If I’ve gotta do 90s horror, slashing scarecrows and cabin creatures are a good way to go. I missed both of these back in the day, so I was in for some surprises.
DARK HARVEST (1992)
A shot-on-video slasher from 1992, this one left me with no expectations, and for quite a while, it lived up to them beautifully. For starters, I have no idea why so many people are out in the middle of a desert (or why a scarecrow is either, for that matter), but a bunch of college kids is driving through the desert.
They take an ominous warning by a black dude pumping gas as just hillbilly talk. I didn’t even know black guys could be hillbillies. Damn, I really am one ignorant educated white metropolitan dude.
The group’s van breaks down, they set up camp, tell scary stories by a fire, confess their most secret dreams, go off for sex…
…and then start getting killed by not one, but several scarecrows!
On top of that, there are some fucked up encounters with some really queer hillbillies (white ones).
It’s a bizarre mess for a while. Then suddenly, the movie finds a surprisingly good groove…crazy scarecrow madness hilarity.
Seriously, I believe the prominent horror comedy aspects are all totally intentional. I mean…scarecrows even start talking.
The shining star of this shift in tone is hilarious actor David Zyler.
If I had been the director of this film, upon initially viewing the final cut, I would have gone back and reworked the first half to match the second part and made Zyler the star from the start.
I’m glad to see that among the many faceless cast credits for this film on imdb, his name has a face and he has remained in the business to this day—as a voice actor.
I can guarantee that if he had been around a decade earlier and started his career in a 1982 horror flick, he would have had a streak of roles in a handful of 80s teen flix and horror flix and would be a household name with GenXers to this day.
By the end of the 90s, Charles Band’s partnership with David DeCoteau working on Full Moon films was coming to an end, but DeCoteau was apparently obligated to direct this one—and is apparently embarrassed by it. And yet he finds no shame in continuing to pump out those 1313 movies…
I didn’t hate Totem. Yeah, it’s really cheesy and you can see the strings on the little totem creatures, but this shit is horror brilliance compared to the nonsensical Evil Bong/Gingerdead Man/Ooga Booga mashups Full Moon is shamelessly pumping out these days.
The truth is, despite the film featuring silly creatures coming alive off a totem pole, the general premise Charles Band created is one that would become a mainstream horror cliché by the end of the 2000s—a group of people is stuck together in an enclosed place, and the way to survive is to kill the others.
Six young people find themselves trapped in a cabin in the woods, unable to actually travel past a certain point on the land outside.
They do find an old cemetery with a totem pole in it.
An ancient curse says that before the night is through, three of them will kill the other three, and in doing so, release the creatures from the totem.
Laughable b-movie flying puppets, pretty people turning on each other in an effort to stay alive, cute boys, smoke machines to give it that good old hokey horror atmosphere, a ridiculous zombie scene in the graveyard at the end—Totem is entertainment without the logic.
While the original running time is 80 minutes, this goofy movie is available to stream in a 68-minute edit. Perhaps those missing 12 minutes are the key to clarity?