Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme

If you questioned a hundred horror movie fans aged between 18 and 40 and asked them whether they enjoyed pornography, I’d wager 99% would reply in the affirmative. So it comes as no surprise to see that a number of film companies have combined both blood and bush in an attempt to appeal to degenerates who, like myself, enjoy watching gorgeous women run round in circles (preferably naked) before meeting a gory end at the hands of a psychotic.

The 70s saw a plethora of American underground independents combining both hard gore and porn to create a stir in the loins of the 42nd Street mackintosh brigade who thrilled to the delights of XXX-rated stars, such as Vanessa Del Rio, Seka, Annette Haven, and Cindy West, getting splattered with both red and white body fluids in the likes of SEX SÉANCE, HORROR WHORE, SCHOOL FOR DEAD GIRLS, DRACULA SUCKS, et al. With the cleaning up of Times Square and the advent of home video the hardcore horror market fled abroad, making way for stylised and digitalised erotica directed by luminaries that included Michael Ninn, Andrew Blake, and Paul Thomas, that proved big on breasts but bereft of blood.

The late 70s and early 80s saw European beauties, such as Lina Romay, Brigitte Lahaie, Christina Lindberg, and Marie Forsa switching seamlessly from lovemaking to corpse making, in both soft and hardcore fare, before all-out fuck-fests became the norm and plots involving horny Counts, insatiable aliens, and ghostly gropers were made to rest in peace for good.

Bored with formularised gang bangs involving hardcore twists on big budget sci-fi/fantasy/horror epics (EDWARD PENISHANDS, PENETRATOR, CLOCKWORK ORGY, THE REAR ARRANGERS, TEMPLE OF POON, etc) hormonally enraged gorehounds turned to the micro budgeted delights of companies such as Factory 2000, Astaroth Entertainment, Sub Rosa, and EI cinema that introduced fans to a new generation of eye candy that included Misty Mundae, Tammy Parks, Darian Caine, and Ruby LaRocca. These companies invariably release films that are small on plot and with minimal special effects, their raison d’art being the presentation of gorgeous women in softcore situations with a smattering of violence thrown into proceedings.

Realising that there was a gap in the market for better quality horror movies that featured adult film stars, Warehouse Productions decided to fund Christian Viel’s SAMHAIN, a tale of surviving members of a 14th century Scottish cannibal clan, authentic pagan lore, and featuring four major league porn stars; Jenna Jameson, Chasey Lain, Ginger Lynn Allen, and Taylor Hayes. The film has had more than its fair share of production problems: Chasey Lain proved a nightmare to work with, Wallmart refused to develop shots of Jenna Jameson’s make-up tests, the set was picketed by fundamentalist Christian groups, and shooting was held up with innumerable problems concerning weather conditions and interruptions from Hollywood agents.

When the film was finally in the can and editing chores underway Viel was shocked to learn that the producers had reneged on their original decision to release an uncut splatter fest and were unhappy about the shooting of several violent sequences, insisting on cuts in order for the film to achieve an ‘R’ rating. As the editing decisions thrashed back and forth amongst the executives, crew members issued a series of lawsuits to recover unpaid contracts resulting in an embittered Viel parting with Warehouse and forming his own company with SAMHAIN assistant director Benoit Hamel in order to ensure that he would maintain full control over future projects.

SAMHAIN was due to hit US and Canadian screens in October 2002. Now, approximately one year later, the final cut appears to have been approved by the distributors - but not by Viel. Warehouse Productions drafted in Roger Cardinal, to shoot a new ending, and supervise the post-production. Having only seen Viel’s ‘rough cut’, I am unsure exactly how much of the gore from the original remains in the official release and readers would be wise to bear this in mind if deciding to shell out cash should the film receive a general release in the forthcoming months.

The plot: Two Americans, Mark (Richard Grieco) and Amy (Chasey Lain), are on vacation in the Vale of Derrygory, Ireland, when their lovemaking is disturbed by the sounds of something prowling around their tent. Mark decides to investigate but, upon his return, discovers Amy has disappeared. He finds her bloodied underwear close by and follows the sounds of her screaming. Venturing deeper into the woods, Mark spies Amy’s flailing body apparently trying to haul herself free from a crevice in the earth. Grabbing hold of both her arms he is horrified to find that his lover has been brutally cut in half, as her guts spill from her upper torso on to the earth, Mark stumbles back in horror and is clubbed unconscious by a figure (Lael Stelick), wearing a deer fur and antlers.

