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06 February, 2010

Monster Movies Head-2-Head: MY BLOODY VALENTINE





As the Slasher film genre exploded following the blockbuster success of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, “theme-day” Slashers were the rage in Horror films. PROM NIGHT; GRADUATION DAY; HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME; SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT—virtually every holiday, special event, or celebratory occasion had its own psychotic killer associated with it. Among the best of these was a low-budget Canadian-produced film, directed by George Mihalka and starring virtually no one of note, titled MY BLOODY VALENTINE.
Set in the small Canadian mining town of Valentine Bluffs, the story of a psychotic miner wearing a hardhat and respirator and butchering the townsfolk with a pickaxe was a surprise hit for Paramount in the late winter of 1981. Shot for about $2 million (Canadian!), it grossed nearly $6 million in the US, making it a very profitable venture for the studio.

Twenty years previously, on Valentine’s Day, there was an explosion and cave-in in the mine. Five miners were trapped underground; one survived to be found after six weeks. Harry Warden, the survivor, had killed and eaten the other trapped miners, degenerating into insanity.
A year later, Warden escaped from the mental institution to which he had been confined, and returned to Valentine Bluffs. He killed those whom he blamed for the mine disaster, cutting out their hearts. Before disappearing into the mineshaft, he threatened to return for more vengeance should the town ever try to celebrate Valentine’s Day again.

With the passage of time, however, Warden’s threat had lost currency, and a new generation was now eager to bring the holiday back to Valentine Bluffs. As word spreads of the upcoming Valentine’s Dance, a murderous miner begins carving his way through the townspeople, the rising body count soon reminding the old-timers about Harry Warden’s ominous warning.
The script, by John Beaird from a story by Stephen A. Miller, is better than the average for this type of film; not great by any stretch of the imagination, but a grade or two above most of the competition. Mihalka’s direction is competent, making good use of limited resources and talents. The acting is at best average; at worst, amateurish. The leads—Paul Kelman as T. J., Neil Affleck as Axel, and Lori Hallier as Sarah—are decent; not strong enough to stand out from the crowd, but no one in this cast is capable of that.

Much of the film’s mystique is based upon the fact that the MPAA required numerous cuts to be made in order for the film to earn an R-rating. According to some contemporary reports, as much as nine minutes of footage was removed, though the 2009 DVD release from Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment, billed as the “Uncut” version, adds only three-and-a-half minutes to the film’s running length.

Still, for fans of the ‘80’s Slasher films, this remains as one of the best of the subgenre. This was true before the restoration of the cut footage, and is only made more so afterward.


As has become standard operating procedure in Hollywood, once a certain amount of time has passed, movies, no matter how well executed they were originally, become ripe for remake. Most of the current batch—PROM NIGHT, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, FRIDAY THE 13TH—are little more than wastes of celluloid. Frankly, nothing more than that was expected from the remake of MY BLOODY VALENTINE when it debuted in January 2009.

However, I was soon forced to revise my opinion of remakes; at least, where this one was concerned. MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D is a surprisingly well-written, well-acted update of a classic Slasher, one that rises above the current standard in Horror. While that is hardly a difficult feat in these times of remakes and sequels galore, it is refreshing to see.

The plot is broadly similar to that of the original film, and the script, by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith, retains the three lead characters, Tom (renamed from T. J.), Axel, and Sarah. The look of the film benefits greatly from the western Pennsylvania locations, in much the same way the cold, bleak Nova Scotia locations aided the original. Overall, director Patrick Lussier does a good job tying the parts together into a nice, neat whole.

As the film opens, we find Harry Warden, a miner who was the lone survivor of a cave-in a year earlier, hospitalized in a coma, a coma he had been in since his rescue. He awakens on Valentine’s Day, exactly one year after the cave-in, and proceeds to slaughter the patients and staff of the hospital. He makes his way to the scene of the disaster, a now-abandoned shaft of the Hanniger Mining Co., to find a Valentine’s party underway. He begins killing the young partiers, whittling the group down to four: Tom (Jensen Ackles), the mine owner’s son and the man believed to be responsible for the cave-in; Sarah (Jaime King), his girlfriend; their friend Axel (Kerr Smith); and his girlfriend Irene (Betsy Rue, a 2009 in Review nominee for Horror Movie Babe of the Year).

Just as Warden corners the four survivors, police intervene, shooting and wounding the killer, and driving him deep into the mineshaft. The cops pursue, but lose him in the twisting tunnels.
Ten years pass. Axel and Sarah are husband and wife. He is now the Sheriff, dealing with an influx of media covering the tenth anniversary of the “Harmony Massacre.” Tom Hanniger, who had moved away shortly after the murders, returns to deal with legal issues resulting from the death of his father, a circumstance that now makes him owner of the mine. No sooner does his presence in town become known than Irene, formerly Axel’s girlfriend and now town prostitute, is brutally murdered, along with a trucker and a motel owner.

Axel suspects Tom, first of still being in love with Sarah, second of the motel murders. Tom suspects Axel, perhaps because he is still in love with Sarah. And Sarah is torn, not sure who to trust, and who to fear.

Though the plot is complex, and at times is convoluted, Lussier does a very good job keeping the threads from tangling too much. One gets the sense that he is more of a screenwriter’s director than one who is visually proficient, a better storyteller than photographer, and that serves him well here. The result may not be a beautifully-filmed movie, but it is a comprehensible one.

The movie was shot using a state-of-the-art 3-D process known as Real D, a digital upgrade of the old tried-and-true 3-D from the 1950’s. While fans may swear it’s better, personally I can’t see that it is. Frankly, until they can create true three-dimensional images, then I wish they just wouldn’t bother. Obviously contrived camera set-ups involving a variety of objects thrusting towards the camera went out of style with FRIDAY THE 13TH, Pt. 3.


Both of these movies are, no pun intended, a cut above the examples set by most of their contemporaries. Purists, which I freely admit applies to me, will lean towards the original movie. It is a prime example of the Slasher genre at its peak, comparable to such second-tier classics as THE PROWLER and PIECES.

The remake, however, does compare favorably to it, and in comparison to the slew of Slasher remakes that flooded theaters in the past two years is far better. Both films are an entertaining look at one of the most popular genres of Horror, and both belong in any serious Horror fan’s video collection.

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