Tag Archives: John McNaughton

The Harvest (2013)

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For thrills, chills, and scintillating melodrama, look no farther than “The Harvest,” John McNaughton’s most recent venture into the horror genre; but don’t use the film to inform the uninitiated about the perks of homeschooling your kids.

Maryann (Natasha Calis)  just wants a friend, and release from the doldrums of being the new kid in a new town. Katherine (Samantha Morton,) the emasculating and controlling homeschool mom of a very sick boy, has other ideas. When Maryann meets Andy (Charlie Tahan,) a wheelchair bound preteen, it’s affable curiosity and burgeoning friendship at first sight, but Katherine is totally hellbent on keeping Andy as far away from Maryann as possible.

She keeps Andy and his dad Richard (Michael Shannon) in constant fear of her insane mood swings (it’s safe to say that Richard, like “American Beauty”‘s Lester Burnham, has had his balls stored in a mason jar under the sink since the early years of their marriage,) overprotects Andy to the point of ridiculousness, and keeps Andy on a variety of numbing medications that seem to increase exponentially by the minute. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want him to get better- but that’s crazy, right?

When Maryann quite accidentally does a bit of probing into the matter, she discovers a horrible secret that Richard and Katherine would die to keep buried far, far away with their other familial skeletons. Maryann wants to help Andy, but what can a kid do when her live-in grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles) are so obtuse about her shocking discovery? One thing’s for sure- Andy’s not breaking free of his domineering mum without an explosive confrontation.

“The Harvest” is like a soap opera you can’t stop watching for fear that, if you turn away, you’ll miss one of the insane plot twists. There’s probably more constructive things you should be doing, but something keeps you anchored to the TV screen, and for some reason, you don’t even resent the power it seems to have over you. The realism is questionable, the unanswered questions are daunting, the confrontations are over-the-top but the film has the effect of reading a really good paperback novel- you’ve just got to turn that next page.

Although “The Harvest” can be outrageous, the performances solidly support a sensational premise, including a thoroughly committed acting job by Samantha Morton. Morton flips by the turn of a dime from a annoying overbearing ice queen with a vast array of outfits apparently picked from the Mormon Housewife section of the JC Penny to a genuinely malevolent force. She’s so outrageously cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs that you almost laugh, but you genuinely fear for those orbiting her one-woman circus act.

The whole cast- Michael Shannon as a stereotypical deballed hubby with a perpetual hangdog posture, Natasha Callis as a girl probably too smart for her own good, Charlie Tahan as a put-upon youngster- are so devoted to making their roles work that they manage to gloss over the more soap-opera-ish moments. There are certainly some logistical infallacies (unless Maryann is the kind of child who habitually tells tall tales, which I suspect she isn’t, wouldn’t her well-meaning grandparents put some credence to her wild story- at least give her a chance?) and the ending raises more questions than it answers, but the film itself is luridly compelling.

It held a strange power over me, maybe partially because it shows how quickly good intentions- anything for the one you love’s sake- can slip-slide into focused evil. I haven’t seen hardly anything with Samantha Morton (nothing memorable I can remember off the top of my head) but I think she was outstanding in this role. Her devotion comes with a body count, and her husband must decide how long being her bitch serves his best interests. Shit will go down, and we kind of love that about it.

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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

 

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Rougher, rawer, and realer than other horror-killer films of it’s ilk (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven,”) “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” engaged me from beginning to end. Beware- people who don’t want to see the dark, dark side of the human psyche should stay far away from this innovative low-budget classic. The titular serial killer of the title (played by Michael Rooker, who many will no as Daryl Dixon’s no good brother Merle) never stays in one place for long, and the film follows in startlingly true-to-life style as he stays for a while at the home of his worthless white-trash friend Otis (Tom Towles,) and Otis’ sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold.)

(Somewhat) innocent Becky just came out of an abusive relationship and is suckered in immediately by Henry’s sad story, but Otis has less-than-brotherly feelings for his attractive sis. So follows a plunge into darkness, as Henry initiates Otis into his homicidal lifestyle, while Becky, not fully aware of the extent of Henry’s crimes, only falls harder for the taciturn killer.

“Henry- Portrait of a Serial Killer” is extremely creepy with natural-looking actors who are convincing in their roles. There certainly aren’t a lot of sympathizable characters (Becky is ultimately the only one you’ll feel anything for,) but I ended up thinking that Otis was even worse than his murderously inclined buddy. His unscrupulous intentions toward his sister were less than savory, and although he didn’t initially kill anybody, he sure took to the pastime (with Henry’s mentorship) like gangbusters.

Obviously a low-budget movie, this movie actually uses that to it’s asset, and it provides it’s most harrowing scene on home video as something that Henry and Otis have shot on their expeditions. The weird sound effects and general eeriness reminded me of “Angst,” another discomforting movie from the 1980’s which is hard to find on DVD. The ‘bad mama’ trope is a little cliched (the serial killer genre’s take on the refrigerator mother,) but being that it’s true to the events this was based on, I didn’t sweat it too much.

I personally didn’t find this movie too disturbing and I found it captivating in it’s own freaky way, but I understand it won’t float everyone’s boat. People for loads and loads of gore (a ‘la “Dead Alive”) will be sorely disappointed, only the aftermath most of the murders is shown. Just remember the real story was a helluva lot worse (the ‘Becky’ character was Henry’s 12-year-old lover, whereas in this she was a young woman) This is now my 2nd-favorite serial killer movie (yep, “Tony”‘s still the best.) It’s a must-see for horror fans who aren’t afraid of getting their hands a little dirty film-wise.

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