Monday 1 November 2021

Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain (2003)

Director: Christian Viel
Writers: William R. Mariani and Christian Viel
Stars: Bobbie Phillips, Howard Rosenstein, Ginger Lynn Allen, Chasey Lain, Taylor Hayes, Jenna Jameson, Richard Grieco, Brandi-Ann Milbradt, Lael Stellick, Phil Price, Neil Napier, Heidi Hawkins, Gillian Leigh, Simon Peacock, Alex Chisolm, Robert Higden, Alanah Dash

Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

You know that you’re in trouble when a horror movie set on a holiday consistently mispronounces that holiday, especially given an overt focus on why it’s important and why it’s an especially cool setting for a horror movie. It’s Samhain, which is a Gaelic word, so not pronounced anywhere near what you’d think—if we turned the M upside down, you’d be closer—and it’s celebrated on the first day of November, making it one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughanasadh. And, if I’m going to call out the filmmakers for getting things wrong, I should take extra care to get things right and point out that Samhain actually starts on 31st October, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset, and runs through most of 1st November, marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year in these wintry climes of the north. By the way, when talking about the Celtic people, the word has a hard C; when you use a soft C, as the teacher does in this film, it’s a Glasgow football club.

Then again, maybe I’m digging far too deeply here. We don’t have to go too far at all to figure out things wrong with this movie. It opens with generic Nickelback-esque alt rock from a band who go entirely without credit, perhaps because they aren’t a band at all and just a creation of Russian-Canadian composer Alex Khaskin. Then we find our way into a tent in the woods so we can watch an unenthused Richard Grieco getting it on with porn star Chasey Lain, who’s clearly in the movie because of her big eyes, dangerous nipples and willingness to be murdered before the opening credits. Grieco is gone by then too, though he does get to wander in the woods muttering “Amy” a lot, wake up in a cave chained to a stone altar to ask “What the hell is this place?” and revolve on a spit, sans limbs but with pecker intact. The opening credits feature everyone in the cast, I think, highlighting in the process that no less than four porn stars are going to be tasked with actually acting and that never bodes well, even if one is Ginger Lynn Allen.

Before she shows up, we suffer through a bunch of kids going to a cabin in the woods. Now, these are college kids, a skimpy class of five from the Shepley College of Historical Studies, and the cabin is a large brick building Miss Douglas has rented, but still. They’re not quite as obnoxious as we usually get in films like this, but Steve isn’t far off; he’s the horror nut who likes trying to scare Shae. While Miss Douglas does worry about her, how she’s bright but apparently afraid of having fun, we side with Shae from the outset, as she actually has some substance while the rest, to quote Steve’s commentary on a Halloween knock off they watch that night, are all “too stupid to live.” Next up, of course, is the heartfelt warning from an unhinged local, so we can’t be too surprised when Gary Saxton shows up in the form of a Canadian Kiwi, Simon Peacock. “Bad things happen when you stray from the paths,” he tells them and he was born on Samhain night so he knows things. He’s been cursed with “the two sights”, he says, which is clairvoyance.

Peacock is a apparently a voice actor and comedian, so we can’t be too surprised when his accent is notably better than that of his screen cousin, Pandora, played by Ginger Lynn Allen. Kudos to her for not wearing any make up and to Pandora for attempting to calm down Gary as he rants on about Samhain still being important: “Bloody sacrifices,” he says. “Blessing of the harvest. Feast of the dead.” By the way, as soon as you read the word “clairvoyance”, you knew that Miss Douglas’s boyfriend, Paul, who’d surprised her by flying in from Dublin for the week, would ask Gary about his future with Karen and you also know how he’ll reply. “Fortune? Great careers? Marriage, maybe?” Nah. “Death.” There really aren’t many surprises here, the main one being just how much we’re told about the holiday of Samhain as, for a trashy Canadian horror flick, it’s oddly educational. Pandora states that “the old druids believed that Samhain night was a crucial point in the flow of time and therefore the best night to have visions of the future.”

Karen picks that up the next day, teaching the kids overly simplified details at a stone circle that really wouldn’t work for a college class. For instance, in addition to pronouncing Samhain and Celtic incorrectly, she trawls out the legend of Sawney Bean, which is Scottish not Irish and completely unverifiable; suggesting that some people believe that his descendants moved to Ireland is just a really cheap way to set up the rest of this story. She also suggests that Samhain was a three day party to wrap up after the harvest, reports of human sacrifices were just a myth, and that people dressed up in costumes to scare off dead souls, a custom transported to America by Irish immigrants during the potato famine. It’s all kinda sorta right, ish, but it seems clear from just one lesson that, if you can read a single Wikipedia page, you’ll be sorely overqualified for admission to Shepley College of Historical Studies. Then again, given that Steve is a current student, and he’s notably underwhelmed by the stone circle, you’d have grasped that already.

