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Hipster Holy Grail: Harvesters (2001)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Remember when I wrote a review of Blood Massacre two weeks ago?  Harvesters is kind of like that, except the polar opposite.

My Rating: 2 / 5

The Plot Summary

This week's entry for Don Dohlember is not, strictly speaking, a Don Dohler movie.  Although he wrote and produced it, and although it features Dohler regular George Stover, it was actually the directorial debut of a fellow named Joe Ripple.

It also happens to be a remake of Blood Massacre.  I did not realize that when I picked it out.  Actually, the only reason I chose Harvesters this week instead of a proper Dohler feature - like, say, Nightbeast - is because Harvesters has a scant 95 ratings on IMDb right now (compared to Nightbeast's 693) and is therefore a much more hipstery choice.  If I knew then what I know now, I'm pretty sure I would have shrugged and gone with the better known movie instead.  Sometimes hipster cred just isn't worth it.

Since it's a remake, you could just go back to my review of Blood Massacre to get the plot summary (more or less).  In fact, I highly recommend you do exactly that, anyway, because if you had to choose only one of these movies to watch, Harvesters is not the way to go.  No disrespect intended to Mr. Ripple; it's just not as fun.

So, the plot.  Like its predecessor, Harvesters opens with a gang of miscreants on the run from the law.  This time around, the gang leader is a lesbian named Frankie Falzone (Donna Sherman).  As in Blood Massacre, she's a veteran-turned-criminal, only this time she served in the Gulf War rather than Vietnam.

Frankie's gang is interchangeable and includes two other women as well as two men, one of whom is an unrelenting drug addict with a short fuse.  The gang goes to case a convenience mart and the druggie impulsively whips his gun out at the cashier.  The cashier draws a gun in return and they exchange fire, leading to the cashier's death and the druggie's mortal injury.  Frankie's gang escapes, but their car conks out in an empty country road.  There, one of Frankie's goons shoots the druggie to death, putting him out of his misery, and they try to figure out their next move.

Back at the mart, we catch up with two US Marshals who have been after Frankie for awhile: Mark Jenkins (Joseph Lyons) and Nicole Torson (Patty Cipoletti).  Jenkins and Torson interview the local police and catch onto Frankie's trail.

Back to Frankie's gang.  They flag down a passing car, driven by Layla Peelman (Jaime Kalman), a chipper and attractive young woman whom the gang will derisively call "Beauty Queen" for the rest of the movie.  Frankie's gang swarms Layla and carjacks her, then forces her to drive them back to her house so they can lay low.

Once inside the Peelman house, the gang meets / holds hostage the rest of the Peelman family, which includes the father, Herbert (George Stover), his trophy wife, Betty (Leanna Chamish), and siblings Jake (Steven King) and Amy (Erin Palmisano).  There's a few beats here that try to echo Blood Massacre one-for-one, like the part where the gang makes Betty cook them a meal, and a part where Amy goes off to take a bath while one of the gang members watches her.

Eventually, Jenkins and Torson show up to interview the Peelmans and see if they've noticed anything.  Herbert shoos the Marshals away.  And here is where Harvesters changes its plot and pacing from Blood Massacre - in the original movie, the abducted family goes into full on murder mode and the movie gets gloriously crazy.  Harvesters tries to be a much more serious movie, so there isn't a massacre.  Instead, the Peelmans manage to scramble away and suddenly everybody hides like the xenomorphs in an Alien movie.  Where Massacre opted for batshit escalation, Harvesters tries to build tension and paranoia.

Gradually you watch the Peelmans stalk the gang members from shadows, killing them one by one, quietly and creepily.  Eventually Jenkins and Torson, having second thoughts about Herbert's behavior, come back to the house to interview him further.  Finding the door unlocked, they go inside only to become victims themselves.

In Blood Massacre, the victims were all wiped out in a span of eight frenetic and infectious minutes.  Harvesters drags that out to twenty-six minutes and uses CGI gore effects to punctuate the deaths.  One other key difference: in Blood Massacre, the family kills people in order to eat them, whereas in Harvesters the family is running a black market organ harvesting ring out of their house.

Regardless, Harvesters eventually reaches the same narrative point: Frankie ends up being the only person left alive besides the Peelmans, and she's hiding out in the woods.  She improvises some traps and lures the Peelmans to their deaths, one by one, until the only two people left are her and Layla.  Frankie and Layla have a drag-out fistfight in the Peelmans' back yard, and then Frankie snaps Layla's neck.

Frankie goes inside the house to sit down and take a breather.  She hears whimpering from the closet.  Investigating, she finds a young girl inside, seemingly terrified.  Frankie tries to comfort the girl and - surprise! - she's a tiny, bloodthirsty Peelman.  The girl stabs Frankie in the neck and runs away excitedly to tell her dad the good news, unaware that he's dead.

Cut to a news van on the front lawn as a reporter recaps the carnage to a camera.  There are no survivors, and the last thing we see is a tight shot on the girl's face, followed by a title screen informing us that this is, in fact, "THE END."

What I Liked / Didn't Like

It's always amazing how remakes can basically hit all the same notes as another movie, and yet the tone and overall effect can be so dramatically different.  I've made no secret of it so far: I did not like Harvesters.  All the things that I enjoyed about Blood Massacre are inverted here.

