Thursday, January 24, 2008

Savage Harvest (1994)

Most indie horror aficionados are familiar with filmmaker Eric Stanze, who has brought us such solid indie efforts as the shocking Scapbook and Ice From the Sun, or his production company, Wicked Pixel Films. Yet you may not be familiar with one of his first films, entitled Savage Harvest, though you should be! Savage Harvest is a gruesomely good time, brimming with plenty of blood and guts to make any gorehound drool with pleasure, even though it is a no-budget indie film. Despite its shoestring budget, its impressive gore still holds up today even though the film was made in 1993!!

Six friends head up to an isolated farm in the country to help an uncle clean out a barn filled with his father’s belongings. His father was very interested in Native American mythology and collected many stories and artifacts about the Native Americans who used to call the area their home. The uncle recounts a popular legend concerning the surrounding woods. During the Trail of Tears, many Cherokees managed to escape and settled in these woods. Times were tough and one of the elders attempted to help the tribe by turning to black magic. When he was found conjuring evil spirits, the tribe killed him. Soon after, all of their crops turned to stones, stones that bore strange markings on them that possessed whoever touched them. The Cherokees abandoned the woods, calling them cursed. It is said that if a direct blood descendant of the tribe was to set foot on the cursed land again, he or she would re-awaken the evil spirits.

Well, unbeknownst to the six friends, one of them actually is a blood descendant and the evil spirits are released to posses the friends one by one! Now the friends are trapped on the Cherokee’s cursed land and possessed by the demons that inhabit the stones. Whenever someone touches the cursed stones, they are possessed by the stone’s particular demon…and become hungry for flesh! Can the remaining survivors find a way to stop the demons and reverse the curse?

I figured with a name like “Savage Harvest” this would be another derivative demon-possession-in-the-woods flick, but I was wrong. Savage Harvest really takes the time to build up its story and the Native American folklore behind it. I loved that they used Native American folklore in the film, a rich mythology that is sadly underused in horror films. The story, written by Eric Stanze, is extremely engaging and moves at a fast pace (though it’s little slow at first). The story was interesting and unique enough that the film didn’t feel like the typical, Evil Dead-inspired, kids-stuck-in-the-woods-with-demons horror flick.

The actors all held their own as well, despite the fact that they were amateurs. I really enjoyed the fact that they looked like normal people and didn’t look like they stepped straight out of the latest Teen Vogue or CW show. Their performances were definitely not the best I’ve seen in a horror film or even an indie film (some actors’ performances were downright annoying), but they served the plot well enough. I felt the characters could have used a little more development, but when the film kicks into high gear and the blood starts flying, “character development” didn’t seem too terribly important anymore.

Speaking of blood flying, the gore in this film is amazing! It is even more impressive considering the film was made in 1993 and Savage Harvest was Wicked Pixel’s first feature film. The blood flows freely as people are eaten, decapitated, eviscerated, gouged, electrocuted…and even taken to with a chainsaw! If it’s one area that this film absolutely succeeds in, it’s the gore. The demon special FX aren’t all that bad, either, and are reminiscent of the toothy demons from Demons.

Of course this film isn’t perfect – the picture is often times fuzzy, grainy and distorted (though I don’t think the film was originally made for widescreen LCD’s), some of the acting is a little grating at times and the psychedelic “lost-in-the-woods” scenes were beyond annoying, but these problems seem to go away when you realize that you are actually enjoying the film!

All in all, Savage Harvest is a fun and gore-filled addition to any fan of Eric Stanze or Wicked Pixel Films, or is a proper starting point for people who appreciate no-budget indie films. Either way, you’re sure to appreciate this nicely done demon possession flick!

Available from Amazon!

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