Monday, February 22, 2010

Issue #14: Blood Harvest (1987)

I think most of us have movie memories that we can pinpoint as defining moments in our lives. For instance, I will never forget being 8 years old and sitting in the theater watching Star Wars. From the moment the rebel blockade runner appeared onscreen being chased by the Imperial Star Destroyer I knew that something magical was about to happen.

And it did. Star Wars was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It took me into another world. It made me excited about movies, and about telling stories. It was revolutionary.

Blood Harvest is exactly not like that. At all.

This is not to say that it isn't worth watching. It's totally worth watching, for a number of reasons. And by "a number of reasons" I mean two.

The main one is Tiny Tim. I'm sure you remember Tiny Tim. He's the guy who looked like Weird Al before Weird Al did. Although today he is often referred to as a novelty act, Tim (real name Herbert Khaury) was actually a gifted musicologist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the American popular songbook, particularly the songs of Tin Pan Alley.

Unfortunately, he's most well known for his rendition of "Tip Toe Thru' the Tulips with Me," a song originally featured in the 1929 musical Gold Diggers of Broadway. Tim covered the song on his 1968 album God Bless Tiny Tim. Singing in falsetto and accompanying himself on the ukulele, Tim created a pop music phenomenon. His bizarre performance of the song (now most often called simply "Tip Toe Thru' the Tulips") was enormously popular, and Tim became a fixture on American television. His 1969 wedding to his first wife, commonly known as Miss Vicki, live on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson attracted an estimated audience of 40 million viewers. (Tim and Miss Vicki divorced in 1977, and she went on to have a rather unusual life. She currently writes a not-at-all unusual blog, mostly about her cats Custard and Twinkie. Check it out at Miss Vicki Now if you're curious. There are some fun pictures of the cats. Also, chickens and a pig.)

Anyway, Tiny Tim is, for better or for worse, mostly known as the weird guy with the weird voice singing the weird song. And in case you for some reason have never heard "Tip Toe Thru' the Tulips with Me," here it is. You're welcome.

Tip Toe Thru' the Tulips with Me
Tiny Tim

Now that you're all caught up on your Tiny Tim info, let's move on. As some of you know, in addition to my obsession with creepy clown movies I also have a fondness for giant spider movies. Sadly, there aren't nearly enough of them, the two best known being Tarantula (1955) and Earth vs the Spider (1958). But there's a lesser-known little gem called The Giant Spider Invasion (1975). It's about spiders from another dimension that invade Wisconsin. Genius.

Why Wisconsin? Because that's where the film's director, Bill Rebane, happened to live. Actually, he still lives there. In fact, he ran for governor in 2002 and is currently running again. Check out his website for more about that. Not bad for a guy who moved to the United States from Latvia when he was 15 and learned English by watching movies.

Bill Rebane directed one of the worst (meaning best) horror movies of all time, Monster A Go-Go, which is so deliciously awful that I can't even begin to explain it so you just need to see it for yourself. He's also the director of Blood Harvest.  How cool is that? Giant spiders and creepy clowns. This man obviously deserves to be Wisconsin's next governor, so we should all move there and vote for him.

The movie itself is a pretty straightforward slasher pic. The main focus is Jill Robinson, a comely coed who doesn't think bras are necessary and who has returned to her small Wisconsin hometown for a visit with her parents. Papa Robinson is the president of the local bank, and recently he's been forced to foreclose on a number of farms. This hasn't made him very popular, but Jill doesn't know anything about it and is nonplussed when she receives a chilly welcome from the townsfolk upon her arrival.

She's further distressed when she gets to the family home and finds it covered in graffiti, then bumps into an effigy of her father hanging in the front hall. But most frightening of all is the clown standing in the kitchen holding a bouquet of flowers and grinning from ear to ear. Actually, the grin is painted on, but still. Finding any clown in your kitchen is disquieting.

But then Jill realizes that this clown happens to be Merv, the brother of Jill's high school boyfriend, Gary. Only Merv now calls himself Marvelous Mervo and dresses like a clown. Jill doesn't seem particularly worried about this, which shows that being away from home has made her more tolerant of people who are different. Why, she even has gay friends. Okay, that's not true. There are no gay people in Wisconsin. Oh, except my friend Troy, but he doesn't live there anymore so it doesn't count.

