Post #391: The Dark Secret Of Harvest Home

Delving again into my beloved Folk Horror today. Looking back, I should have just done a Folk Horror February. Oh well. Maybe next year. For now though, I thought we’d have a look at a forgotten classic that doesn’t get talked about enough, The Dark Secret Of Harvest Home.

This was a 1979 NBC miniseries with a noteworthy cast, not the least of which was Bette Davis. But we also had a very young Rosanna Arquette, René Auberjonois, a pre-Growing Pains Tracey Gold, Norman Lloyd, Joanna Miles, and Michael O’Keefe. Oh and you might recognize a mighty strappin’ John Calvin from his later appearance in Critters 3.

Okay yeah you might not.

First things first. This is relatively track-down-able on DVD. There’s also a $75 VHS on Amazon. I’d recommend the DVD myself as the only streaming version I could find was on The YouTubes, and its quality is less than ideal. Totally watchable, but could be loads better.

That said, at 3 hours 48 minutes, be ready for a slow burn. Things take a bit to start movin’ along, but once they do, the tension and creep factor both continue to pile up layer upon layer. It’s surprisingly effective for a TV miniseries.

Bette Davis is, of course, imminently watchable, and what makes her performance so chilling is its understatement. I mean, when she wanted to, the woman could masticate some setting, but in this case? Nary a splinter. And yet Widow Fortune is the dominant fixture of the entire community and story arc.

The community itself is a strange combination of elements, part matriarchal agrarian throwback, part “normal” closeknit community. They won’t use tractors or other modern farming methods, but they’re perfectly at home with cars, trucks, paved roads, alcohol, and electricity.

Like Harvest Home, the Thomas Tryon novel the miniseries is based on, the plot is divided into various stages throughout the season, beginning more or less with the crowning of The Young Lord and culminating in the Harvest Home festival. If Tryon’s name sounds familiar, he also wrote the creepy as hell evil twin novel The Other.

Each Young Lord reigns for 7 years. During that time, he’s helped along with his farm and basically taken care of by the community, not entirely unlike the proverbial fatted calf. This is supposed to ensure good fortune and bounty for Cornwall Coombe (or just “The Coombe”). There are definitely some Wicker Man vibes at work here along with a little Shirley Jackson/”Lottery.” I’m confident that it had some sway over Ari Aster and Midsommar as well.

It might even be tempting to draw some connections to Stephen King and “The Children Of The Corn,” but that might be pushing things a bit. Harvest Home was published in 1973, Night Shift in 1978. It’s entirely possible that they never crossed paths before that.

Anyway, into all of this arrives the Constantine family—Nick, his wife Beth, and their daughter Kate. The marriage is going through a rough patch what with Nick’s one-time infidelity. They’ve decided to buy a house in The Coombe and make a new start. How are they able to just pick up and go like this? Well thanks fer askin’ cuz it’s one of the most unintentionally funny sequences of rising action I’ve ever had the pleasure of bearing witness to.

First of all, Beth and Nick have an argument which proceeds to ramp up in volume. Finally Kate rushes in and shrieks at them to stop. This sets off her asthma. After that’s taken care of, the phone rings. Beth’s father has died. This leaves her with a big ol’ chunk of inheritance money. All of this takes up about 90 seconds of screen time, and we’re off to the races.

There are also a few subplots involving a nearby forest which is guarded by the ne’erdowell Soakes lads, the local temptress named Tamar who has her sights set on Nick, and the mysterious death of one Grace Everdeen.

Nick is, of course, suspicious of the Coombe’s residents, “The Ways,” and Widow Fortune in particular. He does not embrace The Ways and is nosing around about the Everdeen lass. Conversely, Beth is slowly and maybe a little reluctantly won over to The Ways whilst their daughter Kate wholeheartedly embraces everything about The Coombe.

It’s also worth paying attention to names. The first big celebration is the Agnes Fair. Agnes Of Rome was a 4th centry catholic martyr and the patron saint of girls, virgins, and chastity. Well now. The lastest Young Lord is Jimmy Minerva, Minerva being the Roman equivalent of Athena, goddess of wisdom.

I won’t go into any further details for those who want to make an evening of this one. On the other hand, if you’re even a little familiar with the qualities and characteristics of Folk Horror, it won’t be tough to sort out how all of this is gonna go down. That said, getting there is still a fun and surprisingly spooky little trip.

And of course, make thee the corn.

