Director(s): James I. Nicholson/David Steensland
Intervision Picture Corp.

After releasing the shot-on-video Artistic License pick-up DEATH BY LOVE on a double bill with DREAM STALKER on DVD last month, Intervision returns with its original tape double feature mate DARK HARVEST double-billed on DVD here with the Vincent Price-hosted anthology ESCAPES.

Rugged Alex (Cooper Anderson) is guiding a ragtag group of city folk – seasoned couple Frank (Dan Weiss) and Melissa (Patti Negri, NINJA ACADEMY), betrothed Tom (David Kramer, CHOPPING BLOCK) and Lori (Debbie O'Der), roommates Mary Anne (Jamee Natella) and Sandy (Tina Moore), and their friends Jude (Tracy Vivat, BAD GIRLS DORMITORY) and Kim (Dawn DeNoon) – on a roughin' it camping trip. Although warned off taking a shortcut by superstitious locals, the group soon ends up stranded in the middle of nowhere when the van breaks down. Deciding to brave the eight hour hike to the camp, the heat drives the group to take shelter in an abandoned farm only to be frightened by a grizzled, shotgun-toting hillbilly who tells them a rambling story about the crops failing and the mysterious deaths of the farm's owners. As tensions rise, the group splints with Jude and Kim deciding to try to make it back to the van in the dark while Alex believes it safer for the rest to camp amongst the scarecrows that now hang in the barren sands.

An impoverished entry in the killer scarecrow subgenre – which includes the THRILLER episode "The Hollow Watcher", 1988's SCARECROWS, an Asylum slasher trilogy, the Japanese ghost story KAKASHI, the well-executed but very derivative (of the aforementioned SCARECROWS) After Dark Films entry HUSK, as well as another 2004 film titled DARK HARVEST – DARK HARVEST is actually at its best during the long stretch before the undead killers make their appearance. Rather than the usual silent killers, we get a ragtag bunch in overalls and sackheads acting like they are in a haunted house attraction (one of them is listed in the end credits as "Gay Scarecrow") while a pair of campers also fall victim to jive-talking, surfer-haired hillbilly twin rapists. Gore is unfortunately spare but the film does give viewers the requisite nudity in a pair of aborted encounters. Acting ranges from engaging to decent to downright embarrassing. Had the director taken a more sober and disciplined approach to the material, the film's ambiguous ending might actually have worked. As far as SOV films go, however, it remains quite entertaining with some good atmosphere (somewhat recalling Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS) early on.

For those of us for whom Vincent Price's post-HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS holds little interest – with the exception of perhaps FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM/THE OFFSPRING – ESCAPES may be the nadir of his work during this period even though he is at his professional best seen dressed as a postman who drops the titular videotape into the mailbox of suburban teen Matt (Todd Fulton) and then appears on tape as himself giving vague introduction and a more lively sendoff for a single day's work and a ten thousand dollar check. Not part of the original tape release but appended to the start here is "Hobgoblin Bridge" an earlier short in which young Matt (Cody Dorkin) is ditched by his older brother and friends and left with the choice of riding back through the cemetery or crossing a covered bridge inhabited by an eye-stealing creature. Slickly shot on film and finished on video, with some fairly accomplished if sparingly-glimpsed special effects, the story vaguely recalls "The Girl Who Stood on a Grave" while looking somewhat like a family-friendly episode of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. A popular gap-filler that played in between programming on early cable television, "A Little Fishy" has a fisherman (Jerry Grisham) learning what it's like to be on the other end of the hook. "Coffee Brake" is a silly vignette in which a rude, noise-polluting delivery driver (Michael Patton-Hall) speeding through the backcountry town of Harmony (pop. 29) pays the price for not heading the advice of banjo strumming bumpkin Mr. Olson (John Mitchum, DIRTY HAIRY) to stop and smell the roses. In "Who's There?", a jogger (Ken Thorley, WHITE SANDS) going off the beaten path to snack on a Twinkie may become the meal of something that has escaped from the nearby experimental wildlife preserve. "Jonah's Dream" finds old Mary Tucker (Shirley O'Key) panning for flakes of gold on her late husband's land just to make ends meet. An alien ship crashing into her barn makes for some brief chills due to the strangely organic nature of its construction (burping slimy fluid and briefly opening up its hatch to reveal veins and a beating heart) but the otherwise schmaltzy story fails to tug the heartstrings. The final story is "Think Twice" in which a mugger (stuntman Rocky Capella) covets a magical crystal belonging to a bum (Gil Reade) but learns that it does not work for everyone and experiences swift retribution for stealing it. Increasingly dull and cheesy at best, the availability of ESCAPES on DVD should satisfy the vague nostalgia some of us have felt for that familiar cover on the video shelves.

Released on tape by Artistic License in shortened form on a double bill with DEATH BY LOVE in 1991 and then on its own in 1992, DARK HARVEST can only look so good given its analogue video format and the tape master utilized for this digitization (the film was cleanly photographed by Stephen Ashley Blake who also shot SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA, DEADLY PREY, and VICE ACADEMY among others in the nineties). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono is clear enough but also thoughtfully accompanied by optional SDH subtitles. ESCAPES is more inconsistent with "Hobgoblin Bridge" looking the best since it was shot on film but transferred from video like the rest of the stories which show their age despite the professional lensing. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is utilized to different effect from story to story but technically fine. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

Extras consist of three video interviews, two for DARK HARVEST and one for ESCAPES. In "Patti Negri Remembers DARK HARVEST" (10:37), the actress-turned-psychic medium recalls Nicholson's spontaneity in the shooting (they stumbled across the farmhouse and the dead dog and decided to use it) and the family atmosphere cultivated by sleeping together in a foreclosed house and doing each other's make-up. She also discusses her subsequent work as a medium, including appearances on shows like GHOST ADVENTURES and her encounters with the unknown. In "Dan Weiss Remembers DARK HARVEST via Skype" (8:39), the actor recalls getting involved in the low budget project to get more exposure, not getting the copy he was supposed to receive as payment, and managing to get a copy through a Russian seller years later. The featurette also includes a clip from his appearance in one of the first America Online commercials. In "Tom Naygrow on David Steensland" (4:57), the producer – who also appeared in an interview on the DREAM STALKER/DEATH BY LOVE release – discusses the filmmaker's unlucky Hollywood career and how his religious upbringing caused him to turn down high-paying jobs he found objectionable from producers whose appetites were whetted by his "Hobgoblin Bridge." (Eric Cotenas)