Anyway, Gary is there to see Jill and he hasn't seen Jill's parents either. Given that there are only about 16 people in the entire town, this is a little suspicious, but no one seems terribly worried and Gary and Merv leave. But then Jill gets a phone call and it's some dude who says something that rhymes with "stuck goo ditch," and shortly thereafter a brick comes sailing through the window in a manner suggesting that it isn't an accident.

Jill, perturbed, runs outside and sees a man in camouflage. She runs some more and he follows her. Then there seem to be two or three of him chasing her. Then Jill gets shot in the head and sees blood on her hand and faints. Only it's not blood, it's paint, so she's fainted for nothing. Then the guys playing paintball stand around her discussing what to do, and one of them utters my favorite line from the movie, which you can see at the end of this post. None of them discuss the fact that they're playing paintball because they can't express the sexual feelings they have for one another any other way.

Jill comes to and orders one of the paintball guys to drive her into town in his truck so that she can tell the sheriff that she's worried about her parents. He's more worried about the softball game he's on his way to, but Jill pouts enough that he agrees to go with her to the house. Only when they get there there's no graffiti, no effigy, and no broken window, so now the sheriff calls Jill the Girl Who Cried Brick and drives off.

While Jill was doing this Merv was busy in what appears to be a root cellar. What was he doing? Talking to a woman who looks suspiciously like she might be Jill's mother and who is tied to a chair with a noose around her neck. Now we cut to Merv kneeling in a church singing "Rock of Ages" and running away when a priest asks if there's something on his mind. Oh, and right before the anonymous caller said "stuck goo ditch" to Jill we saw Merv peering out from inside the old barn in the Robinsons' back yard. These three things seem suspicious, especially when you add in the whole clown thing, so maybe something is up with that.

Back in the house Jill gets scared by a cat that jumps out of her dresser drawer and Gary pops by to say that, by the way, he cleaned off the graffiti and got rid of the effigy and fixed the window because he didn't want Jill to be scared. This is sweet, and because Gary looks like a Sear's men's department model it seems reasonable, even if Jill was only gone for about 20 minutes and getting red paint off a white house and replacing a broken window would take at least 25 minutes.

Gary and Jill decide to celebrate her homecoming by sitting in a tree house they built when they were in high school. Gary reminds Jill that one time her father caught them stucking in the tree house and Jill says how could she forget she thought her dad was going to kill them. Then she and Gary run through a field of goldenrod and fall down in the grass, where Gary says maybe now that Jill is back they can pick up where they left off and Jill says that, gee, she would love to but she's kind of engaged to a guy named Scott. This upsets Gary and he stomps through the goldenrod while Jill tries to convince him that being friends is even better than stucking.

Because she's allergic to goldenrod and needs to get the pollen off her, Jill takes a shower and we get to see her boobs and so on, which I suppose is terribly exciting if you're into that sort of thing. But the mood quickly changes as someone turns the cold water off and Jill is almost scalded, which causes her to put on a really short pink silk robe that she will wear for most of the rest of the movie.

Coincidentally, Merv arrives just at this moment and offers to make Jill a cup of coffee. He also kind of comes on to Jill, which isn't nearly as pleasant as the coffee is and makes Jill (and us) uncomfortable. He also says something about being a tree and birds sitting on him, which is just dumb because why would you let birds sit on you? They're descended from lizards, you know, and have those creepy lizard feet.

That night Jill is in her bedroom and she hears a strange noise. Looking out her window she seems someone who looks a lot like like Merv sitting on the swing set in the yard. Then Scott calls and Jill is all "What do I do?" and Scott is all "Call the cops, dumbass" and Jill does. The sheriff knocks on her door a little while later and has Merv with him because--surprise--it was Merv on the swings. But he was only there because he didn't want anything to happen to Jill, so the sheriff tells him to go home.

The thing is, something bad does happen to Jill now. First the lights go out, although because she's already asleep Jill doesn't notice this. Nor does she notice the man putting an ether-soaked rag over her nose and knocking her out. But it's probably for the best, as what happens next would likely upset her. That is unless she likes being tied spread-eagle on her bed, likes having her shirt ripped open so her ladybags are exposed for everyone to see, and likes having Polaroid pictures taken of her like this. Which she might. I've discovered odder things about people I know.

