Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain (aka Samhain and Invitation) Movie Review
Written by Eric Strauss
Written and directed by Christian Viel
2003, 92 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on January 10th, 2006
Bobbie Philips as Karen
Howard Rosenstein as Paul
Lael Stellick as the Shape
Neil Napier as Jim
Gillian Leigh as Barbara
Heidi Hawkins as Tara
Phil Price as Steve
Simon Peacock as Gary
Ginger Lynn Allen as Pandora
Chasey Lain as Amy
Taylor Hayes as the breeder
with Jenna Jameson as Jenny
Richard Grieco as Mark
The annals of horror are filled with words like “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” Talk of films that might have been great, might have been anything — if only. Like ghosts themselves, these movies are spoken of in reverent tones, stories told as laments for missed opportunities, as cautionary tales for fans and filmmakers alike.
And in the indie horror world, one of the titles that has long existed only as a whisper is Samhain.
Canadian writer/director Christian Viel spent half a million dollars on his slasher — and gave it a twist that guaranteed word-of-mouth: He bolstered his cast with a quartet of famous porn stars, including Jenna Jameson, perhaps the most famous face (and chest) in adult films.
But the saga of Samhain became a nightmare greater than any of its fictional horrors. Trapped in a distribution hell, the film, slated for 2002 but still unfinished, never saw the light of day. Release date after release date, studio after studio, came and went.
Finally, last year, a disgusted Viel began distributing a “rough cut edition” on DVR through his Movie Seals production company. Though he later stopped the distribution, copies pop up on eBay and elsewhere from time to time.
And for the lucky few who get to see it, they will finally see that the whispers spoke the truth. This might have been — and might yet be — one of the best B-movie slashers ever.
But that only chance Samhain has to contend for that crown is if Viel wants — and has the opportunity — to truly finish what he started. Because while the rough cut offers a tantalizing glimpse of what Samhain could be, the unfinished film is, indeed, extremely rough.
The problems are numerous, which is apparent at the start, when the film begins with a timecode running and no sound. Several scenes, in fact, have no audio, and there are two scenes missing entirely (as indicated by on-screen labels). CGI is absent, as is background music of any kind, and the film as a whole clearly lacks the polish of a finished product. Even the credits are incomplete.
Anyone watching the rough cut will have to keep all of that in mind. If these issues become a distraction, it could ruin the viewing experience, but in some cases, the missing elements actually work to the film’s advantage by forcing the viewer to imagine what is taking place. And that can actually be scarier. If nothing else, it’s an interesting exercise in how music (or lack thereof) can affect a film.
That film, at its heart, is a straightforward slasher, with cannibalistic killers, heaving bosoms and blood galore. But Viel is definitely skillful at building suspense, and his actors, for the most part, give their cardboard characters some charm.
But Viel’s script struggles with its pacing — the slow middle saps momentum from a good start, and the kills come almost too quickly at the end — and like many slashers of the post-Scream era, it is a little too ham-handedly self-aware.
However, when there’s a little less conversation and a little more action, Viel really knows how to put a scene together, and that gives his film the tension and drama that so many B-movies lack.
The key to any horror film, of course, is the effects, and Samhain is a mixed bag, albeit an ambitious one. And it’s tough to say how they would turn out in any finished product, once computer enhancement has taken place. There’s blood enough to satisfy any gorehound, but dismembered bodies (and parts) range from shockingly realistic to obviously fake.
Another effects gamble that doesn’t pay off is the look of the cannibal killers themselves. Centuries of inbreeding hasn’t just created British-royalty ugly, it has created lumpy, tumor-covered monstrosities. The problem is, the disfigurement effects aren’t so much disturbing as unintentionally comical.
The film also suffers from some questionable anatomical decisions among its kills, including a character stabbed to death in the shoulder and some intestines removed through the chest.
There are two other sets of intestines removed in more appropriate fashion, making a total of three — and that is really the bottom line on the amount of grue in the film.
As for the owners of those body parts, the “hired guns” may have helped ensure Samhain’s place in horror myth, but Jameson, Chasey Lain and Taylor Hayes are mere window dressing. In fact, all have very small parts, though Viel is smart enough to have them reveal their best assets.
