The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a 1978 television mini-series which ran on NBC for two consecutive nights starting on January 23, 1978. It is based off the 1973 novel Harvest Home by Tom Tryon. The movie stays largely faithful to the source material except for changing the lead characters name from Ned to Nick for some unknown reason. The movie has been rebroadcast a few times, first on TNT in 1992 which retained the two-part format and runs 3 hours 48 minutes. A truncated version ran on Sci-Fi channel in the mid-1990s and had been cut down to about 3 hours. The version released on video is the shortest and is only about 2 hours long.
The plot revolves around a New York City couple, Nick and Beth Constantine (David Ackroyd and Joanna Miles) who are having marital problems. When an opportunity to move to a small, quaint Connecticut town called Cornwall Coombe along with their daughter Kate (Rosanna Arquette) they take it. Its inhabitants follow the old traditions and refuse to use modern farming techniques, they stay to themselves and rarely venture out of the town. The unofficial town leader is Widow Fortune (Bette Davis) who is an herbalist and midwife and pretty much serves as the town’s doctor as well as its advisor. The couples’ love for each other, and their marriage grows stronger. The town celebrates several festivals and the biggest one is Harvest Home which happens once every seven years and is supposed to guarantee the town’s success. Leading up to Harvest Home, the “Harvest Lord” is chosen who will serve for seven years and will eventually replace the “Harvest King”. Nick, an artist, begins writing a book about the town, which ruffles a few feathers as he pries into the dark secrets surrounding the Harvest Home festival. Beth and Kate become more and more under the control of Widow and Nick realizes that the town is really run by the women and Harvest Home is a dark pagan ritual. Can Nick uncover the truth about the town and convince his wife and daughter to leave, or will he succumb as the other men have within the town?
The plot is interesting but a bit cliched. We have seen this story done many times before, where city folk move to a small town and its inhabitants practice pagan rituals and there is a dark secret that no one will talk about. Even with some great performances by David Ackroyd and Bette Davis, the story just feels like it drags on for far too long. There is very little suspense leading up to the climax and no real atmospheric creepiness. Most of the film feels more like a soap opera drama than a thriller. There is a bit of a mystery to unravel concerning the previous Corn Maiden who committed suicide which eventually leads Nick to the answers he has been seeking and brings the audience to the climax, but the breadcrumbs the audience is given are so sparse and spattered throughout the overly long film that it loses the audience’s attention. It would be interesting to compare the 2 hour version of the film with the 4 hour version, to see if the editing adds any excitement to the story, but honestly, I doubt it, there just weren’t many thrills in this thriller.
Movie of the Week: The Dark Secret of Harvest Home
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