When Jill does wake up it's because Scott has arrived at the house.  Scott looks like this.

Does something about him seem familiar? No? Here's a more recent picture below. See if this rings any bells.

That's right! Scott is none other than Peter Krause of Six Feet Under! No, I have no idea what he was doing in Wisconsin or how he ended up in Blood Harvest, but I'm really glad he did because seeing Jill's boobs made me a little queasy and now I can look at Peter instead. Which is why he is the second great thing about Blood Harvest.

Jill is pretty excited about this too, and pretty soon Scott is taking his shirt off and he and Jill are getting ready to stuck on the world's ugliest shag carpet. Only then the phone rings and Jill says she should probably get it because it might be her parents (it isn't) and Scott says in that case he's going to have a beer and Jill says he can't because her parents don't drink and there's no beer but there is juice and Scott says he doesn't like juice and will go out and get some beer. Only he doesn't get very far because he sees someone running into the old barn and decides to go check it out.

Maybe Scott has never seen a horror movie, or maybe he's so thirsty that it's affecting his judgment, but he doesn't seem to know that going into old barns never ends well and therefore it's a total surprise to him when he's whacked in the forehead by a baseball bat.

Something else Scott doesn't know is that while he and Jill were working up to stucking on the shag carpet Gary was watching then through the window and getting more and more upset. But we know that because we saw it, so we start to suspect that Gary isn't as nice as he seems.

Oh, who am I kidding. Gary is the one doing all the crazy shit. I know it. You know it. Everybody knows it except Jill and Scott. Only Bill Rebane has tried really hard to keep us from realizing this, so let's just pretend we haven't figured it out already. Okay? Good.

While Scott is getting banged in the head Jill is inside practicing some ballet moves. The camera films this from a very odd angle and this is what we see.

So now we know that Jill gets a Brazilian.

Guess who shows up for coffee now? Gary! And Merv! But Merv makes Jill nervous so Gary tells him to go home. Later on Jill's friend Sarah arrives and even though Scott has been gone for the entire day Jill isn't so worried that she can't have a little fun rubbing lotion on her legs and showing Sarah pictures of her man.

Sarah goes out to her car to get something (I forget what) and a man chases her into the barn, where he shoots an arrow through her hand. Then he rips her shirt off, hangs her upside down from a beam, and cuts her jeans off so that we see that she favors black panties. Jill, who doesn't know any of this is going on, is sitting on her bed hugging her teddy bear.

Now Sarah gets her throat cut and dies and we see Tim sitting in his kitchen praying. There are some candles around, and for some reason it reminds me of the scene in Carrie where Piper Laurie turns the house into a giant shrine to Jesus and prays for the soul of her daughter. And that makes me think that a remake of Carrie with Tiny Tim as Mrs. White would have been awesome.

And if you don't believe me maybe this image of what might have been will change your mind.

Somehow sensing that Jill might need a friend, Gary comes knocking and says that he's looking for Merv and hey, is something wrong? Jill says that Scott and Sarah have been gone for an awfully long time and Gary says hey, wouldn't it be funny if the two of them hooked up and ran off together and Jill says that no, it wouldn't be funny at all and Gary says he's sorry but you know he isn't.

Anyway, he leaves and Jill sits on her bed hugging her teddy bear and crying, mostly because she remembers that Sarah is kind of a slut and that she said Scott's picture was hot and so maybe she would try to steal him if she had the chance, which normally Scott wouldn't fall for but what with being all horned up from not being able to stuck Jill earlier in the day he might have a moral lapse, which Jill can only blame herself for because she's the one who insisted on answering the phone.

She'd be crying even harder if she knew that at that very moment Scott is hanging upside down in the barn. But she doesn't so she goes to sleep. That's when the mystery killer comes in, etherizes her again, and takes her out to the barn, where he lays her underneath Scott and says guess what, I'm going to stuck your girlfriend and you can't do a thing about it. Watch me rub my gloved hands all over her ha ha ha hey, what's that sound?

That sound is the sheriff coming to check on Jill. So now the mystery killer has to hoof Jill back into the house and put her back in bed. Not that it matters. She's still unconscious and doesn't hear the sheriff calling her anyway, so when he drives away she's really no worse off than she was before he got there.

