FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 14, 2015

THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME (1978)

Even though I am an elderly person, there are plenty of ways I utilize the technologies of the young. For example, I definitely know how to boot up a JPG. For another example, I only order pizzas via the Information Superhighway. However, sometimes my brain completely forgoes new technology in favor of the old. For example, I always have a spiral notebook and a pen at arm's reach. For another example, when I want to watch something like the 1978 made-for-TV mini-series Dark Secret of Harvest Home, I don't first try YouTube, where the entire 4-hour affair is readily available. Instead, I spend a lot of time tracking down a bootleg, paying for a bootleg, waiting for the bootleg to arrive, and then digging in. (And I would have forgone the bootleg if the long out-of-print VHS edition wasn't edited to half the original length.)

For every second of "Aw man, YouTube would have been way easier and free-i-er," I have several minutes of sweet satisfaction because when you stream a movie, you don't get the crappy bootleg box art to treasure! Behold:


"Betty" Davis! "Sacrifaces"! It's the small things that please me so.

Also, "Sacrifaces" sounds like a new Satanic show by Mummenschanz. More Satanic, anyway.

Typos aside, that sentence...sort of sums up The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, in the same way that "A young woman enrolls in a ballet academy and is caught up in witchcraft and sacrifaces" might describe Suspiria. Like, it works but there's more to it than that.

Wait, is there more to Suspiria than that? Never mind, I'm getting off track here. And YES I'm going to use "sacrifaces" all the time now so get used to it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again and again until we're all tired of hearing it: I love a movie about a town with a secret. From Dead and Buried to The Wicker Man to Bay Cove to everything in between, give me some fish-out-of-water types trying to figure out what the heck is going on in an idyllic country town and I'm all over it. Toss in some witch robes, some sacrifaces, and some old people and I'm all over it AND all up in it. Let me tell you, friends, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home does not disappoint!

Oh sure, the set-up is as old as them thar hills, but who cares? The Constantine family is fed up with life in the big city and all the big city problems they face. Dad Nick (David "Original Gary Ewing" Ackroyd) yearns to leave the hollow world of Madison Avenue behind and make some real art. Mom Beth (Joanna "There's A Fire-Farting Cockroach in My Hair" Miles) spends her days reclining on a shrink's couch in a bid to overcome her neuroses. 15-year-old daughter Kate (Rosanna "Doesn't Need a Nickname for You to Know Who She Is" Arquette) totally has asthma and her life sucks.

On a little getaway trip to Connecticut, they cross a whimsical/ominous wooden bridge and find themselves in Cornwall Coombe, a small farming community that's super friendly and everyone seems happy and there's an amazing house for sale for wicked cheap and isn't that great let's all move to Cornwall Coombe! So they do, and everything is just great. Mostly. Widow Fortune (Bette "Betty" Davis) has a tight (if benevolent) grip on the town. Folks are reluctant to talk about the past, and no one ever ever goes "against the ways" if they know what's good for 'em. Why, it's almost as if the town has a dark secret!

Yes! Check out Rosanna Arquette and Widow Fortune. "Widow" is pronounced "widda", by the way. And everyone says "Ayuh" a lot like this is a goddamn Stephen King movie even though they're in western Connecticut. On the one hand, this made my eye twitch, but on the other hand it just made me want to hug New England because I love New England and even though I grew up in eastern Connecticut there was definitely that feeling of "thar werest wytches here" to it at times, like when you go to Devil's Hopyard State Park, I mean who names a park "Devil's Hopyard" come on now

Kate and Beth adjust quickly to life in The Coombe. Widda Fortune shushes away all of Kate's asthma attacks. Beth likes being party of a community and begins busting out the local corn-speak. Nick, however, digs deeper into the town history for a book he's writing and finds that sometimes people go missing and sometimes you see a skeleton somewhere but then when you go to show it to the constable the skeleton is gone and sometimes you find the local peddler in a cabin in the woods and someone has cut his tongue out and no one admits that anything weird is going on or has gone on, ever.

