The Harvest (1992): You Gotta Be Kidneying Me

Matty dissects David Marconi’s tasty B-thriller.

It was meant to be a simple assignment. In between a few lucrative studio scripting gigs, David Marconi was gearing up to make his directorial debut, a low-budget thriller based around a now well-known urban legend.

“A friend had just returned from a trip to Brazil,” wrote Marconi on his website. “He claimed to have met a guy who told him the story of his friend who had been drugged by a girl at a party only to wake up later in a junkyard, missing a kidney.  I was captivated as it was the first time I had heard such a story.” [1]

Alas, despite extensive research into the black market organ business and the completion of numerous drafts over a two year period, Marconi couldn’t get a handle on the material. The producers were no help either. Annoyed by their vague advice to just “make it better”, and further vexed by his studio projects failing to get the go ahead, Marconi elected to channel his frustrations into a final pass of the screenplay before he called it quits; a last hurrah that, when the whole thing fell by the wayside, would at least serve as a ‘fuck you’ of sorts. A bitter, middle-fingered salute to quelled ambition, writer’s block, and clueless moneymen. 

Suffice to say, that was the version of THE HARVEST given the greenlight by backers Columbia-TriStar.   

A blend of thinly veiled autobiography, erotic drama, lurid crime-sploiter, and, of course, organ snatching, The Harvest begins with a sweat-slathered, chain-smoking screenwriter, Charlie Pope (a rare lead turn from the mighty Miguel Ferrer — see also The Night Flier (1998)), wrestling with his latest creation. Trying to craft a bloody and violent thriller, Pope’s words are strained — but they come to life on screen as he types in the first of several surreal and amusingly meta detours. Already smarting from continually being labelled a hack, Pope, as Marconi was, is further put out by his catty producer (Harvey Fierstein), who sadistically delights in reminding him that he’s “a whore” and that his artistic aspirations should be secondary to prolificism. Unable to finish his work due to page-fright, the tightly-wound Pope travels to Mexico seeking inspiration, which he finds in the form of a mystery woman (Leilani Sarelle), a grisly cold case murder, a crooked detective (Henry Silva), and an innards-swiping ring with a kidney order to fulfill… 

“Days are like women here: slippery and hard to keep on top of,” says Tim Thomerson’s frazzled, tequila-supping landlord. Playing a character that spends an inordinate amount of time schlepping around in a silk dressing gown and a skin-tight pair of black budgie smugglers (a truly unforgettable image), Thomerson might as well be describing Marconi’s film. It’s an intoxicating and succulently strange brew, where you’re never sure if what’s happening is real or the result of a creatively rejuvenated Pope’s increasingly hyperactive imagination. While a mite self-indulgent and stricken with a pace that occasionally stumbles into shaggy dog territory (a feeling echoed in Marconi’s glib punchline), The Harvest is never less than fabulously watchable. Fostering an atmosphere rich in intrigue, Marconi exhibits a strong eye for visuals and a great sense of place — attributes aided by vibrant location shooting and the mood-driven photography of Emmanuel Lubezki (the go-to DP of Alfonso Cuarón). The biggest joys, though, are the performances. Both Ferrer and Sarelle are excellent, and, given how they met and married during production, their chemistry is naturally off the charts. Silva oozes his usual oily charisma, and Fierstein, Thomerson, and Tony Denison — the latter as a creepy American expat with an affinity for painted toenails — provide a splash of Lynch-flavoured eccentricity. Ferrer’s cousin, George Clooney, also appears in a pre-fame, blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo as a transvestite lip-synching along to Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’.      

Following a successful stint on the festival circuit and a brief U.S. theatrical run, The Harvest hit North American video on 25th May 1994 via Columbia-TriStar and landed on U.K. cassette courtesy of the Feature Film Company in Summer 1996 — by which point Marconi had been recruited by Jerry Bruckheimer to pen Enemy of the State (1998)

USA/Mexico ● 1992 ● Thriller ● 93mins

Miguel Ferrer, Leilani Sarelle, Henry Silva ● Dir./Wri. David Marconi

[1] http://www.davidmarconi.com/the-harvest.html

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