Streaming- YouTube

Post #390: Top 10 Tuesday, Top 10 Black Mirror Episodes

I love love love Black Mirror. For one thing, it’s just so relentlessly clever. I’m willing to bet it’ll turn out to be prophetic as well, if it isn’t so on some levels already. Repeat viewers will also be rewarded in many cases by the whole Leland Palmer/Twin Peaks/Kuleshov Effect by which our perception of the characters changes based on what we now know. Plus there are all these the super fun easter eggs scattered among the episodes.

So I’m admittedly surprised it’s taken me so long to get around to my Top 10 Black Mirror Episodes.

#10 Men Against Fire, S3 E5

One of the things that often sticks with me from some Black Mirror episodes is how Kafka-esque they become. I don’t mean people turning into giant bugs Kafka. I mean unexplained bureaucratic institutional vengeance wielded by an unidentified few, like in The Trial. “Men Against Fire” also speaks to the bait-and-switch kind of practices employed by less scrupulous military recruiters.

#9 Metalhead, S4 E5

So, Black Mirror has, by and large, never been a yuk tsunami, but man oh man did S4 ever get buh-leak. I mean, even for me some of them got downright merciless, and none moreson than “Metalhead.” The end is just deeply disturbing, and the “dogs” are super creepy robots that look like a cross between a carnivorous predator and a heavily armored giant cockroach.

#8 Nosedive, S3 E1

I liked this one the first time I saw it, but it recently took on a whole new kind of depth based on some other stuff I’ve been watching. In particular, I’ve been checking out rSlash, the very entertaining Sassy, and the always hilarious Charlotte Dobre, especially the stuff where people who think they’re influencers (but have like 1000 followers) get called out for trying to get free shit. I dunno, “Nosedive” just kinda tapped into that world for me as well.

#7 Playtest, S3 E2

This is just terrifying. Next time I’m on a plane, and someone refuses to turn off some electroinc device or other, well, let’s just say that I will not be held responsible for my actions.

#6 Crocodile, S4 E3

Yet another thing I love so very damn much about this show is its number of M. Night Shyamalan kinds of twists. This one is no exception. I literally sat straight up and said “No. Fucking. Way!” to Groovy (my cat). He wasn’t impressed. Apparently he saw it coming way the hell before I did. Oh, and another bleak one from S4.

#5 Shut Up And Dance, S3 E3

Okay, S4 gets pretty bleak, yeah, but god damn “Shut Up And Dance” is, for me, one of the darkest episodes of the entire series. Some never-identified troll blackmails an entire network of people into contributing bits and pieces to one grand overarching scheme with the promise that once they’ve completed their step, they’re off the hook. It’s also possibly the best example of another thing Black Mirror has going for it, and that’s its ability to subvert your expectations, often in the worst way possible.

#4 White Christmas, Standalone Special

I love Jon Hamm. I’d have been tempted to cast him as Stanton Carlisle in Nightmare Alley instead of Bradley Cooper. But wowzers do you hate his character in this one. It starts out as two guys relegated to some snowbound cabin as part of some kind of punishment. Another twist, and another gut punch ending, double in this case. In terms of which one moves the needle the most on the Bleak-O-Meter, it’s a toss up between this one and #5 above.

#3 The Waldo Moment ,S2 E3

Yet another thing I love about Black Mirror is its cynicism, the kind that routinely offers up a jaded look at human nature. In this one, an animated bear makes a mockery of party politics. It’s a tough watch here in The Colonies what with the Big Orange Cult. Waldo’s co-opting by American agents for the purposes of propaganda and disinformation is particularly chilling.

#2 The National Anthem, S1 E1

Speaking of cynical, holy crap. Princess Susannah, a beloved and sociopolitically active royal, is kidnapped and will be killed unless the prime minister fucks a pig. On national TV. Live. This was the first episode, and as soon as the premise became clear, I knew they had me as a die hard fan forever. What’s unsettling about this one in particular is its plausibility.

Honorable Mentions

Arkangel S4 E2, USS Callister S4 E1, White Bear S2 E2

#1 Black Museum, S4 E6

I just saw this one recently, and until then, “The National Anthem” was easily my #1. What edged “Black Museum” ahead by just the narrowest of margins was one thing, and that’s my, to quote The Princess Bride, “overdeveloped sense of vengeance.” I don’t wanna spoil anything. A woman stops by a roadside attraction called the Black Museum and hears a couple of stories from the proprietor, very horror anthology style. Watch it as least twice—once just for the easter eggs.

And that’s my Black Mirror list. Are you a fan? What are your faves? Lemme know in The Comments.

