGE HARVEST is essentially the story of Mikki Lomack (Lisa Morrison). The production opens as Mikki is deciding against accepting a high-responsibility job working at a summer camp. Instead of giving a definitive “no” Mikki decides to grant the prospect some additional consideration after a weekend getaway with a few of her friends. Karen’s (Ramona Midgnett) Aunt and Uncle have just inherited a farmhouse in rural Missouri and need some help cleaning out the barn in preparation for sale. As the group arrives the unexpected appearance of Mikki’s estranged boyfriend Jeff (David Berliner) adds some unwanted tension to the proceedings. Later on, as the group sets up to begin their task, Uncle Gary (Rick Fisher) recounts a Native American legend that has ties to the property.

It seems that this land was once inhabited by a small tribe of Cherokee Indians who settled in the area after marching along the tragic Trail of Tears. The Indian Shaman of the tribe soon began communing with a group of demon animal spirits who could possess the living through a set of stones, inlaid with the spirits symbol. It wasn’t long before the evil forces decimated the tribe and all was eventually peaceful once again. However, legend has it that the darkness would rise once more when a descendant of the Shaman stepped back on the cursed land.

What makes SAVAGE HARVEST stand out against the original microbudget filmmakers pack is Director Stanze’s interest in story. Sure the film is essentially just another teens-in-the-woods styled horror flick. But, the attention to detail regarding background, places SAVAGE HARVEST in the same league as Sam Rami’s original EVIL DEAD film—in terms of creating a believable environment for its supernatural situations. Stanze takes time to flesh out most of his main characters motivations. He takes time to address the saga of the Cherokee tribe. He peppers his legend with some mild historical fact, and the telling of the tale fits nicely into the overall plot, thereby avoiding that “tagged-on” feeling of over-exposition (although his mythology is lengthy) that some films fall prey to when they try to explain the source of their terrors.

Once the film kicks into high gear—just past the half-way point—the technical proficiency that Stanze demonstrates is far superior to most of his contemporaries—this is especially true given that the film was shot in 1993 with equipment ill-conceived for the purpose of making a feature length motion picture—let alone one that would seek legitimate marketplace release. Most of the film takes place at night surrounding the farm location. It’s this aspect of the film that is most impressive. Most fledgling no-budget filmmakers avoided night shots like the plague in the early days, as it was difficult if not impossible to shoot under the cover of darkness—assuming of course that you actually wanted to be able to see the end result. That Stanze sets better than half the finished film running around the house, with little more than ambient light sources speaks highly to the quality of the overall production.

All of this ultimately brings us to the bread and butter or rather the guts and the gory of the film—the grue. SAVAGE HARVEST delivers gallons of sanguine glory for the gorehounds to savor—flesh eating galore, chainsaws to the chest, evisceration, and exsanguination sequences that literally see fountains of fluid pouring from victim’s throats. It’s a bloody mess that spares no expense in giving diehards exactly what they’re clambering for.

Like all films shot with friends, by friends, the acting is all over the map—with none of the performers really setting themselves apart from the rest. All of the actors are passable in their parts. Lisa Morrison has the most difficult job in that she is required to carry the story arc of the picture from the first frame to the final revealing twist—a job that Morrison does proficiently if not spectacularly. It occurs to me that Stanze might have shot the film chronologically as Morrison along with a few others, such as Ramona Midgnett seem to play off each other much better as the plot progresses than they do in the opening moments. If not, perhaps their characterizations just start to grow on me after a while.

Atmospheric and creepy, with a heady backstory, solid effects work and a genuine horror fans love for the genre, SAVAGE HARVEST might not be the “be all, end all” of DIY filmmaking, but it has stood the test of time admirably. I’d put it up against a good 90% of the digital video stuff that is being churned out with alarming regularity today and that says something for a film shot-on-video by a few friends over the course of a month 14 years ago!

Official Score