FEBRUARY 21, 2009
About 6 months of my rent. More than half the cost of a new sedan. The average credit card/loan debt of someone in their 20s or 30s. These are just a few of the things that 10,000 dollars can buy you, but Ben Dixon and his crew decided to spend it on their movie Dark Harvest 3: Scarecrow (actually Skarecrow, which was bought and retitled by - who else? - Lionsgate). With a current rating of 1.8 on the IMDb* and my personal opinion that it’s the least entertaining of the “series”, I ask you - what should they have spent the money on instead?
Once again, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to slam a “homemade” movie. But Jesus fucking Christ, if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times: GOOD SCRIPTS ARE JUST AS CHEAP TO WRITE AS BAD ONES! I could forgive the god awful acting, terrible consumer grade video imagery, and laughable effects (see below), but for the love of Xenu, I cannot forgive such a half-assed and pointless script.
Let’s see, for starters the movie is only 65 minutes long without credits, and still feels endless. Most of it consists of the six protagonists yelling at each other. And at one point, the lead punches his girlfriend in the face after she refuses to have sex next to a scarecrow. And, needless to say, Sean Penn and Kate Winslet (congrats!) couldn’t make any of these characters likable, so forget about giving a shit whether any of them live or die. All three women are shrill and annoying; all three men are profane hotheads who will punch one another at the drop of a hat. To its credit, Ben Dixon (and his wife, or sister, Amy) DOES kill every one of them in their script, but it’s not like there are amazing kills or effects to enjoy when they finally get offed.
The movie also doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s a prologue with a guy getting killed by some rednecks who have stolen some land or something. But then he instantly is revived as a scarecrow and kills them all in turn. So he’s gotten his revenge, yet he comes back and stalks the six folks I mentioned earlier. What did they ever do to him? Plus, he’s revived when blood from the girl’s newly punched face is splashed on his coat, so if anything he owes them a solid. There’s some nonsense about a family curse and some creepy people living next door, but damned if it was coherent enough for my tastes.
Another thing that’s free is decent sound mixing. Since the movie is obviously edited on Final Cut Pro, I will explain to Dixon and his crew how to it for future reference. In your main project window, click on the effects tab. You will see a folder called “Audio Transitions” (it’s usually near the bottom). Collapse that, and you’ll find two filters: Crossfade (0 db) and Crossfade (3 db). Either one will do - simply drag it over onto the cut between two audio tracks. Then double click it on the timeline, and in the editor window, change the duration to about 4 frames (centered on the cut). This will reduce the jarring “sound” that occurs when a shot that was recorded with a lot of background noise cuts to one with no background noise. Also, when you insert a cutaway of something like a gearshift, you can use the audio from the previous shot to keep SOME semblance of audio continuity. The easiest way to do this is to unlink the audio and video by selecting the clip in the timeline and pressing Apple+L. Then delete the cutaway audio, and drag the audio clip from the previous shot underneath the cutaway video. Viola! Your movie sounds 2% more professional, and all it cost was taking 5 fucking seconds to have some pride in your work.
Another odd thing about the movie is that it’s inexplicably set in 1981. Needless to say, the period settings don’t quite work. People have modern clothes and sunglasses, Pepsi machines contain only the 20 oz plastic bottles that didn’t even exist until the 90s, etc. Since the 1981 setting has no point on anything, you gotta wonder why they bothered, as I’m sure at least SOMETHING was done to keep the idea in check (the van they are driving, for example, seems like a 70s model), which is time they could have spent, I dunno, fixing just about anything in this movie.
The ending is hilarious too. Our lead, who goes batshit insane for the last 15 minutes of the movie for some reason, is blamed for the murders and sent to a prison or mental hospital of some sort. It’s clearly just someone’s basement, with a few bars placed on a makeshift wall. A “doctor” then checks off a few things on a clipboard such as the guy’s named, and then writes, in perfect block letters “Increase medication”. Then the movie ends. Hey, I buy it.
The DVD contains a 40 minute making of that is pretty informative. You learn that the director actually wanted to cut down on the amount of profanity, the scarecrow is apparently played by a woman, and the lead guy went to prison in order to research his role for the sequel, which at this time seemingly does not exist (you’d assume that if you were to put yourself in prison for a movie, the movie would have a solid green light). It ends on a peculiar note; one of the actresses bitches about her fellow cast members, presented in a square “picture in picture” style window on the corner of the screen over footage of children playing. OK. At any rate, it’s a better use of your time than the film itself, though so is pretty much anything.
As franchises designed solely by home video poster artists go, the Dark Harvest series stands out for delivering THREE movies in which the only common trait is purely inept filmmaking by seemingly well-meaning folks. I dream of a day when all three directors are put on a panel at a horror (or corn) convention and talk about their magnum opuses. Maybe they can join forces on a fourth film that ties their films (which were all produced at the same time, apparently) together.
And before anyone complains about me mocking a low budget movie with the whole “let’s see YOU make a movie!” argument, I DID make one. Almost ten years ago, two friends and I went into the woods and did the whole Blair Witch parody thing. It’s almost an hour long, and if I was as careless and soulless as the editors of these movies, I could have made it 70 minutes or so too. And it has questionable audio, glaringly obvious continuity errors, and cheap FX and all the same things I blast this movie for. You know what the difference is? I show the thing to friends for laughs. I don’t shop it around to studios for distribution, because I have a soul and would be appalled at the idea of people spending money to see the damn thing. And I don’t care how nice and well-meaning Dixon and co. are, there’s no way in hell they watched this thing and said “Yes, we have made a movie worth paying for.” Apparently, though, I can go back and shoot a scene where we are menaced by a scarecrow and get the thing released as Dark Harvest 4 (or 5, if the idea from my previous paragraph comes together).
What say you?
*The IMDb plot summary simply reads: “A killer scarecrow kills some people”. I appreciate the lack of pretension.
And now, Horror Movie A Day and Happy Hour Comics would like to present the 1st in an ongoing series of HMAD-inspired comic strips. I hope you enjoy!! (Click to enlarge)