Two weeks ago, I said that I liked the acting in Massacre because it was either delightfully hammy and over-the-top or casual and carefree.  I said I was happy the actors didn't try too hard, so even though they were amateurs, their delivery worked and nothing felt awkward or flat.  So what do we get in Harvesters?  Actors who try too hard, feel awkward, and fall flat.  Even George Stover, who was delightfully creepy in the original movie, is stilted here.  I know Stover can do better than this.  I've seen him turn in a better performance in literally all the other Don Dohler movies I've ever seen.  He looks bored more than anything.

I praised Massacre because it was low-rez and used charming low-budget practical effects.  Harvesters eschews that for the most part and uses reaaaaaaaally bad CGI instead.  It stands out so poorly against the rest of the footage that there's just no way you could look at it and say, "Yeah, that works."  Like the part where Betty gets shot in the head and unnaturally bright, shiny animated blood splatters behind her, or the part where Jenkins' eyes are cut out and you see cartoonish red patches animated over his face.

Some of it is also just plain pointless.  For example, there's an animated insert shot of a car driving down a road at night.  Why?  Why would you go to the trouble of animating a car when you can just film one instead?  Surely it isn't cheaper to animate that - you were already filming the road!  Just drive the car in front of the camera!

The worst part of all is probably when you see the news crew at the end.  There's a static insert shot of the news van - and the van, in contrast to all other vehicles parked near it, is animated.  Why?!  Sure, I know it costs a little bit of money to rent a white van and slap a "KBWL News" sticker on it, but surely it's not so much more expensive that it isn't worth it.  Know your limitations and follow them.  Blood Massacre sure as hell did.

I mean, really - look at this:

Leave aside the incorrect lighting and poor texture - the scale isn't even right.  It looks like the movie got invaded by runaway kilobytes from Mario Kart 64.

Hell, even something like the shower scene is flipped around in all the wrong ways.  In the original, one of the daughters goes to take a shower and puts on a weird striptease for her captor, then makes out with him and they spit blood all over each other.  It comes out of nowhere, it's completely nuts, and it somehow still feels right at home in the movie.  Plus, there's no real nudity, so it doesn't feel exploitative.  That same scene in Harvesters?  It's full of nudity, the camera constantly lingers on the woman's breasts, and instead of making out with her captor, he falls asleep and has a weird dream of her bathing in blood - but since that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and is a strange tonal shift, the entire thing feels jarring and out of place.

I liked Blood Massacre because it was strange, kinda funny, and unafraid to run with ridiculous ideas and concepts.  Harvesters is the exact opposite: it's dour, dry, serious, and constantly feels compelled to ground things in reality or explain itself.

And yet, because all things are inverted, it is strangely better than Blood Massacre in other ways.  I complained two weeks ago that Massacre was too poorly lit and had some strange editing that didn't quite work.  Harvesters is pretty well lit throughout and the editing is crisp.  It has its merits - just not the ones that I want.

One last thing for me to rant about and then I'll wrap this up: I will give Harvesters credit for trying to give women more to do, but I also don't think it succeeded very well.  On the one hand, it has a women-majority cast.  Most of Frankie's gang and most of the Peelman family are women.  The leads are all women.  Women get to have the big fight scene at the end.  Women are engaged and capable.  That's all a good thing.

The bad news is that they still don't get to establish themselves as interesting characters, so nobody ever comes into their own. Harvesters tries too hard to set people up as badasses with seemingly cool poses and ostensibly snappy dialogue.  There are a bunch of obnoxious close-ups and beats where somebody will strike a pose and go, "Time to play, bitch!"  But that's not cool and badass in and of itself - that's you trying to tell me that somebody is cool and badass.

You know what's cool and badass?  Actions.  Like when Rizzo handcrafted a gun that shot circular saw blades in Blood Massacre.  That's when you show me a badass instead of just saying, "Trust me, this lady can figure it out."  When you try too hard at badassery in some scenes, and then you insert arbitrary strip club scenes elsewhere with gratuitous nudity, what I take away from it is that you're just interested enough in female empowerment to pay lip service, but not interested enough to be creative.

It's not worth nothing.  It's just not as good as we deserve.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It doesn't quite get the full 50 point obscurity bonus since it is so close to the 100 rating cutoff, but at 95 IMDb ratings, it's still pretty low-key.  I'll give it 45 for obscurity, plus 10 for Don Dohler's involvement, plus another 15 point "you've probably never heard of them" bonus for the cast as a whole.

Unfortunately, Harvesters has one really huge problem for cred: it's a remake.  And while remakes are not doomed to be awful, that does detract from hipsteriness.  After all, if you're trying to throw your hipster cred around, you'd sneer at a movie and go, "Oh, you liked XXXXX?  I liked that better when it was called XXXXX."  So, I'll give it a 10 point penalty.

...or at least, I would if it was better known.  This is a weird grey area, guys.  You could almost go the opposite way with this one - you'd hear somebody say, "Oh, I loved Blood Massacre!" and then you'd say, "Yeah, well, I watched a remake of it.  Bet you didn't even know it had a remake, did you?"  Since it's such an obscure movie, I think I'll give it a pass.

So, that leads to a total of 70 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

Harvesters was released on DVD, so if you can find a copy, you can rent or buy it.  Or you can stream it on Youtube.  Whatever.