Cold Harvest (1999): The Good, The Bad and The Post-Apocalyptic

Matty squares up to Isaac Florentine’s action-packed sci-fi western.

The first of ten teamings to date between Nu Image and Isaac Florentine [1], COLD HARVEST was a quickie made while the company and director waited for Dolph Lundgren to get in shape for Bridge of Dragons (1999). Taking advantage of Cold Harvest’s low stakes, Florentine considered the project a way to indulge his spaghetti western obsession and crafted the film accordingly, much to the shock of Nu Image. Though receptive when Florentine detailed his plan of attack, Nu Image higher-up Boaz Davidson and the shingle’s big kahuna, Avi Lerner, were stunned when they screened Cold Harvest’s initial round of dailies and saw that the helmer had fashioned an actual Italian-style oater, replete with six-shooters, saloons, cowboy boots, wanted posters, and quickdraws — albeit against a post-apocalyptic backdrop. Thankfully, with studio-sanctioned stars Gary Daniels and Bryan Genesse supportive of Florentine’s vision, Davidson and Lerner quickly warmed to it, and the end result is one of the action auteur’s most eminently watchable pictures.

A rousing little number, Cold Harvest is defined by an incredible spread of martial arts pageantry. Endearing himself to Daniels and Genesse thanks to his hands-on approach to the film’s choreography (then a real anomaly for a B-movie director according to Daniels), Florentine and frequent collaborator Akihiro Yuji Noguchi stage the copious scenes of brawling with tremendous vitality. Every punch, kick, tumble, high spot, and wire gag is orchestrated with a showman’s eye for spectacle; intensely physical displays of kineticism typified by a masterful sense of space and bearing, and punctuated by Florentine’s patented ‘whoosh!’-heavy Foley and impact-focused camerawork. Fabulous from top to bottom; there’s a reason Daniels and Genesse continue to rank their big fracas among the finest dust-ups of their careers.

Also impressive is Florentine’s commitment to style which, like Desert Kickboxer (1992) and High Voltage (1997) before it, masks Cold Harvest’s shortcomings. Set bound but richly atmospheric (the photography and production design by Nu Image stalwarts Yossi Wein and David Varod is phenomenal), Cold Harvest unfolds in a future-shock world of seemingly endless night; a slick yet sinister comic book domain where time and place has been ruined by a massive comet and a deadly, planet-wrecking virus. Inhabiting this scenario is Cold Harvest’s anti-hero, Roland Chaney (Daniels). Introduced in a bollock-busting opening sequence that owes as much to Batman (1989) as it does The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Roland is an Eastwoodian bounty hunter cut from the same cloth as any of the other redemption-seeking arse-whuppers at the centre of many a Florentine joint (cf. Desert Kickboxer, Savate (1995), Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006), Close Range (2015)). Adding further dramatic texture is Daniels’ brief secondary role as Roland’s doomed twin brother, Oliver; a neat bit of business reminiscent of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s sterling dual turns in Double Impact (1990) and Maximum Risk (1996).   

Alas, as compelling as the Chaney boys and Cold Harvest’s antagonist — Genesse’s flamboyant, black-clad bandito — are, the interesting, decades-long bad blood between the three of them is quickly pushed back in favour of a simple chase dynamic when Roland is forced to protect Oliver’s pregnant widow (scream queen Barbara Crampton) on her quest to the obligatory ‘safe-zone’ (her unborn child carries a potential cure for the virus). It’s not a wholly bad shift in focus by any means, and Florentine rockets from scrap to scuffle to melee to explosion with knuckle-whitening verve. However, the premise is noticeably reheated (it’s basically a robot-less reworking of producer Davidson’s late-in-the-day Cannon caper American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993), itself a remix of Albert Pyun’s Cyborg (1989)), and it’s borderline criminal to saddle the insanely talented Crampton with a shrill, walking plot point of a character who exists solely to plug the expository gaps.

Cold Harvest premiered on Cinemax on 11th September 1999.

USA/South Africa ● 1999 ● Action, Sci-Fi, Western ● 89mins

Gary Daniels, Bryan Genesse, Barbara Crampton ● Dir. Isaac Florentine Wri. Frank Dietz, Greg Latter (uncredited)

[1] In order: Cold Harvest, Bridge of Dragons, U.S. Seals 2 (2001), Special Forces (2003), Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006), The Shepherd (2008), Ninja (2009), Undisputed III: Redemption (2010), Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013), and Boyka: Undisputed (2016) (which Florentine produced).

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