Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Gothic Harvest – review

Director: Ashley Hamilton

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

One thing I noticed about Gothic Harvest, before watching it, was that it featured Bill Moseley (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) for whom I have a distinct soft spot (and a lot of respect as a genre actor) mostly for his work with Rob Zombie as well as the rest of his work; unfortunately in this he is absolutely underused.

What we get is a very unusual vampire tale (the V word is used and there is a strange take on vampirism in the film) that doesn’t capitalise on both the name it attracted to the vehicle and fails to capitalise on the horror aspect or the location (being set in New Orleans and nearby bayou).

Starting “One Year Earlier” we see Amelia (Sofia Mattsson) in a New Orleans hotel room with Brianna (Michelle West) and the latter’s boyfriend – all set for a drunken tryst. As the boyfriend goes to the bathroom Amelia doses his drink and, on his return, he is quickly knocked out. Amelia then seduces Brianna and takes her away to her family home, where we see them kissing before the scene changes…

a bit of voudon
A year on. Four ladies, Hope (Abbie Gayle, Preacher), Tina (Mary Alice Risener), Katie (Tanyell Waivers) and Benay (Ashton Leigh), are in New Orleans to enjoy Mardi Gras. When we meet them they are approached by a man (Clyde Risley Jones, Tales from the Hood 2) on the street who is clearly a voudon practitioner and offers Benay a chicken foot. She reluctantly accepts but when he asks for $25 she looks at him with disbelief and gives him 25 cents. When we next meet them, they are in a bar and drunk.

the girls
Essentially, they have been tapping guys up for drinks but Benay has insisted on the 60 seconds rule – if they lose sight of one another for more than 60 seconds they search each other down. Hope sees a guy at the bar, Gargol (Ashley Hamilton), and approaches him. He leaves her at the bar to intervene with an unwanted suitor at the girls' table, and Hope then asks whether he could get rid of another creepy guy, Lafitte (Yohance Myles), who has been staring at them. Instead he suggests going somewhere else... despite the 60 seconds rule, her friends don’t notice her go at first. When they do, they search for her inside the bar and outside, eventually meeting cop Hollis (Bill Moseley) (who seems a little less than straight, shaking a guy down for drugs when they meet him). He suggests there is little that can be done but arranges to meet the girls the next day.

strange dinner party
Hope is taken to Gargol’s home and there is a dinner party being held for Brianna, who looks broken and is chained to the table – though Hope is too drunk to really notice. Also in attendance is mother, Griselda (Lin Shaye), father, Justice (Thomas Francis Murphy), and Gargol’s sisters, Amelia and Dolly (Ciara Rizzo). During the dinner Amelia gives Brianna her present – she breaks her neck and, eventually, Hope ends up strapped to a bed with a ball-gag in her mouth and tubes coming out of her – here we get the vampirism.

Gigi Zumbado as Blanche
The family moved to New Orleans from France in the 1830s. A further sister, Blanche (Gigi Zumbado), was being courted by a respectable suitor but ended up pregnant to Lafitte. As a punishment (for stealing his seed) she was cursed, whilst still heavily pregnant, by Marie Laveau (Janee Michelle, Scream Blacula Scream). Essentially, she would not die (though she would age) whilst the umbilical cord between her and the baby lasted. The rest of the family would be stuck in time (as would Lafitte, it seems).

Blanche as the conduit
To continue they have to steal the blood of the young, and those must be girls who have the heart of a whore (so, in terms of their thought pattern, any sexually open young woman). Blanche is now an old woman (though she hardly looks close to what you’d imagine a 200-year old would look) and is led in what appears to be a coffin connected by umbilical cord to the baby. She is intravenously connected to the kidnapped girl, and the girl’s blood is fed to the vampiric infant through the mother (as I mentioned, the word vampire is used and though Benay dismisses the notion, that is due to her scepticism). After a year the girl is replaced.

Bill Moseley as Hollis
The exposition given above feels somewhat ham-fistedly handled, dumped (in the main) into narrative by Griselda to an incapacitated Hope in a single block of dialogue/flashback. Moseley’s character is poorly used – essentially trying to sleazily get it on with Tina, whilst barely taking part in the action and then being captured by the family off-screen. This is the issue with the horror aspects. On a gore level it is poorly handled – Amelia is a sexual-sadist who tortures a hapless guy (Kyler Porche) but we ONLY see the aftermath, bar one cut ear. The majority of kills are bloodless and involve breaking necks.

Lin Shaye as Griselda
Of course, gore and torture are not the only horror elements that could be put in. Dolly seems to have a low mental age and has dollies that Gargol constructs from corpses – that seemed under-explored and lacking any impact (though Dolly is involved in a rare death by stabbing). Indeed the entire family needed fleshing out and making more creepy and the atmosphere needed piling on – for a movie with the word gothic in the title it lacked any level of gothic atmosphere. Some of the story licks made little sense, also. Lafitte wants to get his son back but does not know where the family are (presumably their bayou home was the one he visited Blanche in) and, indeed, he uses the girls to find it where he could have just followed Gargol and Hope and then drawn the girls in as distractions.

Katie and Tina
This has a really interesting idea at the centre with the baby being the vampire, fed by those dependent on it for their eternal lives. However, one never got the impression that they were enjoying eternity (indeed there is much bemoaning of being trapped in the house most of the time and being in an eternal déjà vu). The lack of horror (either from the gore end or the atmosphere end) and the almost criminal under use of Bill Moseley both push the score down. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

No comments: