Halloween Havoc!: BLOOD HARVEST (Titan International 1987)

Wisconsin-based auteur Bill Rebane has made some interesting movies: THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, THE CAPTURE OF BIGFOOT, THE DEMONS OF LUDLOW. I’m not necessarily saying they were good films, just interesting! Rebane entered the slasher film sweepstakes with 1987’s BLOOD HARVEST, a lunatic entry starring falsetto singing wonder Tiny Tim (“Tip Toe Through the Tulips”) as a delightfully demented clown named Marvelous Mervo!

I’ll try to give you a brief description of the madness going on here: so there’s this girl Jill (Itonia Salchek) who returns home from college to find her parents gone and her house painted with the words ‘Scum!’, ‘Thief!’,  and ‘Bastard!”. Welcome home, Jill! It seems dad worked for the bank that’s been foreclosing on all the local family farms, including Jill’s ex-boyfriend Gary’s (Dean West) parents, who were murdered, leaving Gary in charge of his loony brother Mervyn (Tiny Tim), who spends his time dressed in clown make-up.

Are you with me so far? Good, because now the fun begins! People in Jill’s life begin to disappear, like her new fiancé Scott the football star, who takes a baseball bat to the forehead and is trussed up like a pig and hung upside down. Scott, by the way, marked the film debut of Peter Krause, who went on to TV success in SIX FEET UNDER and PARENTHOOD, which is much better than taking a bat to the forehead and being hung like a smoked ham!

It’ll be pretty obvious to those familiar with slasher schlock who the real killer is before the film’s half over (hint: it’s not the clown!). There are some really dull stretches, alleviated somewhat by Salchek spending a lot of time naked. The film doesn’t really pick up until the final twenty minutes or so, where the gore gets going good! Rebane doesn’t have the deranged flair of a Herschell Gordon Lewis  , but certainly shares the Godfather of Gore’s psychotic spirit. Unfortunately, much of BLOOD HARVEST is shot on grainy, badly lit stock, with out of focus shots and a disjointed quality to the script. And this was the special “Director’s Cut” I watched!

As for Tiny Tim… well, he’s not bad! The lunatic clown Marvelous Mervo seems tailor-made for his unique personality, and though he’s as obvious a red herring as can be, he’s certainly appropriately creepy! Tim even gets a chance to warble the title tune and a couple of bars of other songs (my favorite: “Good Night, Ladies”), and BLOOD HARVEST probably wouldn’t be remembered at all without his presence (in fact, I could’ve done with more of Tiny Tim’s trilling and less of the oh-so-80’s synth score). So I’m actually going to recommend this no-budget slasher entry for it’s DIY aesthetic, Salchek’s nubile nudity, and Mr. Tim’s performance as Mervo. It’s a Bottom of the Grindhouse Barrel of Fun!

Halloween Havoc!: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Bryanston Pictures 1974)

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The first time I watched THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was at a drive-in around 1975. I remember laughing hysterically at the film; of course, I was tripping my brains out on mescaline at the time and laughed at anything! I’ve since viewed the film several times without chemical enhancement and I’m no longer laughing. I like it a lot, it’s a scary little exploitation shocker for sure, but one thing that really irks me is a  certain segment of critics who treat it as some kind of metaphor with deep meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like here. The tension is gripping, the horror relentless, and Tobe Hooper did a terrific job working with a miniscule budget. It’s just that over the years, critics have overanalyzed the thing to death, expounding on the political and cultural ramifications of it’s themes and blah, blah, blah. Whether or not all this blathering about Hooper’s intentions is true or not is irrelevant to me. I appreciate THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE for what it is, a grimy fucking nightmare of a movie that does exactly what it’s supposed to do… scare people!

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Okay, rant over. Now let’s look at the film. A van-full of groovy young 70’s types are driving along as the radio reports lots of mysterious grave robbings going on deep in the heart of Texas. They pick up a weird dude hitchhiking who gives them a nice lesson in working at a slaughterhouse and making head cheese (‘It’s really good”). The weirdo cuts himself, then slashes wheelchair-bound Franklin in the arm. The kids kick him out, and he smears blood on the side of the van as they leave.

They make it to a gas station/barbeque joint, looking for “the old Franklin place” (an unedited mistake, as Franklin and sister Sally’s last name is Hardesty, otherwise he’d be Franklin Franklin!). But the station’s out of gas, and the owner warns them away from the property. They go anyway (of course they do!), finding the old homestead in a state of decay. Kirk and Pam (and I love her 70’s halter top… God, I miss those!) come across an old farmhouse and hear machinery. Thinking they might borrow some petrol, Kirk goes inside. He hears strange noises, then suddenly, we get our first glimpse of Leatherface, who bashes Kirk’s head in and drags him into a mysterious room.

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Pam reluctantly searches for Kirk, and stumbles (literally) into this chamber of horrors, with rotted bones, skulls, and teeth strewn everywhere. She flees, but is grabbed by Leatherface and hung on a meathook as the creep revs up his chainsaw and begins slicing and dicing Kirk’s body while she screams in agony.

Sally’s boyfriend Jerry goes to look for the couple, and quickly becomes the next victim. Night falls, leaving Sally and Franklin left. He wants to go for help, but Sally’s determined to find her friends. She pushes her brother through the wooded area, when out pops Leatherface to start carving up the helpless Franklin. Sally bolts, her terror is palpable, and the chase is frightening to the viewer. She runs all the way back to the gas station, only to be captured bythe owner. It seems he’s the proud papa of both Leatherface and the weird dude, and that barbeque they’re serving is human flesh!

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The family of cannibals also includes Grampa, a mummified old man who sucks on Sally’s sliced finger in an incredibly creepy moment. Sally is beaten and tortured before making her escape by jumping through a closed window, bloodied and screaming for her life, as Leatherface and his demented family give chase through the isolated woods…

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Tobe Hooper piled one terror after another on poor Sally with full-throttle intensity. His technical skills behind the camera were noticed by Hollywood, as were the heaps of money the film made, and soon he was an A-lister, directing the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT and producer Steven Speilberg’s big screen POLTERGEIST. The fact that Hooper didn’t remain an A-lister long was more due to his independent streak than his prowess behind the camera. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was one of the most influential films of its era, inspiring a slew of slasher movies and pretty much creating all the genre’s tropes. It made a horror icon out of the late Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, and Marilyn Burns’ Sally is one of the all-time great Scream Queens. It will scare the hell out of you, but please don’t try to read any more than that into the movie. Redeeming social qualities? Forget it! Can’t we all just enjoy a good torturefest without being subjected to endless analytical torture?

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