Just when I thought I’d finished covering all this season’s scares, two more Halloween-themed horror flicks for me to add to the complete holiday horror page were released on VOD. They are currently both rentals, so you’ll have to cough up more than ten bux if you want to make it a double feature.
DARK HARVEST (2023)
On the surface, Dark Harvest may seem to be a standard creature feature with a monster that looks like a cross between Pumpkinhead and Sam from Trick ‘r Treat when he removes his sack. The creature, the bloody kills, and the Halloween atmosphere are definitely the highlights, but I think the story goes deeper than that.
However, the metaphor built into the story is easy to overlook because the concrete plot is all over the place. There are great ideas here for the legend of a creature that needs to be defeated each Halloween to save a town from ruin, but the details become convoluted and we are left doing a lot of head scratching at the end as far as that goes.
So what is the story?
It’s the early 1960s, and each year, groups of teenage boys are locked up and starved for several days until Halloween, when they are released onto the streets to hunt down “Sawtooth”, who rises from the cornfield each year. But this ain’t no Great Pumpkin. Sawtooth viciously slaughters any boy that dares go up against him.
If one of the teenagers is able to defeat Sawtooth, he becomes a town hero, is given a beautiful new car, and is allowed to escape the town for good, never to be seen again.
Truth is, as I, my husband, and our friends watched the film, we began to piece together what was actually happening and the details of how the legend worked–much more clearly than the film itself did! It’s like the writers were almost there but failed to fully explain what they were trying to present.
As a result, this action-packed movie is quite chaotic with a sloppy narrative. The creature confrontations rock, and these half-starved boys go pretty crazy. Their behavior gets into The Purge territory, making them just as much a danger to the town as Sawtooth.
Looking past its flaws, what this movie seems to be doing is making a statement about war, especially as it relates to the 1960s. Innocent young men with their whole lives ahead of them are being forced to fight a pointless war. The only way to get out of their hometown is to risk their lives, and their whole future relies on them surviving and becoming heroes. Some of them are terrified to fight and don’t want to participate, but they have no choice. They all wear masks to hunt Sawtooth, which is never explained, but it could easily represent the many faceless soldiers that are sent to war and die for our country without being known or remembered, especially considering most of the masks are skull faces, as if their fates are already decided.
There’s a bomb shelter scene that demonstrates how these soldiers are never truly safe while out on the battlefield.
And finally, and importantly, the film addresses another issue of war at the time…the idea that women, and in this case a Black female, weren’t allowed to serve in war…even if they longed to volunteer to fight for what’s right despite not being on a level playing field in their own country.
THE JESTER (2023)
After a series of short films that garnered positive attention on the Internet thanks to the iconic persona of The Jester, he finally gets his own full-length feature set on Halloween night.
As mysterious as he was in the shorts, his mystery motivation remains even more unclear in this movie. He appears on the street at night, where he will stalk an individual in an isolated location. Without speaking, he offers up a hand of cards for the person to choose from. I could extract a few different reasons why he was targeting certain people, but the reasons never seem consistent. On top of that, he will randomly kill people that get in his way in between terrorizing a specific person.
The focus is on a girl who loses her father at the hands of The Jester (but she doesn’t know that). After the funeral, she meets up with a sister she never knew…who had been abandoned by the father years before.
This is where the movie becomes fractured. The Jester relentlessly pursues the estranged sister on the street. At the same time, we get a lot of filler with the other sister hanging out with her friends and finally deciding to attend a Halloween festival with them.
The bulk of the movie has The Jester skulking around and harassing the estranged sister. It becomes so repetitive that he loses his mystique, causing the fear factor to plummet.
When he does occasionally kill someone, it’s fun and gory. In fact, the death scenes are so good that I was wishing The Jester had just gone around killing random people rather than focusing on a very limited number of hard targets. That worked in a short film, but we needed more from a 90-minute feature.
In the final act, the two sisters, who barely interact throughout the film, are suddenly thrust into The Jester’s sights. He really had it out for this family.
While it felt like we needed a fuller exploration of The Jester’s purpose, the movie definitely delivers on the atmosphere and the Halloween vibe.