I actually felt rather sad for Bobbie Phillips, because she’s a highly capable actress but Karen Douglas isn’t remotely a deep enough part to give her much opportunity. The opening credits seem to expect her to carry the picture, though, given that her name is the only one to appear before the film’s title; then again, there’s one actor listed whose scenes were deleted and whose name isn’t even spelled correctly. Brandi-Ann Milbradt is decent as Shae too and I was surprised to find that she apparently isn’t even an actor, the vast majority of her credits arriving as a producer with a few more as a writer. Her only other acting role was as a TV reporter in a further 2003 feature, Hatley High, which she produced. She’s given one of the two “introducing” credits here but her big lesson may have been to realise that the best way to get films distributed—this one was shot in 2002 but didn’t make it onto home release until 2006—was to become a producer herself and so be responsible for her own business.

Apparently, the film was originally called Evil Breed and was both much longer and much gorier. Even here, it does get gory at one point, because, when the deaths start, they just keep on coming, but when Lionsgate released it under its longer title, it cut a lot of material out and I have to wonder what this skimpy 78 minute version is missing. Everything seems to happen at once: an array of varied death scenes, the arrival of a bunch of cannibals in knock off Toxic Avenger suits to commit those murders and some martial arts work from Ginger Lynn Allen for good measure. One minute Jenna Jameson shows up, as a friend of Mark and Amy, the couple who were killed before the opening credits, and the next she’s another victim on the busy stone altar, a cannibal ripping her heart right out of her chest and wondering why it looks like a silicone implant. Some versions of the DVD focus entirely on her, the blurb changed to “Cannibals wreak havoc on Jenna Jameson!” but she’s not in the film for more than a couple of minutes.

The porn star with the most interesting role is Taylor Hayes, because she isn’t here just to be a victim, at least not how we expect a victim to be used, and she doesn’t even attempt an Irish accent. Apparently, these cannibals, who are presumably the conveniently transplanted Irish descendents of Sawney Bean, don’t just need victims for food. Hayes explains to Shae, who has found her naked and bloody in the cave with a dead baby still attached to her by its umbilical cord, that they’ve inbred for so long that their women can’t conceive any more, thus explaining why her credit is for “The Breeder”. She’s lost so much blood that she’ll be dead soon, but Hayes almost comes across as an actress, conveying at least some of the emotional void she’s had to find to survive continual rape by non-verbal cannibal monsters. It’s worth mentioning here that Sawney Bean, if he ever existed, which is doubtful, dates back to the reign of James VI, so the early 16th century. That would place these inbred cannibals five hundred years down the family tree.

Evil Breed: Legend of Samhain seems to exist as a cautionary tale. Obviously, if we should ever take a trip to rural Ireland, we must be careful to not take it during the holiday of Samhain, or, if we do, we should pay heed to the locals when they tell us to keep off the moors, I mean not stray from the paths. On a more meta level, we should pay attention to horror movie logic as that’s specifically brought up. The scene when everyone crowds in to watch a Halloween knock off on their first night in Ireland is a surprisingly long one and it’s full of everyone poking holes in the internal logic of the film. As soon as it ends, we promptly follow Shae as she hears noises in the dark and wanders around in her bath towel checking them out. And she’s the only one of these morons who isn’t “too stupid to live” because it’s quite obvious from moment one that, in horror movie parlance, she’s going to be the final girl. And this is a great example of why nothing should be financed by “a massive chocolate and t-shirt sale”, as this trip and maybe this film was.

The story was by William R. Mariani and Christian Viel, with the latter turning it into a screenplay; he edited and directed as well. He’s gone on to a career of low budget features, including what looks like a sci-fi action series expanded from a 2004 feature, Power Corps., into a trilogy with kludgy titles. After Power Corps. became Recon 2020: The Caprini Massacre, it was soon followed by Recon 2022: The Mezzo Incident and Recon 2023: The Gauda Prime Conspiracy, all of which feature a number of actors from this movie, merely none of the good ones. I do try to support independent film and I wish Viel well, but I truly hope that he leveraged the experience of Evil Breed, his third feature, into learning how to do things much better because this one isn’t even as decent as its meagre 3.2 rating on IMDb might suggest. Perhaps, if I could watch the original Evil Breed, before it was ruthlessly eviscerated by Lionsgate like it was a topless porn star in front of an Irish cannibal, it might even warrant a 4. Inquiring minds want to know.

In fact, inquiring minds want to know for sure that this is indeed set on Samhain. It certainly seems to be, given all Gary’s chatter, Karen’s focus on that date too and, of course, the eventual title of the movie and its various synopses and all the other elements to emphasise Samhain. However, Paul has an odd reaction to all the explanations of what the holiday means, commenting that there would be nothing to worry about, as “Halloween is still far away.” I wonder if the full version of the film only mentioned Samhain as a means to explain Gary’s clairvoyance but it was later emphasised as a selling point, being, quite frankly, far easier to hang the film on than the fifteen times great-grandkids of Sawney Bean. And, if we make it through the movie and remember anything in it that isn’t a dead porn star, it might be that Gaelic holiday that the teacher can’t pronounce. After all, Gary the freaky caretaker is a good salesman. What’s it about again, Gary? “Bloody sacrifices. Blessing of the harvest. Feast of the dead.” Oh yeah, tell me more.

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