The Dark Secret of Harvest Home
Originally aired as an NBC mini-series in the Fall of 1978
Edited version available from Universal Home Video on VHS
You have an artist and his family living in New York City as the story opens. Their teenage daughter, played by Rosanna Arquette has some sort of vague but unpleasant and deadly illness. She needs nice country air to make her feel better as she is apparently allergic to the big city.
The family finds a deal on a house in a quaint, but extremely weird town in Connecticut called Cornwall Combe. The artist's wife and daughter are sold on the place, but he really feels uncomfortable with the sights and sounds around him. The town just doesn't feel right to Nick Constantine, played by David (not Dan) Ackroyd but the family convinces him it is fine and that he is paranoid and delusional.
Well, old Nick just can't sit quietly and be a good little townsperson. He begins to investigate this town, which leads him to cross paths with the town's matriarch, the Widow Fortune, played by Bette Davis. She controls the town like she controls this movie, playing her character with such off-handed and darkly comical weirdness that she actually becomes creepier than anyone could have conceived she would be. She is so calm most of the time. Can anyone really be so calm?
There cannot be much of a spoiler, mostly because the video release version is absolute horrible. Before releasing the film on VHS, they cut more than an hour off the movie. As a result, the story is completely absurd. There are simply too many underhanded little twists and turns that fit together in a mad puzzle to lose one third of the film.
From there we have weird ghostly mating dances out in the yard, hallucinations brought on by spiked tea, harvest festivals and what appear to be psychotic Amish people. They like the "old ways" and woe to those who try to leave "the Combe." Everything revolves around the corn harvest and human sacrifice is an important part of insuring that bountiful harvest. It takes the old harvest home idea of John Barleycorn and applies it to a different spectrum of human interpretation. The story builds towards the climactic point of the autumn harvest and what must be done to assure the continuation of these people's "way of life." There are, however, a lot of frightened people who really want to get the hell out. Most of them don't get far, unless you consider being imprisoned in a cabin with your tongue in a box under the bed successful.
The background narration by Donald Pleasence is disturbing and bleak. The whole movie is disturbing and bleak. No one here gets out alive. Conform or die. Why fight it, you can't escape. By the end of the full, 200 minute version, you'll be nodding uneasily and saying "yes, widow" to Bette Davis as well. Oh, and there is also a very young Tracey Gold, of Growing Pains fame being very creepy in her own right. She actually gives the Widow Fortune a run for the money in that department and almost reaches Linda Blair's level.
The problem, however, is that the edited version makes this look like a third rate horror film with a mangled plot. The full version is a different story all together. And when the needle drops on that record player and you listen to your favorite books being read to you because of your sudden blindness...
The film is based on Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, a 1973 gothic horror novel, which I have never read.
If there is anyone out there who has access or information on the full mini-series version I want to talk you into telling me more about how I can get my hands back on it.
(Tracing back time I feel that this movie was responsible for seriously warping me at an early age, and perhaps molding me into the creep I am today. It aired as a two-part mini-series and I remember my mother stayed up to watch this twisted film with me on successive nights. We lived in central Massachusetts back then and this was broadcast on some crisp autumn evenings.)