Color, 1994, 71 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Eric Stanze
Starring Lisa Morrison, Ramona Midgett
Saturn's Core Audio & Video (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Sub Rosa (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Wicked Pixel / Image Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
The first feature-length project for indie director Eric Stanze and his crew, Savage Harvest (not to be confused with the 1982 killer lion movie) offers an intriguing look at a talent who would improve exponentially in just a few years. Strong on atmosphere and gore, the story focuses on fairly traditional monster mayhem with a few interesting wrinkles; though hampered by technical limitations and a handful of uneasy moments, this is definitely not your average first time horror effort.
Basically a Native American riff on '80s gore films (in particular Night of the Demons), our story begins traditionally enough with a gang of out-of-towner teens arriving at a remote cabin in the middle of the woods for some fun and relaxation. They swap stories to pass the time and, thanks to one youth's uncle on hand, learn the saga of a native curse, when one Cherokee centuries ago was killed by his tribe for practicing black magic and converting dark powers into a handful of enchanted stones. Naturally one of those stones is on hand now thanks to a recent flood and, when touched, can trigger a demonic transformation in its victim. Naturally it isn't long before said hellish powers are unleashed full force, leaving the survivors to fend off the fanged, forked-tongue fiends from hell.
Even at the beginning Stanze was efficient at finding good, believable actors who can deliver even the toughest dialogue with a straight face. Since the first half is almost devoid of monster mayhem, it's up to the characters and storytelling to carry the weight of entertaining the audience; fortunately everyone is up to the task and aided by some nice, moody nocturnal photography. Though it doesn't quite outdo Evil Dead on the red stuff scale, the climax is a rousing piece of work and caps off with a nice twist ending to boot. Compared to Stanze's more severe and outlandish subsequent films, this is almost a quaint and commercial project but will certainly satisfy horror fans tired of the bloodless, homogenized junk out at the multiplexes.
Shot for scraps on home video, Savage Harvest is creatively shot and compositionally savvy. However, it's also almost completely devoid of color, giving it a pale and off-kilter look that was presumably intentional. Even the blood looks dark and gray, which may have been an artistic choice but looks disconcerting all the same. Considering the grainy limitations of the source material, Sub Rosa's disc from 2002 looks fine and sports a decent audio track with clear, audible dialogue and some nice sound effects mixing. Stanze pops up twice for commentary time, first with producer D.J. Vivona for a technically oriented history of the film. It's on par with their other appearances and offers some handy advice about the do's and don'ts of filming under the most strenuous limitations. The five young leads take the microphone for the second track and offer a much looser, goofier commentary, more devoted to the rigors of enduring latex make-up and dealing with not always hospitable location shooting. Also included is a
"Hell or High Water"
behind the scenes documentary (50m53s), containing tons of footage from the shoot and interviews with the principals, as well as two Savage Harvest trailers, a still gallery, a Stanze music video, and more Stanze trailers (one each for Scrapbook and Ice from the Sun). The dark animated menu screens are very disorienting at first, so don't be afraid to punch around on your remote's arrow buttons. A 2005 reissue from Wicked Pixel via Image Entertainment ported over the extras except for swapping out the cast commentary with a new one featuring Midgett and Kennebeck with associate producer Jessica Wyman, which stays organized and on track more clearly as they run through the make-up demands, the locations, and lots more.
In 2021, Saturn's Core brought the film back in circulation as a Blu-ray featuring a similar presentation a/v-wise since this was obviously shot on SD video. At least the minor tape noise at the bottom is gone now, and compression-wise it gets the job done given the very modest nature of the original source. New here is "A Quarter Century Since the Harvest" (39m37s), featuring the film's VHS-Fest spotlight at the Mahoning Drive-In in 2021 with Stanze presenting the film in person. Aside from drive-in attendees, you also get new interviews with Stanze and Jason Christ about the making of the film, its impact, their initial disappointment with the result given their inexperience, and the current lens through which it can be enjoyed. (Also, they had to deal with some crazy rain at that fest!) Also new here is a batch of behind-the-scenes stills (5m57s), showing just how insanely young everyone was behind the camera. Ported over from the prior releases are the Stanze/Vivona and Midgett/Kennebeck/Wyman track, the "Hell or High Water" doc, five music videos ("Standing," "I Lost My Innocence to the Industrial Age," "Junior College Philosophy," "Slugs Are In My House," and "Put Your Feet in the Wedding Cake"), two trailers, and bonus ones for Ice from the Sun, Scrapbook, Savage Harvest 2: October Blood, Deadwood Park, Ratline, and In Memory Of.
Saturn's Core (Blu-ray)
Sub Rosa (DVD)
Updated review on December 20, 2021