After receiving a large inheritance, an ordinary family (David Ackroyd, The Mountain Men, Joanna Miles, The Ultimate Warrior, and Rosanna Arquette, Desperately Seeking Susan) decides to leave the hectic city life and move to a quaint New England town only to discover that the village residents are harboring a dark secret.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“If you cock your heads just right, you can hear the corn growing.”
Actors talk endlessly of the rewards and satisfaction of the theater, and the great challenges of making a film. On the other hand, television is usually referred to as the “ugly ducking” of the entertainment industry. It has been said that no actor with a successful movie career would waste time making TV programs (e.g. actor Jack Nicholson has always refused to appear on anything made for the small screen).
Although many people still think that TV content lacks the sophistication of a Class-A movie, few can deny that from time to time TV networks have produced wonderful pieces of entertainment. Based on Hollywood-actor-turned-novelist Tom Tyron’s (The Cardinal) 1973 terrifying best-selling book Harvest Home, the mini-series The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a quality production from top to bottom.
Directed by Leo Penn (father of actors Sean and Chris Penn) from a teleplay by Jack Guss (Lady in Cement) and Charles E. Israel (Klondike Fever), this limited-series is admittedly an old hat by now. The secret of “Harvest Home” isn’t a secret at all. If you’ve seen movies like The Wicker Man (1973), Children of the Corn (1984) and Midsommar (2019), you’ll be able to predict the story’s big twist. But at nearly 3 1/2 hours, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is perhaps the most elaborate movie of its type.
The mini-series, which originally aired over two nights on NBC, managed to hold my attention despite its lack of surprises. The program is divided into eleven chapters (“Ploughing Day,” “Planting Day,” “Agnes Fair,” etc.). I found the first half a little slow (too many unnecessary scenes), but things got intense during the predictable, but well-executed second half. The ending is distinctly mean-spirited.
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home also has so much to do with the time. It was 1978 when the mini-series was broadcast. It was the “Age of Aquarius” and issues like alternative lifestyles, hippy communes and religious cults were still being debated. As I was watching the show, I had the impression that author Tyron’s story was a critique of religious zealotry. The mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, dubbed the Guyana massacre, occurred only months after the series aired, so Tyron was right to be worried.
Anyhow, all the performances are good. Bette Davis reigns supreme over all as the charismatic and energetic “Widow Fortune.” A Yankee through and through, Davis is perfect as the New England village’s mother-figure whose permanent smile hides a truly malevolent persona — it’s a brilliant exercise in passive aggressiveness.
The cast is packed with familiar faces. Fans of TV’s Dallas will remember David Ackroyd as the original Gary Ewing, J.R. and Bobby’s brother. Joanna Miles is perhaps best remembered for playing Laura in the 1973 TV adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. The cast also includes Rosanna Arquette and Michael O’Keefe (The Great Santini) at the beginning of their careers. Rene Auberjonois (TV’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Norman Lloyd (Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur) play villagers. Donald Pleasence (John Carpenter’s Halloween) narrates the audiobooks.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
While tame by today’s standards, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a deliciously creepy show that I’m sure fans of bucolic horror will enjoy. By the way, it’s a pity that this entertaining mini-series has faded into oblivion. It’s also sad that there are only two ways to watch this fine program: a complete, but awful-looking print on YouTube, and a fair-looking, but severely edited version on VHS. Color, 208 minutes, Not Rated.