SUMMER'S END: THE LEGEND OF SAMHAIN
Director: Timothy Whitfield
Year of release: 2002
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 63 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: I think it received a very limited VHS and possibly DVD release in the early 2000's though it is almost impossible to track down now in hard copy.
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: In a small New England town way back in 1959 a series of brutal murders occur which leave the police at the time baffled. The crimes went unsolved and over decades have become the stuff of legend. Though still talked about some forty years later in the present day the events have now taken on a more camp fire ghost story vibe and are not universally thought of as events that actually occurred.
It is in such times that our story kicks off proper when on the eve of Halloween a couple are found brutally murdered in their home in a manner which is reminiscent of the purported bloodshed of the 1959 legend.
The news story is understandably a hot topic at the local high school in particular for lead character Sue and her circle of friends who are planning their traditional Halloween party. Rattled by the events of the previous night and the similarities they share with the butchering of forty years ago which she is learning about in her folklore class Sue argues for a low key function that evening. Contributing to this decision is the fact that she is down in the dumps anyway after recently loosing her boyfriend who’s affections were stolen by one of her close friends Jill. On the urging of a mutual party the feuding pair are encouraged to mend fences with Jill being invited to that nights get together. Once the festivities begin however Sue finds she has more to contend with that working things out with her former bestie as the maniac responsible for the recent double murder crashes the party looking to cause further mayhem.
Good points: *The music was pretty good throughout and though very simple helped to set a sombre and atmospheric mood at times. It managed to be creepy while at the same time building up a sense of dread. Music wise the film was a bit of a one trick pony with the score bordering on becoming a bit repetitive as things went on but as the film was short anyway clocking in at just over an hour it never truly out stayed its welcome.
*With the film being so short there wasn’t a whole lot of time for character development but with some of the main group I felt that a solid job was done in injecting them with personality. Though cliché Sue was never anything but likeable but it was a couple of the other characters who stood out as being sparky and fun. I can’t recall many names but Sue’s brother stood out as being one such notable character as did another male teen and the girl, a friend of Sue’s whom he was constantly trying to seduce.
*The killer is outfitted with a strong costume and mask and he definitely looks suitably menacing. I’m not certain if our villain was actually supposed to be Sam Hain himself though I guess the name of the film would imply that. In any event the black overcoat type outfit seen here reminded me a bit of what came later in Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take with the jack o’lantern like mask framed with long dark hair adding to the appeal of a very cool looking bad guy.
*If you like nudity in your slasher films you will be well catered for here and won’t leave disappointed. I think I’m correct in writing that three of the characters bear their breast throughout the short running time of the film.
Bad Points: *My gripes with Summer’s End are mainly all related to how some plot developments aren’t established or explained very well which renders the film a little confusing and lazy in places. Not sure if this is just poor writing or more down to the budget as I think it was made for very little money so perhaps they just didn’t have the resources to shoot extra scenes that would have added more to the cohesion. I’ll list the problems of this type below. Sadly I’ll have to go into spoiler territory for many of these points.
Near the beginning there are two young people that are not introduced properly and I wasn’t sure who they were. Essentially they are just included I suppose as cannon fodder types to pad out the body count but their inclusion should have been dealt with more professionally. The male of this pair appears to be a drug dealer who is hoping to meet up with a client while a girl, probably someone he gets to fool around with in exchange for drugs keeps him company. The way they suddenly appear however is right out of left field and quite jarring as we literally have no idea who they are. I think it would have meant much more when they eventually run into trouble had we of had a proper introduction to them. A simple way of doing so would have been for them to have heard about Sue’s party and then in a previous scene tried to invite themselves along or they could have offered to supply drugs for the event.
Another instance that I felt was lacking in build up was Sue’s apparent unease over the murders and how it tied in with what she had been learning about in her class at school. Things would have been much improved with a scene showcasing an actual lesson as this would help underline Sue’s concern as well as establishing for us the character of the teacher who we see again later. Something along the lines of the classroom scene with the Robert Englund character from Urban Legend would have been great. This could have served both as a way of fleshing things out while also being a nod and wink to a recent successful release.
