The Dark Secret of Harvest Home

05/13/2022 06:46

Film: The Dark Secret of Harvest Home

Year: 1978

Director: Leo Penn

Writers: Jack Guss and Charles E. Israel

Starring: Bette Davis, David Ackroyd and Rosanna Arquette



This is a movie that I didn’t know about until I was working through The Horror Show Guide encyclopedia. I read the blurb, but outside of that, I didn’t know a lot about this one. It took some time to find this movie, but I was able to find it streaming on YouTube. This is also a mini-series that was in two episodes. The synopsis here is a young couple moves to a quiet New England village, only to soon find themselves mixed up in mysterious rituals.

We start this movie in New York City. We are following the Constantine family. The father is Nick (David Ackroyd). He wanted to be an artist, but to marry Beth (Joanna Miles) he had to take a job doing advertising. Her father was a minister and wanted to ensure that she was taken care of. He is miserable though. Beth is struggling ever since Nick cheated on her. She sees an expensive therapist. Nick wants to reconcile, but it is difficult. They also have a daughter, Kate (Rosanna Arquette). She wants to quit her piano lessons. The reason is that some hoodlums are forcing her to pay so they don’t mess with her. Beth wants to leave the city, but Nick points out that isn’t possible.

Things take a turn for them when Nick reveals he’s quit his job. Nick and Beth are fighting. Their fortunes change though when Beth’s father passes away. He left her a good sum of money in his will. They decide to leave the city. They get a flat tire and end up outside of Cornwall Combe, Connecticut. This family is enamored when they detour to check it out.

Intercut with the Constantine family, we get introduced to this town. It is run by Widow Fortune (Bette Davis). Agriculture is what runs their life. They are coming up on ploughing day as they are planting their fields. There is an interesting scene with an empty house near Maggie (Linda Marsh) and Robert Dodd (Stephen Joyce). A couple looks at it as potential buyers. Widow won’t sell to them. She does reveal that she will if the right family comes along.

That family is the Constantines. She agrees to sell it to them and under what they’re willing to pay. Our family then gets acclimated to life here. As the synopsis states, they follow an odd religion where they select a ‘corn maiden’ and ‘lord of the harvest’. They both have a responsibility for different things to ensure there is a good harvest of corn. There are also elements of religion mixed in with what they’re doing.

Nick makes waves here though. He decides that he wants to write a book about this town that seems lost in time. Widow looks like a pilgrim and some of the other members of the society dress like the Amish. Widow and the others in the village want him to leave it be as there are skeletons in the closet they want kept there. There is also a member that passed away and Nick wants to get to the bottom of what happened with her. Things become even more complicated when he learns there are dark secrets that Widow and the rest keep hidden.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap. Being that this runs around three and half hours, I could go long with trying to recap everything. That isn’t something I wanted to do here. I feel what I gave you gives enough information to get you up to speed. Where I will start is that I liked the main idea of this movie. I didn’t know coming in that this is based on a novel written by Tom Tyron. It looks like it was called Harvest Home. Having now seen this, I would be interested in seeking this out if that is possible. There is a lot here and I’d bet some of the things I was interested in get fleshed out more. This movie does do well in giving us a lot, I will give credit there. They are able due to it being a mini-series. It came out in two episodes on television. On YouTube, they were broken into an hour and half with the second being around two hours and fifteen minutes. I’m assuming the time listed on the Internet Movie Database is including commercials.

Where I want to go from here is that this movie feels like it is the American version of The Wicker Man. I’m not sure when the novel came out, but this movie was made 5 years after. There are a lot of similarities. We have people from a modern world going to a place that feels like it is stuck in its own time. There is a religious angle, but they also worship nature. The rituals are also a bit more violent than what the people realize as well. To build on this, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Ari Aster had seen this and using part of this as the basis of Midsommar, at least for a certain scene at the climax of that movie. This is all a positive for me.

The last bit that I want to go positive here is this society. It is different in that it is a matriarchy. Widow is our leader. Everyone looks to her and what she says goes. I enjoyed this idea. Davis does an excellent job as this character. There is something about her from the beginning that you don’t trust. She does so well at playing snarky characters like this. This is coupled with moments where I like her. She genuinely cares about Kate and Beth. She wants to help them. She also likes Nick, but he is meddling. That is something she won’t have. If he would stop what he is doing, I think she would accept him as well. There is also the idea that she might have supernatural powers. I thought it might reveal that she is older than everyone else. This is something that I’m still curious or if the novel sheds light on. There are some things that could be explained naturally, like understanding healing properties of things in nature. It could also be that she has powers like witchcraft. I like the ambiguity to allow the viewer to decide, but just a bit more of fleshing this out would help.

To explain a bit more why this is a problem for me is the fact that this movie is boring. There are things that pull me in, but my problem is that we have too many things that are repetitive. I think that bogs it down. There is a lot of talking and characters just hanging out that doesn’t feel like it goes anywhere. Personally, I think this could be trimmed to three hours while still fleshing out everything that we need. I also think that it could add a bit more to liven things up a bit as well. We have a great setting. The religion and the almost cult like way everyone lives here is all good. Things just meander in my opinion which slows things down.

That should be enough for the story so I’ll shift over to the acting. I’ve already said my piece about Davis. She’s great here. Ackroyd is solid as Nick. I like that he’s our character who gets hooked into the mystery and then wants to investigate. We need him to fill us in on the dark side of this place. I also like that he’s a complicated character. There are times that I don’t like him, but he grows into the person that we get behind. It is interesting to see a young Arquette here. She’s solid as the daughter. I liked Miles as Beth. She is weak at first, but the longer she’s in the village, the stronger she becomes. It was interesting to see a younger Rene Auberjonois. I liked him along with the rest of the people of the town. Special shout outs to Michael O’Keefe, as a teen that wants to get out. We also have Donald Pleasence voice as a narrator on a record that Robert listens to.

Then the last things to go into would be the cinematography, effects and the soundtrack. I think that this movie is shot well. We get some beautiful landscapes to set up this village. What makes it better is that this also builds atmosphere. We are seeing how isolated it is and how a place like this could exist. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects, but this was also made for television. I think what we do get is fine. The outfits of the people in the village fits for this place that feels stuck in time. That worked for me. Then finally the soundtrack is decent. We get church bells which signal different things. We also get some creepy chanting and music that helps to build the atmosphere as well. Not a soundtrack that stands out amongst others in the genre but works here.

In conclusion, I am glad that I saw this movie. It is interesting made for television mini-series that is based on a novel. The idea of this village that is lost in time, which has a cult like religion that worship their harvest catches my interest. Davis is great here as Widow Fortune and I’d say the rest of the cast is good around her. This is shot well which helps to build the atmosphere with the effects and the soundtrack. My problem is that this is too long. What they focus on does bog this down for me as well. Not a great movie in my opinion, but one that I’m glad I can tick off my list for sure.


My Rating: 6.5 out of 10