Coincidentially, Judge Brett Cullum's crop of savages just ripened up last week.
Native American demons attack campers! Take that Trail of Tears!
In a world where terror is most profitable when it is rated PG-13 by Hollywood studios, gore hounds and slasher fans have to seek out the independents. The big studios aren't going to fulfill your more base cravings for carnage with their latest teen-friendly, mall-ready horror story. Thankfully, we have film makers willing to spend their own hard earned coin to create something unique and downright bloody. Savage Harvest is an independently produced frightfest made on a modest budget with an unknown cast that found its way to video in 1994. What it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in buckets of blood and ingenious effects. If you can get around the homemade feel and the video cinematography, you might find something to quench your thirst for grizzly ghastly deaths and malicious mayhem.
The plot is perfunctory and worn, but well fleshed out. A group of teens head to a camp site for a weekend of fun and doing what adolescents do best—creating drama for each other. Yet all too soon, who's dating who takes a back seat to fighting off Indian demons—who emerge from cursed Cherokee rocks—that turn people in to flesh hungry beasts. A psychic barrier prevents the normal kids fleeing from their infected attackers, and the race is on to solve the puzzle of how to put the Native American demons back down.
Director/ producer/ writer Eric Stanze was only twenty-one when he helmed this, his first production. The result is a mixed bag that feels more primitive than it should, but Savage Harvest is a hell of a lot of fun in many ways. There's a "Gee whiz! We're making a movie!" infectious glee that overcomes a lot of the flaws (such as an amateur cast and crew making their first horror flick). Mistakes abound; oddly enough, in the commentary Stanze admits this is not a movie he would make now. He's grown past this learning curve, yet it all remains preserved on DVD. Still, horror fans have rallied around the film, much to the surprise of the filmmakers.
Image DVD has released Savage Harvest in its original crude state. The film was shot on video, presented fullscreen, and has troubling black levels and color problems. The sound is often muted, and at times downright distorted. This is all technically correct for the source material, and it is the only way the movie could be unleashed on the format. This film was a direct to video affair, so you can't expect DVD to correct something that has origins in an inferior format.
The extras are amazingly robust; this is a true collector's edition of Savage Harvest. There are three commentaries: a 2005 track with director Eric Stanze, actor William Clifton, and director of Savage Harvest 2: October Blood Jason Christ; a 2005 recording with actresses Ramona Midget, Rebecca Kennebeck, and associate producer Jessica Wyman; and finally, a track from 2002 with Stanze and actor DJ Vivona. All three are chatty and provide you with a lot of information about the movie. Stanze is refreshingly humble and even self-deprecating about his work at such a young age. The vintage, behind-the-scenes footage is a real hoot, taking us back to the early '90s with the cast working under the primitive conditions. There's a photo show set to music, as well as an Eric Stanze-directed music video for the theme song. Also included are a collection of trailers all from Eric Stanze's work after this project.
Enjoying Savage Harvest is easy since it is such good natured gory fun. The first half of the film moves slowly, but the pay offs are nice once the sun sets and the demons start doing their thing. This is the kind of flick a group of horror fans would produce, and they show their smarts with making things true to the genre with some twists along the way. It is a heavy homage to Evil Dead and the original Romero zombie trio, but offers its own spin in several cases. The acting is a little off at times, sometimes the composition of shots gets wonky, but they have the effects down. This is a great film to pop in when you want a good way to waste some popcorn and beer while having a fun time. Even with the limitations of a twenty-one year old director, the film is still more accomplished than most studio produced horror movies these days. It certainly wouldn't get a PG-13, and it has a brain. Low tech? Yes. Low IQ? Not on your life. It's definitely worth a trip in to the woods to find. Just don't pick up any rocks along the way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wicked Pixel Cinema
• 3 Commentaries by Cast and Crew
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