Major Spoiler: More of an explanation should have been provided as to why Sue’s ex friend Jill was involved sexually with the aforementioned teacher. She was a hot young girl and he wasn’t very attractive so my first assumption was that he was helping her pass the class in exchange for intimacy. This however was never confirmed or hinted at earlier so it was a real surprise to find the two suddenly in bed together. Later on after further events occurred I thought that maybe she was with him to take advantage of his knowledge of black magic to summon the demon killer of forty years ago but again if this was supposed to be her motivation it was never fully made clear.
Big spoilers again: Probably most confusing of all was the whole business with the history of Sue and Jill which was never properly laid out for us. While watching I was very unsure what had actually happened to this cheating boyfriend (Jack) as it wasn’t made at all clear if he had been killed, was the killer or had simply skipped town as Jill made out. In a convoluted manner we eventually have it confirmed that this jack is indeed the killer or rather his body has been used as a host for the spirit of the killer from years ago. Muddying the waters however with everything relating to Jack is the inclusion of another guy, a big fellow named Kane who as far as I could gather seemed to be a new or an ex flame of Jill’s who for some reason seemed to be searching for the disappeared Jack. This Kane character actually plays quite a big role towards the end as well grappling with the killer at one point but I didn’t have much of a clue as to who he really was and what his beef was. I should point out that this film is seemingly impossible to purchase now so I caught it on YouTube with what appeared to be an old VHS rip. Unfortunately the audio In places wasn’t very good at all. Possibly this whole affair with Kane may have been explained a bit better but due to the audio dipping at key moments it was hard to follow.
Spoiler: Another confusing plot point was how it was never explained what Jill’s motivation was in summoning forth the monster to go after Sue and her brother etc. If anything with the whole cheating thing with Jack you would think it would be Sue that had more cause to be vengeful.
Spoiler: There is a really strange scene near the end that left me completely baffled. Jill and Sue return to the house where Jill promptly knocks Sue out. Sue then inexplicably wakes up in bed wearing different clothes to those she was wearing previously. She is then knocked out again this time by the killer (or at least captured by him) but I was left wondering why she woke up in bed after being battered the first time?
*At the end of the film there are a few fight scenes that are very bad to the point of being cringeworthy moments. Think those fight scenes near the beginning of Intruder and you’d be on the right track.
*I didn’t feel as if a very good job was done with the police officers and news reporters who were covering the case. They either looked too amateurish or too comedic as if they were making a joke of the whole thing. Right at the end I wasn’t even sure what one of the cops was doing. Assuming I’m right in even thinking this guy was a cop he for no apparent reason seemed to be using a rake on the grass. Quite for what purpose I don’t know.
Verdict: According to the IMDB this was made for just $2,000 so taking that into account it isn’t a bad effort as though there are a lot of problems it does get a few key things right like the music and the look of the killer. Ultimately though it remains a largely flawed film which after what proves to be a promising opening begins to tail off soon after. It was far too confusing and poorly presented plot wise but given more money maybe some of these issues could have been addressed and a longer film made that would have told a more detailed story. In its current state it’s far from good but worth having a look at if only for how obscure it now is.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
Note: I’m not counting any of the murders from 1959 some of which we saw briefly in the opening credits.
1)Jason: Stabbed while getting a beer from the fridge.
2)Tiffany: Grabbed from behind in the bathroom. Killed off camera.
3)Drug dealer: Stabbed and body later found impaled on a tree with a knife through the mouth.
4)Drug dealer’s girl: Death is off camera. We just see her falling down while being chased by the killer.
5)Sue’s female friend #1: Drowned in laundry appliance.
6)Teacher: Not 100% sure if he actually died but he was battered and possibly stabbed with a bottle. Think it was Jill that was behind this.
7)Male friend of brothers: Knocked over staircase bannister and then stabbed.
8)Sue’s brother: Stabbed after stumbling across the corpse of his buddy.
9)Sue’s female friend #2: Stabbed in the shower.
10)Sue: Decapitated I think with a window or door or something dropping down on her neck.