Dark Harvest (1992)

You can’t really blame the group of hapless campers at the center of Dark Harvest, a borderline amateur production that relentlessly proves being stranded in the desert is as boring as you would imagine, for not really understanding the magnitude of the threat they are facing. If it was man-eating scorpions or giant ants or even mutants made radioactive by years of atomic testing, you could be irritated that they’re dilly dallying around arguing with each other since any one of those threats is so obvious, they’re probably mentioned in Fodor’s.

But what’s facing them is so horrific, so unspeakable, so out of left field it makes you feel a little sympathetic that they spend most of the time confused once bad things start happening. After all, who could have guessed that a simple hike necessitated by a broken down van would subject you to the wrath of a pack of murderous scarecrows? Scarecrows who are apparently connected to an evil Native American tribe? Honestly, even I didn’t notice anything that screamed “ancient Indian burial ground” and I usually have a good eye for those things.

The film does make some meager attempts at foreshadowing. There’s a local who advises the group to steer clear of a particular junction, but his warning remains needlessly vague. The group also sees a scarecrow, but for some reason never wonder if it is just a normal scarecrow or if it might be a demonic Indian scarecrow that will later ram a pitchfork into them.

There is an encounter with a scary guy who says the dilapidated house the group is using as a shelter used to be his brother-in-law’s and there used to be wheat fields all around until they all died off, but I was chalking that up more to them planting wheat in a desert than to any scary Indian curse. He also says everyone around died and that first it was the Mayans and the wheat that was gone. The only thing better than a character barfing up exposition to provide the background underpinning the film is the character who does it and yet totally fails to provide the background underpinning the film.

Our group is the usual assortment of college aged people who are alternately whiny and horny. Each couple seemed to have some issue that was threatening their relationship such as when one woman announced in front of everyone that she didn’t just want to be a mistress anymore and that she wanted to be married. Another woman was concerned about whether it was okay to get married when there are so many terrible things going on in the world like homelessness. Clearly the scarecrows had their work cut out for them by the time they decided to appear because the bar for onscreen torture was already set quite high.

Unfortunately the scarecrows aren’t really up to the task, attacking with shovels. Shovels? What sort of scarecrow runs around with a freaking shovel? They do redeem themselves a bit when they hang up a victim on the scarecrow pole and she has a giant hole where her eye used to be. Even better was when the survivors spotted a car and one of them got in, thankful to be rescued, only to discover that the driver was a scarecrow! And then the scarecrow says “going my way?” The movie missed the mark though by not having the scarecrow actually driving the car around. If there had been a scene of the scarecrow running down these people in the middle of the desert with his Buick, who cares how terrible the rest of the movie was, right?

Things come to a sort of climax at a mysterious cave which improbably provides what the movie presumably believes is all the answers we’ve been needing to explain what’s been transpiring. It frankly had the reek of random nonsense just thrown together by someone who had seen earlier bad movies about haunted Indian burial grounds.

There’s a skeleton (our heroes identify it as an Indian because it is wearing feather) and in its hand is a piece of paper which is part of a treaty the tribe signed with the government. One of the survivors announces she knows all about this tribe because her dad told her and babbles something about a curse as if that justifies these scarecrows running amok. They also see what they describe as a voodoo doll! Because Indians practiced all sorts of voodoo! When they weren’t having haunted scarecrows harass people generations later for no reason!

A final scene with a single survivor seems to be soley added to make sure we know the filmmakers have no idea what they are doing or how tell a story that’s not just a bizarre collection of disjointed scenes.

Dark Harvest feels like what a backyard movie would be if your backyard was a desert. And you were playing a cruel joke on your family and friends. The acting, which is awful to begin with, actually gets worse the longer the movie goes. There are sequences that have nothing to do with anything including the death of two characters at the hands of a couple of hicks which would be fine if your movie was about your characters being stalked by a couple of hicks and not by deadly scarecrows!

Dopey dialogue abounds, with the scenes of the tour guide putting the make on one of the campers with relentless double entendres making you wince far more than any violence the scarecrows visit on the group. Not even the tantalizing prospect of the scarecrows killing these oafs is enough to merit suffering through this arid disaster as even those scenes are so fleeting and incompetently showcased, it’s impossible to derive anything but disinterested disappointment in them.

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