|Review||My Bloody Valentine (1981)||Director||George Mihalka|
|Cast||Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Larry Reynolds, Thomas Kovacs, Terry Waterland and Don Francks|
“Piss on Harry Warden and that damn old legend. We’re gonna have ourselves a party” – T.J.
The small mining town of Valentine’s Bluffs has a bloody history that coincides with Valentine’s Day. The annual celebration is eagerly awaited and two supervisors of the Hanniger mine leave early and fail to check on methane levels with a number of workers still below. An explosion occurs and leaves the miners buried beneath as the celebrations go on above. Weeks later a rescue crew finds all of the workers dead except one; Harry Warden. Warden had resulted to cannibalism to stay alive and is completely insane and carted off to the nut house. During next year’s Valentine celebration Harry comes back and kills the two supervisors with a pickaxe, carves out their hearts and warns the town to never hold another Valentine’s celebration dance. And the people comply.
Then the people of Valentine’s Bluffs decide to bury the past and hold the first Valentine’s Dance party in 19 years and the whole town is up for some fun. Among them are childhood friends and miners T.J. (Kelman) and Axel (Affleck). They have a rocky relationship as some time back T.J. went away with no word and left behind his girlfriend Sarah (Hallier) who’s now Axel’s girl. Now T.J.’s back and wants things back as they once were. As February 14th grows near a box of candy containing a blood soaked heart and an eerie warning is delivered to the mayor (Reynolds) while he’s with the sheriff (Francks). Could Harry Warden be back to make sure the townsfolk cancel the town’s Valentine celebrations?
Made at the height of the slasher film’s popularity and following a trend by setting the events around a known holiday; “My Bloody Valentine” was one of the biggest victims of massive censorship by the MPAA in the early 80’s. It was distributed by a major company (Paramount Pictures) and several reasons have been speculated upon as to why this film received such harsh treatment. One of them is the murder of musician John Lennon in December 1980 and the resulting backlash against movie violence in the wake of his death. Another is the negative reaction that Paramount received due to the gory scenes in “Friday the 13th” (1980) and the studio, at least temporarily, put the brakes on explicit violence on screen (which also extended to that year’s “Friday the 13th: Part 2” that was heavily censored).
Despite the excessive trimmings “My Bloody Valentine” was well received by the target audience although it wasn’t a box office smash. But on VHS the film really gained some cult following and has remained a slasher favorite ever since. In 2009 for a DVD release, thanks to Lions Gate Films, a big chunk of the excised footage was reinstated and longtime fans could see the film as it’s makers had intended.
“My Bloody Valentine” is one of the best slashers around. There are a few things a bit different here. For one; the people we follow are adults and they’re well realized with relatable problems and anxieties in their lives. They are the working class blue collar type in a small town dependent on a particular line of work to sustain it and a genuine camaraderie has formed between it’s citizens. Even the older characters in authority positions are well rounded and multi-dimensional which even further creates a good atmosphere and really gives Valentine’s Bluffs a personality. The actors here are very solid as well with Kelman, Affleck and Francks taking top honors in a good cast ensamble.
What falls perfectly in the slasher film category is the storyline and the script is well written with a solid mystery. All the usual tropes are present and handled especially well. For years I had to make do with the edited version and still the movie worked well enough with it’s atmosphere and suspense but once the uncut version surfaced the film really hit a home run. The makeup effects are really quite something, the set pieces are terrific and the excellent kill scenes are up there with the best of the era. One particular scene was so butchered in editing that it never made any sense but here, restored to it’s full glory, it greatly improves the movie overall. The runtime for the gory scenes (and some of that is buildup) is over three minutes so that gives you an idea just how chopped up the film was.
The mine setting is very atmospheric and it’s wonderfully lensed by cinematographer Rodney Gibbons (“Screamers” – 1995) and the final showdown inside is genuinely suspenseful. Director Mihalka coaxes good performances from the entire cast and he puts just the right emphasis on enough character beats to make sure the people involved are not entirely one-dimensional and forgettable. And then there’s even a theme song written specifically for the movie, “The Ballad of Harry Warden”, that’s played during the end credits and it’s a lot better than it sounds.