And in one priceless scene, a befuddled cannibal tries to eat one of Jameson’s implants.
The fourth adult star, the older Ginger Lynn Allen, has a larger role and acquits herself nicely in her dialogue and action scenes, despite her complete failure to manage an Irish accent. (The film, set in Ireland, was shot in Canada, and all of the characters are American, except Allen and Simon Peacock’s Gary — and his thick and generally skillful accent sticks out like a sore thumb as a result.)
Several of the other cast members bring film experience to the table, if only in small roles and independent films, and that’s also a big plus. However, the biggest name among the mainstream actors, ex-21 Jump Street star Richard Grieco, never had much but his looks, and with those gone, he brings nothing to the film in his Marion Crane-type role.
On the other hand, Bobbie Phillips has an extensive résumé that includes a starring role in Wes Craven’s Carnival of Souls. Playing a too-young-to-be-a-mother-hen American professor, she is undoubtedly the best actor in the bunch. Howard Rosenstein, as her boyfriend, has a similar acting history but produces weaker results.
Phillips’ students, in roles culled straight from the slasher handbook, are a mixed bag, respectively:
- The shy bookworm (Brandi-Ann Milbradt, who makes a fine debut as the girl who doesn’t fit in);
- The obnoxious jokester (Phil Price, Milbradt’s real-life husband, whose smart-mouth act wears thin quickly);
- The horny jock (Neil Napier, of $la$her$, who is one of the better film’s actors but looks a bit old for the college-boy role);
- The slutty scaredy-cat (Heidi Hawkins, who gives one of the weaker performances and, joining a disturbing trend in slasher-sluts, leaves her clothes on);
- And the ice queen-turned-tramp (certified hottie Gillian Leigh, who reveals the most skin and the worst delivery).
To their credit, however, most make their walking clichés surprisingly likeable.
So what is Samhain, ultimately? A slasher that could rise above many others, if only Viel ever gets the chance to finish what he started. For now, however, it’s a film that lives up to the “rough cut” label in every way. And there’s no way to know right now what it might become, so the question is, will it satisfy horror fans as is?
The answer is a conditional yes, because to truly appreciate Samhain, a viewer needs to look past its technical flaws — but once he looks past those flaws, it’s tough not to be let down, thinking of what might have been.
Video and Audio:
The video quality of the rough cut is actually fairly good, though it certainly lacks the sharp image of a final release. The picture is soft and a bit washed-out, plus there are a few minor compression problems on the DVR. But given the unfinished nature of the film, the image is surprisingly strong.
Unlike the video, the audio really suffers from the unfinished nature of the product. Not only do some scenes not have any sound at all, there are no background music or sound effects throughout. The mono track itself seems to be production audio in many instances, and the volume level varies widely — sometimes incomprehensibly quiet moments become overbearingly loud within the same scene.
Viel’s “Samhain Pack” includes a few short special features, much to his credit.
The most entertaining is the short called “Hallow’s Eve,” the stylish little Halloween ripoff that the students are watching in the feature. A widescreen music video for what is apparently Samhain’s title track is solid but unmemorable, which describes both the technical angle and the song itself.
There are also two trailers, both effective, but of understandably shaky quality. The final extra is a small photo gallery that offers some behind-the-scenes images, including effects-related spoilers.
On the downside, the feature lacks even chapter stops, another reminder of the DVD’s “rough” nature.
|Movie:||– A finished product that lives up to its potential would probably deserve an A.|
|Video:||– This grade takes into account the nature of the DVD, but the rough video looks promising for any “real” release.|
|Audio:||N/A – It would be unfair to fail it, as the problems are not the fault of the production, so much as the unfinished nature of the product.|
|Features:||– It’s really not that much, with a total time of maybe 10 minutes, but on a rough cut put out on DVR by the director, the inclusion of any features at all deserves some kudos.|
Viel said via e-mail that Velocity will be releasing Samhain in October, retitled Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain. It will definitely be interesting to see if that DVD is a truly finished product. Assuming, of course, it actually hits shelves, and avoids becoming just another gruesome chapter in the real legend of Samhain.
The potential pours from the Samhain rough cut as freely as the blood. As for whether anyone will capitalize on that, who knows? If horror fans learn any lesson from this film, it’s that nothing is guaranteed.
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