Oh yeah, and a little babby Tracey Gold is a really fucking weird kid who screams sometimes and she picks the new Harvest Lord by smearing sheep's blood on a contender's cheeks. Just another day in The Coombe!

TRACEY GOLD YOU GUYS

So you know how it goes, right? A big Widda Fortune-sized wedge is driven further and further between Beth and Nick as the former adapts to "the ways" and the latter does not. As the year goes on and the mysterious "Harvest Home" ceremony approaches, we begin to wonder: is this a Babiez4Satan thing, or Babiez4Corn thing? Because somehow, it's always about women making babiez for some reason, ain't it?

It is! But I'm not going to tell you everything because this shit was four hours long and because if you like classic they don't make 'em like that anymore made-for-TV horror movies (aka "being a person with awesome taste"), then you should just watch it. I mean, it's right there on YouTube. Bette fucking Davis! A reasonably restrained Bette fucking Davis, even, who doesn't simply bleat-shriek all her lines like she did throughout much of the 1960s.

After you're done watching The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, you can help me settle the argument I've been having with myself since I saw it: is this feminist, or anti-feminist? There's certainly a slight whiff of Neil LaBute's Wicker Man in here as a matriarchal society proves ball-crushingly bad for the menfolk. Then again, there's also a slight whiff of The Stepford Wives in here as Nick frequently asks Beth if she wants to give up her autonomy and life goals to join in "the old ways." I need the Widda Fortune to shush away my social justice anxiety attack!


14 comments:

T. Phoria said...

I'm going to start a heavy metal band and name it "Sacrifaces".

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

Apparently this is based on a well-loved novel by Thomas Tryon, who also wrote THE OTHER. I've wanted to read HARVEST HOME for a long time, but this movie makes me think maybe I'm okay not reading it.

Kensington said...

This one really freaked me out when I was a kid, especially the ending.

I read the novel about ten years ago, and I think it works better than the mini-series. Definitely worth reading. Very creepy and unsettling.

Tim_W_Burke said...

My Mom loved Harvest Home! As her husband and three teen sons watched in horror, she pumped her fist -- actually pumped her fist -- at Bette Davis and the sacrifaces. Every time she saw the show scheduled for a rerun, she'd say "Hey boys! Wanna watch Harvest Home" and cackle.

Stacie Ponder said...

That is so great :D

Pearce said...

I've always loved that Thomas Tryon, who as mentioned wrote the novel, also played the monster from outer space in I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

spazmo said...

I read the book not too long ago, (for some reason thinking it was the novelization of "Burnt Offerings"), but I enjoyed it anyway.

Betty(!)was all over the tube in her later years, wasn't she? And you're right about her more restrained acting style; a good example is her work in the tv movie "A Piano for Mrs. Cimino" (just keep a box of tissues handy, cuz holy crap you'll need them).

Stacie Ponder said...

I'm gonna check that one out! I was surprised she was so mellow here, but from what I understand (urban legend, anyway) she had read the book and really wanted the part. I was worried it'd be another HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE...which I love, but man, she's out of control in that one!

Michelle said...

Nothing like Chiller font to get you ready for some Satanic sacrifaces. :)

Stacie Ponder said...

Exactly! How else are you going to know it's a scary movie?

Jeannie said...

MAKE THE THE CORN!

William Po said...

Left a town just like this after decades. Founded by evil witches. Creepy. And I'm a Pagan. Things like this do happen in real life.

William Po said...

FYI Ancient Greek philosopher, 2nd century B.C. who vacationed in Arcadia -the breadbasket of Athens - said tourists charmed by Arcadian countryside. They didn't know that people worshipped something they called Zeus Lycanthrope -Zeus the werewolf and describes scenes similar to Harvest Home. Also NOVA episode 'The Death of Ancient Kings'.

Bunny Lake said...

Omg!!! Love your synopsis of this most awesomely great TV movie! I must be pretty freakin old too cause I remember when this movie premiered and probably only saw it because Bette Davis was in it. Have to admit though that the book is really great too...