Scott is, though, because now his throat is slit and his blood is draining into a bucket. This is exactly what we used to do every fall when we slaughtered the chickens we raised, so I have an idea of what's involved and let me tell you it isn't pleasant. Also, after killing, gutting, and plucking 40 chickens you never want to eat chicken again, although now I'm mostly over it and can enjoy Buffalo wings now and again.

Speaking of slaughtering things, we now see Merv looking at a picture. A picture of what, you ask? Why, it's a pig. A slaughtered pig. And written underneath the picture is Beulah. Beulah was Tim's dearest friend, so seeing her butchered didn't do him any favors and just adds to the drama going on in his brain.

And hey, aren't pigs slaughtered the same way Sarah and Scott have been slaughtered? Maybe that's important. Or maybe it's just a red herring, which it is because we know darn well who killed Sarah and Scott. But nice try, Bill Rebane. Agatha Christie would be proud.

That bucket of blood becomes important the next morning when Jill wakes up and goes to the kitchen to see if there's anything in the refrigerator. And there is, namely the bucket of blood. It tips out on her and she slides around in it and once again we think about Carrie, although instead of locking the doors of Ewen High School using telekinesis and burning everyone inside alive Jill simply cries, which isn't nearly as interesting.

Gary (shocking) appears out of nowhere to comfort her. He also takes her upstairs and helpfully undresses her in the shower, only Jill doesn't seem to notice or care because apparently things have finally gotten to her and she's checked out. This is good news for Gary, as it means he can carry Jill downstairs without putting any clothes on her and put her on the couch. He does cover her with an afghan, though, which is nice of him.

What's not so nice is that--still sopping wet--he sits in a rocking chair and watches Jill sleep. Then we have The Moment. You know the one, where the crazy person's craziness becomes really obvious. In Gary's case he gets an odd look on his face and we know somewhere inside he's crossed the line.

He takes his clothes off and goes over to Jill, forcing us to look at his naked backside. Then he takes the afghan off Jill, kisses her breast, and finally gets on top of her. He starts making out with her and Jill, who is still kind of out of it, thinks it's Scott and makes out back. Only then she opens her eyes and sees that it's Gary and suddenly she's all get off I love you like a brother and I don't make love with my brother because this isn't West Virginia it's Wisconsin and that's illegal so put your underpants on and get out.

You know no good can come of this. But before the no good comes we see Merv looking in a mirror while wiping off his clown makeup. This is Very Important, as it symbolizes the switching of roles he and Gary have been playing. No, not literally. Tiny Tim doesn't suddenly play Gary, although that might be interesting. No, he stops being the crazy clown while Gary gets crazier and crazier. This is a deep moment, and you should watch it several times to get the full effect.

Gary is in the barn crying and Merv is in the house telling Jill that he really needs to show her something. Having already had Gary show her way more than she wanted to (but perhaps not as much as we would have liked him to ) Jill is understandably hesitant. But she goes with Merv, who takes her to his and Gary's house and shows her a room that is basically a shrine to his dead parents. Among other things there's a suicide note written by Gary and Merv's parents and a handful of Polaroids of dead people, from which Jill concludes that something isn't right.

Still she's not so sure. So when Gary shows up and tells her that Merv is the crazy one and that he is perfectly normal, Jill doesn't know who to believe. And when Gary and Merv get into a fight she's totally confused and isn't sure who to root for.

Which may be why she shoots Merv. Or it could just be that she's a moron.

Now that Merv is dead, Gary tells Jill that everything is perfect. They can be together forever. They can run away someplace. They can get a dog! Jill senses that she has perhaps chosen the wrong brother to get behind, but she's smart enough (or has seen enough Lifetime movies) to pretend that she's excited too. Why, she'll just dash home, pack a suitcase, and meet Gary at the train!

This never works in Lifetime movies, and it doesn't work now. Once Gary realizes that Jill has no intention of setting up house with him he has no choice but to kill her too. This takes a very long time and becomes kind of tedious, so I'll summarize.

First Jill runs into the barn and sees her parents, Sarah, and Scott hanging upside down like salamis in a deli window. Gary ties her up while giving a long speech about Beulah and why Merv had to create a fantasy clown world, none of which tells us anything we don't already know. Then Jill tries the "I really do love you and want to run away with you" thing again, only now Gary knows she's a liar and he isn't falling for it. Jill gets out of the ropes (or maybe she's not tied up yet, I forget) and tries to run away, but as she's standing in two feet of hay she just falls down. Yet she does manage to stab Gary through the arm with a pitchfork, so good for her.