Post #389: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I take great pains to avoid reviewing current movies here. There’s so much obscure old weird stuff that I just don’t feel right dealing in the present. Still, every now and then something comes along that I’m so excited about and/or awakens such a sense of nostalgia that I just have to jot some things down.

Such is the case with Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ve been lookin’ forward to this one for some time, about as much as I’d been looking forward to Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. So last night I sat myself down to watch David Blue Garcia’s sequel.

It didn’t suck. Lemme start off with that. I was on board the second I heard Garcia was taking a page from David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween playbook and ignoring all the other Texas Chainsaw movies between the original and now. But if I’m honest, Leatherface’s transition from 1974 to now is a little rockier than Michael Myers’s. It’s not very clear, for instance, how or why Leatherface ends up in, Big Spoiler #1, the orphanage there in Harlow.

Okay, as spoilers go, that one ain’t all that huge and should come as a surprise to, well, nobody. On the other hand, he’s awfully grown to be takin’ up residence in an orphanage, but sure okay. It also raises a bothersome question: how fucking old does this make Leatherface? If it’s been 50 years, then by my reckoning that’s gotta make him at least 68 or so, right?

More importantly, let’s talk about the “victims.” First of all, there’s only one who isn’t absolutely annoying and unlikeable, and that’s Lila. The main cast is comprised of Lila’s sister Melody, her business partner Dante, and his fiancée Ruth. The business venture is to find investors to gentrify Harlow into a hipster tourist trap. The investors show up in a party bus shortly after our intrepid band. Of interest is the fact that Harlow isn’t far from the hipster mecca that is Austin.

Two other contributing characters are Richter, the Texan contractor they’ve hired, and Sally Hardesty who became a Texas Ranger after surviving the first massacre and dedicated her life to trying to track down Leatherface. Like ya do.

It’s worth pointing out that the story was co-written by Fede Álvarez who’s no stranger to taking a new look at a classic, something he pulled off nicely with Evil Dead. And like Evil Dead, he doesn’t mind tossing in some trauma, moving from Mia’s heroin addiction in Evil Dead to Lila’s survival of a school shooting.

Even more interesting is this gentrification angle. Some time ago I either read or saw someone commenting on the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the working class rising up and using the tools of their profession to attack the middle class, in this case hammers, meat hooks, and saws. Not to wade too deeply into sociopolitical heavy-osity, but the sequel could be similarly viewed, at least in part, as a reaction against the encroachment of capitalist interests on rural life.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m hardly jumping on the anti-gentrification bandwagon, but gentrification does come with its fair passel of issues not the least of which is forcing people out of their homes for the benefit, entertainment, and/or diversion of people with money. This is exactly what Melody and Dante are doing. On one hand, it is by mistake. On the other, it’s devoid of compassion and empathy, especially from Dante.

Main Street Harlow is practically a ghost town y’see. Melody and Dante plan to turn it into some trendy new spot replete with whatever trendy new hipness happens to be the latest darling of some average gaggle of smug, shallow, soullesss hipsters who will ultimately jam the place full of smug, shallow, soulless, hipper-than-thou pretension. In fact, most of the dipshits on the party bus don’t even have names. How’s that for shallow?

Happily what makes them shallow makes them (Big Spoiler #2) expendable. I can’t imagine anyone watching this and caring what happens to them. Again, not a huge spoiler that the bus becomes a slaughterhouse, and not at all badly done for a non-theatrical release. Full marks to Netflix for that. Full marks as well for the hilarious livestream scene when Leatherface gets on the bus. It’s funny. Because it’s true. And definitely read the livestream comments as the pop up.

Funny as well is the shot of the chainsaw bearing down on Melody through the floor as she scrambles underneath the house, kind of an inverted shark pursuit with a chainsaw blade versus a big ol’ fin.

Not so full marks for the look of Leatherface. On one hand, the hulking menace of Mark Burnham does a right fine job stepping into the massive shoes vacated by Gunnar Hansen. That mask though. There’s nothing wrong with it such as it is. It just looks to me more like Bloody Face from American Horror Story: Asylum (which admittedly was probably modeled after Leatherface but still).

Shortlived as it was, it was nice to see Alice Krige get some screentime as the head of orphanage. Conversely, I have not yet come to terms with how I feel about the return of Sally Hardesty. If Garcia was going for the kinda post-traumatic Laurie Strode vibe I suspect, then it falls flat. There’s a nice callback, however, to Sally’s escape in the first movie. And speaking of the first movie, well, you’ll see.

BODIES- 26 (give or take)
Streaming- Netflix