Color, 1992, 88 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by James I. Nicholson
Starring David Kramer, Jamee Natella, Debbie O’Der, Cooper Anderson, Patti Negri, Dan Weiss

Color, 1986, 86m 26 secs.
Directed by David Steensland
Starring Vincent Price, Todd Fulton, Jerry Grisham, Michael Patton-Hall, John Mitchum, Shirley O'Key, Gil Reade, Rocky Capella
Intervision (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Dark HarvestDark HarvestIt was inevitable that someone would try to do a shot-on-video killer scarecrow movie after films like Scarecrows and Dark Night of the Scarecrow, and that’s just what the world (barely) got in 1992 with Dark Harvest, which beat Jeff Burr’s Night of the Scarecrow to viewers by a couple of years. Very cheap and as formulaic as you can get, it’s very loosely structured but really packs in some fun in its closing act with enough bloody scarecrow mayhem to make it worth a peek.

A bickering couple in the middle of nowhere gets a nasty shock when they stumble into a deteriorated structure only to find a rotting corpse and a ticked-off scarecrow wielding a sharp stick. Then the story proper kicks in with a van full of bland college kids out in the desert heading out for a road trip to go hiking. Ignoring the advice of a gas station attendant, they take a short cut through no man's land only for their van to promptly break down. Along with a passing married couple heading the same direction, they decide to undergo an eight-hour trek to their destination. While stopping off at an abandoned house, they incur the wrath of the local homicidal scarecrow population and realize they may not make it till morning.

Shot on what appears to be a camcorder with no windscreen on the microphone, this one has a few cheap thrills in addition to the occasional splash of gore like a sex scene in a chicken coop, stilted acting class performances galore, a greasy gun-toting hillbilly, and lines like "You're supposed to be our damn guide! You can't get lost!" Dark HarvestAnyone expecting a reputable horror film will be left baffled, but if you're familiar with the SOV routine and love that homemade feeling only a pre-2000 film can provide, it's like a warm, cozy, stupid, bloody blanket. Dark Harvest

Sharing space on the double feature DVD from Intervision is Escapes, a horror anthology marketed as more of a sci-fi film back in the days of mom and pop video stores. A mystery begins when Matt Wilson gets a VHS tape in the mail called Escapes with Vincent Price, which he didn't order and doesn't recognize. When he can't find someone to go out and shoot some hoops, he decides to sit down and watch it instead, which segues into a Price intro welcoming the viewer to a world "of fantasy and illusion" where you'll find "no courtroom or judge." That means we get six stories starting off with "Hobgoblin Bridge," in which a little boy living in the desert is ignored over the summer by his classmates. One afternoon a trio of especially nasty kids dare him to go across a rickety wooden bridge supposedly inhabited by a hobgoblin that grabs anyone who crosses after the sun goes down... and of course, he has to test it out, much to his own peril.

"A Little Fishy" features a boozin', smokin', cursin' fisherman gets a big surprise during his alone time, and in "Coffee Break," a little town called Harmony (pop. 29) is frequently the site of lost travelers, with one delivery man who Dark Harvestloves his music really, really loud finding himself a little too cocky to get back on track under cordial terms. In "Who's There," an overweight guy goes Escapesout jogging and, uh, sees something creepy in the woods... with a benign little punchline at the end. "Jonah's Dream" follows the strange (and pokey) story of an elderly country widow and (in flashbacks) her late husband, both haunted by the past and obsessed in different ways with finding gold and realizing their dreams. The older woman hears something strange crash into her barn one night and brings out her shotgun to investigate, only to find an alien craft in the middle of her property... Finally in the dialogue-free "Think Twice," an old bum in a ski hat has a close relationship with a red diamond that glows when a breathes on it. A mugger with a headband and a big mustache decides he wants it all for himself and soon learns he'd be better off keeping his hands to himself. Of course, it all comes full circle with Vincent popping back up to introduce one last story... with a twist.

Aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and other cable channels (sometimes with the stories separated as filler) and released in a drastically edited 72-minute version on VHS by Prism (missing the first story entirely), this one's actually kind of a kick for old school video hounds with its low-grade shot-on-video aesthetic and that fun wraparound with a nifty stinger bound to bring a smile to anyone with a nostalgic feeling every time they hold a videocassette. It's wildly uneven of course (the first story is the best), but the modest Tales from the Darkside vibe and enthusiasm for monster movies keeps it Dark Harvestmoving along with no story really overstaying its welcome.

EscapesBoth films look true to their VHS origins, which is about all you can ask for, and optional English subtitles are provided for both. Extras start off with "Patti Negri Remembers Dark Harvest" (10m37s) with the actress and psychic covering her conflicted feelings about doing a low budget movie "where I have to take my top off" and shot in the middle of nowhere around a foreclosed house (with a real dead dog in it written into the script). She also talks about some of her other side projects including doing ADR on what sounds like Never Too Young to Die. Her stories about her real-life supernatural experiences (including one at Marilyn Manson's house) are pretty wild, too. "Dan Weiss Remembers Dark Harvest via Skype" (8m39s) features a lo-fi interview about how he got the job through an acting class with Negri and got to improvise a lot during the shoot with whatever locations and props happened to turn up. Finally, "Tom Naygrow on David Steensland" (4m57s) features the film's distributor talking about the incredibly "talented and unlucky" director who only helmed this one film and had some truly disastrous pitfalls every time he seemed like he was about to have a big break.

Reviewed on May 24, 2017