Titles roll and a van winds round the mountainous regions of Southern Ireland transporting a group of American and Canadian vacationers overseen by Karen (Bobbie Phillips). The group arrive at a guesthouse run by Pandora (Ginger Lynn Allen) and are introduced to her brother, Gary (Simon Peacock), who warns that the area has a history of strange disappearances associated with evil practices from the area’s pagan past. Karen also informs the travellers that it was rumoured that in the 14th Century, in Scotland, there existed a clan of in-bred cave dwellers led by Sawney Bean who would attack any wanderers, dragging the unfortunates to their cave where they would be murdered and their flesh eaten. The cannibal family were eventually burnt at the stake but it is rumoured one escaped to this region of Ireland.

The youngest member of the group, Shae (Brandi-Ann Milbradt), starts to experience psychic premonitions of a killer wandering around outside the guesthouse, and when several members of the group start to disappear, it becomes apparent that there maybe something lurking in the deserted copper-mine that lies in the woods.

The film’s handling of gore by the Maestro FX, team led by Adrien Morot, looks authentic, especially the full body casts created for the bloody demise of Jenna Jameson and Chasey Lain. Jameson’s death is particularly gruesome, as she is dragged back to the cannibal’s lair, strapped to a table, stripped, and disembowelled. The uncut version is filmed in close up, the steadicam poised at the end of the table facing her vagina, whilst we see the killer prepare her body for the cooking pot. This scene was one of several that suffered editing prior to the final cut, but it’s shock impact is reduced somewhat by a welcome injection of black humour into proceedings.

A later scene involving the discovery of a woman (Taylor Hayes) and an ensuing shot in which she has birthed a bloodied foetus would appear to be another sequence destined to end up cut from the final print. I understand a completely new ending has been shot to replace the foetus episode, though I am unsure whether footage of Taylor Hayes remains in the final print.

Despite several gruesome murders, that include one guy having his innards yanked out through his anus, SAMHAIN isn’t quite as shocking as one would imagine, mainly due to the script following the familiar pattern of portraying its victims as squabbling jerks. Their development also suffers due to the film containing too many characters resulting in each individual’s screen time being kept to a minimum, though the cast, that include Neil Napier (SLASHERS), and Gillian Leigh (soon to be seen in Viel’s POWER CORPS), turn in above average performances for a slasher flick.

The creature design is pretty impressive, and I enjoyed the fact that this monster is fairly humanized. He is not your stereotyped, unstoppable killing machine, and neither is the eventual heroine your average slasher survivor. Viel’s script also differs from standard horror fare by having almost all its victims fight for their lives, these sequences involving Grieco, Lynn Allen, Jameson, and Milbradt’s battle with the killer are nicely choreographed by Alan Chou, and it was noticeable that all the actors provided their own stunts.

SAMHAIN pays homage to its horror genre roots by including a film within a film, a hilarious spin on Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (which, also centres of murderous events around 31st October). As the college students poke fun of the on-screen conventions that include pretty girl in peril, unstoppable “Shape”, and seriously maimed victims that somehow struggle on through their pains, Viel’s script subverts their observations when assigning the characters individual fates. The one convention they fail to observe is the fact that it’s usually the sexually active protagonists who don’t make it to the final credits, and the same rings true here; all the murder victims are actively involved in sexual relationships, or are off-screen porn stars.

The art direction is a particular highpoint of the movie. An eerie castle tower in Montreal’s Senneville doubles as the killer’s lair, and the interior caverns housing the remains of corpses and primitive implements used to restrain and dismember victims represent some of the creepiest set designs since THE TEXAS CHAINSAW CHAINSAW thrilled viewers in the 70s. The cinematography by Jean-Francois is crisp and utilises some spectacular tracking shots of some of Montreal’s finest scenery that include the picturesque park of Nun’s Island doubling nicely for the woodland of Ireland.

Despite its undoubted ambition, the rough cut under review reveals several problems with continuity, and quite a few scenes appear to have been rushed under pressure, particularly those involving actors Richard Grieco, Chasey Lain, Jenna Jameson, and Taylor Hayes. But given the film’s troubled shooting schedule, and various improvised script revisions, that comes as no surprise, in fact I am surprised that the production even managed to wrap given some of the tales that have circulated regarding the attitude of several cast members.

No doubt, director Christian Viel was keen to put this filmmaking experience behind him, and I sympathise with him, for his talents deserve better. With shooting wrapped on POWER CORPS, I’m pretty sure he’ll go on from here. Alas, the production problems of SAMHAIN won’t bode well for major league adult film stars attempting to break into other film markets, which is a shame since I’m informed that Ginger Lynn Allen and Taylor Hayes, aside from delivering credible performances, proved troopers on set. Latest reports suggest that some of the gore, initially cut by the studios, has been restored for the movie’s forthcoming release, and provided that several continuity problems have been ironed out SAMHAIN is definitely worth checking out.

Carl T. Ford

Directed by Christian Viel

English language

Canada / 2002 / 95 minutes.

Warehouse Productions

Unrated Director’s "Rough Cut"


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