Friday, 30 October 2015

October Nightmares #30 Penultimate Indie Double: Savage Harvest (1994) & Jug Face (2013)

As we approach the final two days of Halloween *insert annoying jingle from Halloween III here* I am left trying to get as many movies in as possible. Therefore these final two instalments will be a double and triple bill, respectively. Enjoy.

#1 Savage Harvest (1994)

Savage Harvest is a film about overly-privileged family, headed by Capt. Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest from MASH, who are attacked by lions in Africa. With the viewer spending the entire eighty-six-minute run-time awaiting for the next smug cunt to be killed off. Oh, wait. That's Savage Harvest (1981); I'm supposed to be reviewing Savage Harvest (1994). Well, the latter SH is a The Evil Dead style movie where six young friends find themselves stranded in the wilderness after retreating to the lakeside for a weekend of fun. The rub, however, is that the planned location for their retreat is built upon a Cherokee burial ground. Because of course it fucking is. At this rate, I imagine even the team of astronauts who colonise Mars will end up desecrating a Native American grave-site upon arriving on the Red Giant. Though I suppose, that'll just end up being Ghosts of Mars (2001).

Let me state that Savage Harvest starts off rather badly. It opens with natural imagery and depictions of a strange ritual, but with its low quality and cheesy tone it resembles a Savatage music video. From here Savage Harvest doesn't exactly inspire confidence, playing out like a True Movie Channel film about a teenage girl who is pregnant with an AIDs baby. It's not until half an hour in that the movie begins showing signs of life. As is the case with The Evil Dead, the plot of Savage Harvest follows an ancient curse that's broken by the sheer idiocy of the protagonists, and transforms the characters into incredibly difficult to kill demons. The amateurish video quality camera-work and lame, repetitive metal riff soundtrack (which sounds like a rusty robot masturbating) show director Eric Stanze's indie stripes. It's like watching Some Kind of Monster on a CRT TV. The main problem with Savage Harvest is that it's the old woman driver in film form. It takes far too long to get not particularly far. For a film filled with dire acting and terrible pacing, you'd think it'd be in more of a rush to unzip its pants and get it over with.

But Savage Harvest actually has decent practical effects behind it, the designs of the demons are actually quite effective, evoking memories of Kevin S. Tenney's Night of the Demons (1988). There's all manner of bodily abuse on display here - throat slitting, chainsaw dismemberment, fridges being pushed onto corpses, even cannibalism. For such a low budget movie, Savage Harvest pulls off the 'night of endurance and torment' plot rather well. It's just a shame that the rest of the production values are rather shoddy. One character, a certifiable metal-head, is supposed to be a teenager I assume, but he looks like he was held back in sleaze-bag school for about a decade. That's another issue with Savage Harvest, it's only memorable in broad strokes - I can recall set-pieces but not one thing about the protagonists.
There's also a fecking ten-minute lecture on Cherokee myths and legends, that's about as much fun as, well, actually attending a lecture on Cherokee myths and legends. I'd recommend Savage Harvest overall, however, mostly because it captures the spirit of The Evil Dead and Night of the Demons, but also because it serves as a reminder of why the video store bargain bin has gone the way of Indian burial grounds - built over and replaced by something that's probably a fast food joint.

#2 Jug Face (2013)

"What is Jug Face?" I hear you ask. Why, dear reader, it's what the people of North Korea call Kim Jong Un behind his back. It also happens to be a rather interesting folklore-horror from Chad Crawford Kinkle, a director who you may remember from the National Least Appealing Rap Name Awards. Stomping the same well-worn ground as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or Wrong Turn (2003), Jug Face features in-bred communities, the occult, and isolating hostility towards the outside world. Jug Face concerns a backwards woodland society who do what all rednecks do - fuck each other silly, drink endless quantities of moonshine, and rape Burt Reynolds' naive friends. Oh, and they worship an unnatural pit too. This is how the third day of any four-day music festival ends up.

The sinister Pit houses an ancient malevolent entity, which has presided over the community for generations. In return for its 'benevolence', The Pit demands ritual sacrifice. Which is where Dawai (Sean Bridgers), a mentally challenged man, comes in. Owing to his connection with The Pit, Dawai has possessive episodes where he models 'jugs' based on who is intended to be the latest sacrifice. As systems go, it's only slightly more useful than drawing stick figure representations of presidential candidates during elections. The plot undergoes a few rather predictable turns: Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter), the protagonist whose role in proceedings involves some Jeremy Kyle-esque issues, is revealed to be the next would-be victim. A revelation that should come as no surprise to anyone who has even been in the same room as a horror movie. Ada's defiance of The Pit's desires - an act to protect herself and her baby - results in a rather macabre outcome for all concerned. Spoiler alert: it's eighty-plus minutes of Ada being whipped, ostracised, molested, and beaten - just like my last work appraisal.

Jug Face deals with the sinister aspects of the Deep South's folklore and culture. For the most part, the film's horror stems from how far zealots are willing to go for their society and religion. Kinkle manages to capture the lonely, suffocating feeling of the Deep South's woodlands and make it a part of the film's ill-defined antagonist. The scenes depicting the sacrifices to The Pit are loud, disturbing, and blood-splattered. We don't really see this 'supposed' entity, beyond the deadly effects of The Pit itself. It's comparable to The Wickerman (1973), a superstition-based horror film about evil paganistic gods, but the primary source of the misery comes from the very human characters. In fact, the film falters once it introduces supernatural elements. Ada's spirit BFF (Alex Maizus) is simply Mr. Exposition, and the make-up effects used to make him appear 'ghostly' are absolutely crap. It's like someone tried white-facing by going to a talcum powder factory.
Kinkle adds a few enjoyable flourishes to help heighten the sense of horror - such as the chaotic point of view sequences during the sacrifices, which serve to create a disquieting juxtaposition between the isolated Ada and the sinister embrace of The Pit. Imagine if a snuff film was awkwardly inserted into an episode of Dickinson's Real Deal, and you get the picture. Jug Face is a startlingly original film, with a great premise. Who would have thought that some rather cracking jugs would have such an alluring effect on society. Oo-er.