SEPTEMBER 30, 2008
The original Dark Harvest was one of my unofficial trilogy of “Dark” films (Harvest, Fields, Ride) that pretty much epitomize what is wrong with horror movies nowadays. But it’s the only one that has a sequel (though a Dark Ride 2 has been threatened), and I figured it couldn’t possibly be worse. However, Dark Harvest 2: The Maize is not really a sequel, just possibly the most blatant ripoff in Lionsgate history.
It’s actually a movie simply called The Maize: The Movie (LOL), without even the slightest resemblance to Dark Harvest (it’s not even the same subgenre). What happened was, Lionsgate bought the film and renamed it, and even put the scarecrow killer guy from the “first” movie on the cover, which is the icing on the douchecake. Making matters even more confusing (for me anyway), The Maize has its own (legit) sequel, but I can’t find any evidence of it being released on DVD, by Lionsgate or anyone else. I DID discover that Dark Harvest 3 is another unrelated film, so I look forward to watching that one soon. And people bitch about Halloween III not having Michael Myers...
But it’s easy to see how it could be sold as a sequel, as it is also a completely inept and overlong bore, like the original, and it also has a cornfield. But instead of a kid with variant hair seeking retribution against the killer scarecrows who dare to believe he has a different last name, this one’s about a dad who spends the entire movie looking for his daughters inside a corn maze. And he has ESP.
And it’s an hour and forty five minutes long.
Now, it’s a terrible movie, and nothing could save it, but while the length is unforgivable, it also adds to what makes it such a trainwreck delight. I spent more time laughing at this movie than I have at any other film in recent memory, and a lot of it was due to my disbelief at just how long certain scenes go on. For example, there’s a bit where the two girls, who are for some reason filming a movie about them getting lost (using the same camera that I suspect was used to shoot a good chunk of this actual film. It’s meta-low-budget!). One of them tells the other to keep screaming into the camera. We watch this, not exaggerating here, for 3 straight minutes. Director Bill Cowell (who also wrote, produced, and starred) occasionally has editor Robert Imbs cut in some shots of birds flying in a V formation (Gordon Bombay, are you out there?) to break it up a bit, but it doesn’t diffuse the sheer non-energy that this scene delivers. The fact that the little girls (one of whom is Cowell’s daughter) can’t act worth a shit just adds to the greatness.
Random cutaways and inserts actually make up what seems like half (or more) of the movie. Shoes, shovels, clocks, birds, pumpkins, hands... if it’s a noun, chances are at some point it gets a jarring closeup in the film. It’s actually kind of impressive how many cuts there are in this movie. A lot of these no budget indies suffer from “Master Shot-itis”, in which entire scenes are filmed from one stationary angle, but not The Maize! There’s a cut every couple seconds or so, and some of them even match.
Another wonderful element of this film is the fact that Imbs apparently just learned how to use Adobe After Effects, and by golly he wanted to prove it. So whenever the dad (Cowell again) uses his ESP, we get concentric circles emanating from his head, courtesy of AE’s ripple effect, set at about 100 radius, 40 width (for those of you at home who want to make your very own Dark Harvest 2 homage film). Another thing he likes to do is get use out of extra footage by having it float around the screen in little windows:
I am guessing he had a vague memory of the double/triple/quadruple type images you see on 24 and was trying to replicate it. It’s a shame though, I really cannot do the effect justice by describing it. You just have to see it, over and over throughout the film. But hey, anything that breaks up the hour or so of footage in the film that is simply Cowell wandering through rows of corn yelling “Girls!?” over and over is fine by me.
There is also a supernatural element of some sort. The reason the two girls can’t escape the corn maze is because they are being trapped by the ghosts of two OTHER little girls who were killed there a year before. They need to do this so that the dad will come looking for his daughters and help the ghosts solve their murder, or something. I didn’t care much once it became apparent that the only real reason that they were in the movie was to rip off the little girls in The Shining (possibly the reason for the ESP nonsense as well).
Also, the first half of the movie takes place in the daytime, and that’s fine. But when night falls, Cowell apparently didn’t take on a 6th role as “Guy who rents a generator and some lights”, so the scenes are all lit by a light on the camera. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the camera wasn’t constantly moving around, or if they had some sort of narrative reason for a small circular light that shines on our actor’s face and upper torso and nothing else, but nothing is offered in that department. More than once I thought I was watching a “found footage” type film as a result.
So add all that together, and you have a modern Plan 9, a movie so inept and yet made so earnestly (if Cowell was just looking to make a buck, I’m sure he could have come up with a plot that was more marketable than “A guy runs around a cornfield”) that you can’t really hate it. There may not be a seconds’ worth of intentional entertainment in the entire film, but what it offers in unintentional hilarity is more than enough to make up for it, and a few other movies to boot. It currently ranks 5th on IMDb’s bottom 100 (1 being Disaster Movie), which is pretty good for a film that went DTV and was never featured on MST3k. Everyone involved should be proud of their non-achievements here.
And there are extras! There’s a trailer, in which I learned that the film was rated R (for what, I have no idea. Nude corn?), and it succeeds in making the film look exciting, though it gives away the non-sequel angle by having someone explain that it’s “been one year” since an event that wasn’t in the first movie. Then there’s a “making of” that’s really just a blooper reel. And even that rips off The Shining, as Cowell (presumably) jokes that it took 127 takes to get a simple “walk and talk” down correctly. Hey, we read that trivia on the IMDb too, pal. And while they may find it amusing, it’s kind of sad how many takes are blown by tripods and microphones in the shot (and not like “oh I didn’t realize the camera would catch that on the side of the frame” type mistakes; some of the damn things are dead center in the image).
I can only hope Dark Harvest 3 (aka Scarecrow, but not the Scarecrow I already watched) lives up to this non-franchise’s promise of inept nonsense, corn, and false advertising. If anything on the cover of the film is actually IN the film, I will feel ripped off.
What say you?