Two decades ago, I embarked on a journey of transition, discovery, and debilitating sleep deprivation. I set out to make a gory little horror movie called Savage Harvest (1995)... my first non-student filmmaking experience.
Savage Harvest is about a group of victims confronting demonic forces conjured by a Cherokee elder a century and a half ago. The newcomers are possessed by demons as they make contact with rocks displaying animal symbols. Each possession comes with unique physical and behavior transformations, based on which animal demon the person is possessed by.
Production of this movie, which began in 1993, was a grueling experience. We worked insanely long hours, sweated through dangerous summer heat, and shivered through painful winter nights. At the peak of activity, due to my poor scheduling of the shoot, sleep deprivation compromised the efficiency, safety, and sanity of almost everyone on the cast and crew. The Savage Harvest shoot may represent the most exhausted I've ever been. On many days of shooting, I was teetering on the edge of collapse. I was so tired it hurt.
Still, I had an incredible movie in my head, and I was determined to create this ferocious, terrifying, soul-rattling vision of intense horror. I pressed on for months and months, toiling my way through a complex, special-effects-heavy project, with numerous locations, tricky camera work, and endless exterior night setups... all very time-consuming things that require teamwork, patience, tenacity.
My formal education was in television production, and I had been working steadily and exclusively in TV / video for about three years. In my teens, I'd made some ridiculous student films with my friends. However, I did not go to film school. While I'd been on plenty of professional television shoots, I hadn't yet logged any hours on professional feature film shoots. Worst of all, I was the most experienced and knowledgeable filmmaker on the Savage Harvest shoot.
It's not like I was clueless. The shoot was not a disaster... in fact, considering my age and inexperience, we had a very professionally run set, and a very goal-focused, reliable cast and crew. But I know the movie would have turned out much better if at least one person with a little more filmmaking experience and skill had been providing me guidance and watching my back.
On the other hand, I like that the Savage Harvest shoot was the thorny challenge it was. Putting yourself through the wringer like that, throwing yourself into the unknown to be battered and bloodied... it toughens ya up. Scars build character.
Savage Harvest was my first "professional" project. I had been able to secure a home-video distribution deal before we started shooting, based on the script. This was virtually unheard of at the time, especially for a 21-year-old whippersnapper who had nothing but student films on his resume at that point.
And then, when the movie was done, I hated it.
I considered the end result a failure because it was so very different from the movie I'd had in my head while we were making it. In the years that followed Savage Harvest's initial release, our little blood-splattered b-movie gained a surprisingly enthusiastic cult following. I would learn that Savage Harvest's adoring fans didn't care what I had in my brain when I conceived the movie - they loved the movie for the enthusiastic but clunky, campy, insane gorefest it turned out to be.
Savage Harvest's fans taught me how to embrace this little movie... instead of cower in shame from it! Given how much effort and agony the cast, crew, and I contributed to the flick, I owe these fans my sincerest gratitude for teaching me what they love about Savage Harvest.
The movie was released around the world on VHS in 1995, the home video format most responsible for building up Savage Harvest's fan base. When my second and third films, Ice From The Sun and Scrapbook were released (virtually back-to-back) in 1999, VHS was settling into its final days, withering in the shadow of mighty newcomer, DVD.
Ice From The Sun became one of the first independent films to be released on this newfangled digital format, and Scrapbook hit disc shortly after. So, when I think about my filmography and the format of VHS, Savage Harvest is the one title that seems to fit perfectly with the analog magnetic tape format.
To this day, to my pleasant surprise, our little horror movie is still grabbing spotlight - nearly two decades after its initial release. This month, Savage Harvest was returned to VHS by distributor Vultra Video. They released the movie as a Limited Edition, signed and numbered VHS collector's item. It's a two-tape pack, with Savage Harvest 2: October Blood (2007), directed by Jason Christ.
Savage Harvest, an eye-opening, skin-thickening experience, came "home" to be enjoyed by horror fans (new and old) on VHS again.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze