Synopsis: Twenty years ago, a tragic accident in a mine on St. Valentine’s Day took the lives of five miners. The disaster occurred while supervisors left their posts to attend the town’s annual Valentine’s Day dance. The only survivor, Harry Warden, was confined to a mental institution after the ordeal. On the disaster’s first anniversary, he returned to the town for bloody revenge. That was nineteen years ago, and memories have dimmed. Young lovers T.J. (Paul Kelman) and Sarah (Lori Hallier) and friend Axel (Neil Affleck) are among the townspeople attending another Valentine’s party. Then, a box of Valentine candy arrives, containing an ominous message and a blood soaked heart. Before the night is over, terror will strike again and again and again…
I had been disappointed with it back in the day, after many years of longing to see it, being told by friends just how awesome it was, of having the VHS box art in my face every time I went to a rental place. So I figured that, now, with a less hyped-up perspective, it might be time to reconsider the darned thing.
I would typically watch a romantic film of some sort but, this year, I thought that it would be nice to do something slightly different. And since there are scant horror films perfectly-suited for V-Day (and so ill-suited for the other 364 days of the year! ), I figured that this would make for a perfectly gruesome night of counter-programming.
Over the years, ‘My Bloody Valentine’ has achieved a cult status in the horror genre. Why it never spawned a sequel (or a series! ) mystifies me somewhat, because, with a fan base and an iconic-looking villain, almost anyone could have made more of it pretty much effortlessly – far worse movies have generated half-a-dozen sequels. Still, as did ‘Black Christmas’ and ‘Prom Night’, it managed to garner a high-profile remake in recent years – and, for a low-budget Canadian production, that’s none too shabby.
While it has a good reputation, ‘MBV’ is hardly a masterpiece. If anything, it’s a kill-by-numbers slasher film of the genre that became so popular after the massive success of ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’. But it’s hardly like the former: it’s fairly weak on mood, the scares are too obvious and/or deliberate to work, and the killings aren’t original (and the ones that try fail!).
The few fight scenes were lifeless and awkward; they were so limply staged and acted that they didn’t look real. As well, the characters sometimes moved in ways that weren’t natural in a real setting; this was done strictly for effect (for instance, holding things up to the camera, or missing a target by four feet so that the camera could catch the action). While that’s partly the actors’ fault, I believe that the director is the one to blame – either because he made those choices, or he allowed the actors to make them (he was the boss, after all).
The basic story was kind of lame: there’s a love triangle with two fairly unpleasant guys, a crazy miner running amok because of a mining accident years ago, and a bunch of hicks bored enough to go party in a mine. Perhaps the love story could be considered realistic in some circles, but it was frustratingly simple-minded; I can’t even fathom why the girl was torn between those two dweebs. Mind you… most of the characters were simple-minded, so I guess this natural, contextually.
Even the mood music is relatively unimpressive, being almost nondescript. Paul Zaza’s atmospheric soundscapes are decent, but unmemorable. Perhaps with a more active listening session one might get something out of this motion picture score, but it didn’t stand out during the movie, as some do so well. The only standout piece of music throughout is the closing credits song, if only because its folkie vibe is such a strange choice after a series of killings.
Speaking of killings, one thing that distinguishes this film from its peers is that it doesn’t play the Grand Guignol quite like they tend to do, trying to impress and/or shock their audiences with unusual ways to off the victims. ‘My Bloody Valentine’ attempts it once or twice, but either only did it half-heartedly or failed miserably. It often doesn’t even show the killing itself, surprising the audience with its reveal of the bodies instead.
In some ways, I’d like to think that the film was trying to be tasteful, but it’s clear from some of the ghastliness that it was likely a lack of imagination or skill – because some of these kills certainly were over-the-top. Or maybe it’s just that ‘MBV’ has its own mind and does things its own way: case-in-point, the lack of nudity – a staple of such films. I can’t say I’m disappointed, because I like that it’s not completely cookie-cutter, but a part of me regrets it nonetheless.
(I’ve since watched the deleted scenes, and was surprised to discover that all the gore was removed from the killings. In fact, the deleted scenes have all the traditional nastiness that you’d expect from this sort of film. But, for some reason, the final cut has been toned down. Bizarrely, the scenes work best unedited, so I’d love to know why they were edited – I mean, what was the point of having the crew do all that work for nothing? )
The main draw of the film, if there’s anything at all, is the killer. Dressed up in a miner’s uniform, complete with a gas mask and helmet, he is somewhat imposing, if not intimidating. However, while he looks cool and sounds creepy (his breathing is somewhat reminiscent of Darth Vader’s), his pick-axe is cumbersome; he clearly has a hard time using it with precision and skill. It’s also not exactly concealable, which makes it hard to sneak up on one’s victims (i.e. they could think he’s a regular miner if not for it).
Unfortunately, the identity of the killer seemed far too obvious to me (the character’s name pretty much gives it away when you think about it ). The origins of the killer was also kind of pathetic, because the writers filled it with simplistic pseudo-psychology. All I could think was: “Really? This would drive someone to serial killing?”. There was also a legend being told by the locals about the murderer. This was also a bit silly, by my book.
So, in the end, after all the blood has been shed and the killer has been “unmasked”, does ‘My Bloody Valentine’ hold its own in the slasher genre?
But one must remember that the genre is extremely flawed, and that the average entry is mediocre at best – they’re usually designed for cheap thrills and a quick buck, not for their artistic merit or intellectual stimulation.
‘My Bloody Valentine’ is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t see much replay value here (well, maybe in another coupla decades… ), but fans of early-’80s horror should be quite satisfied with this Valentine’s Day treat from our psychotic miner with a pick-axe.