This makes Gary angry and he chases Jill into what appears to be a Christmas tree farm. There Jill shrieks a lot and Gary makes faces like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Then somehow we're in an old grain silo and there's Beulah hanging from the ceiling looking the worse for wear.

Now Gary gives another speech, this time in the voice of his mother, which is novel even if Anthony Perkins did it better in Psycho. It's something about how pigs aren't dirty and disgusting people are dirty and disgusting. And I have to say, having known both pigs and people, that she's right about that. Which is why it's not nice to eat pork, unless of course it's Sichuan Harbor Pork at Xiao Loong, which is made from pigs who died in their sleep after very long and unbelievably happy lives and so eating them is more like a celebration than it is being mean.

Jill expresses doubts about Gary's sanity and Gary punches her in the face before dragging her back to the barn and trying the whole tie-you-up-and-cut-your-throat thing. Again. And this time he's just about to do it when Merv appears and shoots him.

What? You're surprised? No you're not. You knew it was coming just as well as I did.

Now Merv and Jill walk out of the barn just as dawn is breaking and we know everything will be just fine.

Okay, no it wont. And to prove it, the camera zooms in on Gary's bloody face just in time to catch him opening his eyes and staring right at us.

What? You're surprised? No you're not.

So the plot isn't particularly clever. Or at all clever. Still, Blood Harvest is worth watching simply because of Tiny Tim. And Peter Krause's stripping scene. But mostly Tiny Tim.

The problem is, you'll have a hard time finding it. Apparently Bill Rebane has been in a protracted legal battle with media company Retromedia over whether or not he gave them the rights to sell Blood Harvest and The Giant Spider Invasion. The bad news is that BH is no longer available, although used copies are not difficult to find. You can also sometimes find the VHS version called The Marvelous Mervo or the DVD version called Nightmare, which is Rebane's preferred title for the film. The good news is that TGSI is not only available, you can get an autographed copy by ordering through the official The Giant Spider Invasion website. And it's only $19.95!

Although most of the actors who appear in Blood Harvest never made another film,  and even director Bill Rebane made only one more (Twister's Revenge!), there are some exceptions. The first is of course Peter Krause, who went on to star in series including Sports Night, Six Feet Under and Dirty Sexy Money, and who currently can be seen in the series Parenthood. Another is actor Dean West, who played Gary but was credited under the name Ed Bevin. He also starred (as Dean West) in Twister's Revenge!, which is about three idiots who steal a monster truck. You know, the kind they use at rallies where the trucks crush cars and whatnot. Oh, and this one talks. So yeah.

Lastly we have Lori Minnetti, who plays Sarah in BH. She did a couple more things, including a small film called Six Bullets (2007) in which she apparently plays a clown. How thrilling is that? Totally thrilling. Also, she lost an n and is now Lori Minetti. I'm trying to track down a copy of the film through the director, and will of course share it with you should I find it. Oh, Minetti was also the face of the Wisconsin Lottery as hostess of its weekly television show Money Game.

As I said earlier, I think Tiny Tim has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to his music. "Tip Toe Thru' the Tulips" made him what he was, but in some ways it also killed him. In fact he died in 1996 after having a heart attack while performing the song at a gala for The Woman's Club of Minneapolis.  And yes it's The Woman's Club. I guess because it has only one member.

Tiny Tim was so much more than that song. Take a listen to two of what I think are his most interesting songs, renditions of "Stairway to Heaven" and "Over the Rainbow" performed with Brave Combo on the album Girl from 1996. This was Tim's last studio recording, and well worth listening to.

Stairway to Heaven
Brave Combo and Tiny Tim

Over the Rainbow
Brave Combo and Tiny Tim

Speaking of music, Tiny Tim didn't just act in Blood Harvest he sang the theme song. "Marvelous Mervo" is surely one of the most unforgettable horror film themes ever written, and lucky for you I have it for your listening pleasure. Here you go:

Marvelous Mervo
Tiny Tim

Favorite Line: "Jesus Christ, Jake, you wackadoo--you shot her in the head."

Rating (Out of 5):