7/28/09

Terrifying Tuesday : My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Canadians are not just about beer, maple syrup, and hockey. They don’t all listen to Rush, and no matter what South Park may tell you, their heads do not come apart in the middle. However, one thing that the Canucks have proved themselves at is making some of the finest slasher flicks. In 1974, Canadian Bob Clark made Black Christmas, and it became one of the prototypes of the genre. Then in 1981, tonight’s film, My Bloody Valentine, took the slasher picture to a new level with inventive kills, a great cast, and an imposing boogeyman to terrify the kids. It did Friday the 13th one better, literally, after all this flick went to the 14th.

Set in the Canadian mining town of Valentine Flats, My Bloody Valentine is all about the legend of Harry Warden, a miner who survived a cave in 20 years ago by cannibalizing his companions. A year after, Harry escaped the mental institution and returned to Valentine Flats to kill the foreman who caused the mine’s collapse when he left his post to attend a Valentine Dance. Warden was recaptured, but he vowed to return if the town ever held another dance on Valentine’s Day. Naturally, after so much time has passed, no one is worried about Harry returning. The town decides to put on another dance, but when a human heart shows up in a Valentine candy box, the sheriff calls off the festivities. The young folks have other ideas and T.J. (Paul Kelman) suggests they move the party out to his father’s mine.

I don’t think I even have to tell you things go wrong from there. Harry Warden shows up and starts offing the young adults one after another. Some get a mining pick to their head, some get drowned in hot dogs, and some suffer worse fates. Harry seems intent to pick them all off one by one, and everyone seems content to walk right into his clutches. The folks with the least amount of sense are those that decide that partying is not enough; they should go down into the mine. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but no matter how loaded I got there would be no part of me that thinks going down in a coal mine would be a lots of fun. Sure, they don’t know that old Harry is waiting for them down there, but they don’t have to, it’s a dumbass move either way.

While the script is a straight up slasher affair with some slight misdirection to spice things up, the film really gets its strength from the actors playing the young townsfolk. Paul Kelman gives T.J., the son of the mine’s owner who has recently returned from a failed adventure on the West coast, a kind of moody, gruff melancholy that I remember seeing in friends who had run back home after screwing up in their early 20’s. This is a guy who’s embarrassed to have failed, pissed that he has to work in the mine now, and, on top of that, he’s lost his girl to cool guy Axel Palmer (Neil Affleck).

Kelman’s central performance is enhanced by the ensemble that surrounds him as great, natural performances get turned in from some inexperienced actors. First time actress, Lori Hallier seems suitably torn between T.J. and Alex as the object of their rivalry. She would go on to have quite a long career in TV and film while Neil Affleck would go onn to be an animator/director on The Simpsons. My favorite small performance comes by way of Keith Knight as T.J.’s friend Hollis. It’s really not that he does anything special or has such a great role in the film. Knight just seems like a Canadian as silly as that sounds. If someone asked me to imagine a resident of the Great White North, he’s what I would imagine. The film is littered with Canadian-isms, and I enjoyed keeping a running tally of the “aboot”s uttered in the film. (I counted six.)

While the cast provides the film and its story with a great feel, this is a slasher after all, and what we’re here for is the kills. Boy, do you get ‘em too. What other flick gives you a corpse in a dryer tumbling around, a girl impaled and her face made into a water spigot, and someone killed with some kind of spike gun? The mine and killer miner concept lends itself greatly to the gruesome kills, and the MPAA gave this flick quite the hard time. Over the years it’s been claimed that anywhere from three to eight minutes had been trimmed to get an R rating. While director George Mihalka has claimed the greater number, the uncut version which was recently released with his blessing only contains about three more minutes of footage. However, I do recommend to anyone who wants to see this flick they get their hands on that version. The film looks crisp and clean, and the added guts and gore is certainly worth the slightly longer running time.

To top the film off, there’s a song that runs over the end credits written by composer Paul Zaza and performed by Scottish-Canadian singer John McDermott. While it does not explicitly go into the legend of Harry Warden or the events of the film, it is perfectly in the style of Irish and English folk ballads, and I’m trying to convince my singer-songwriter wife that she needs to do a cover of it. (Come on this, a few David Hess songs, and dig up a couple more and she’s got a Genre Folk album.) The rest of Zaza’s score is very good as well though it lacks the iconic flavor of it’s contemporaries in the slasher vein. Interestingly, Zaza would go on to work with fellow Canadian Bob Clark when he wrote the scores to Bob’s films Porky’s and A Christmas Story.

My Bloody Valentine scores as a slasher flick by not straying too far from the formula, but giving the film some life with inventive special effects from Thomas Burman (The Goonies, Scrooged, Dead Again), tight and claustrophobic cinematography by Rodney Gibbons (Scanners II), and a cast that you could really believe in. I watched My Bloody Valentine twice before reviewing it because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overstating the case after my first viewing, and no I’m not. This film goes right up near the top of my list of best Slasher films. If all you’ve seen is the recent 3-D remake (as I had), then don’t judge the original by the remake’s wafer thin plot, WB cast, and gimmicky selling points. My Bloody Valentine needed none of these things to achieve greatness. All it needed was some hard working folks, a good idea, and lots of beer. Well, come on, it’s still a Canadian film.



Bugg Rating

5 comments:

  1. While your review was well written and informative as always, I can't agree with it. I think this film is pretty meh for the most part. The kills are cool and the premise is nice, but everything else falls flat for me. I've never been a huge fan of this movie and actually prefer the remake over it [which is REALLY rare for me]. I thought the remake corrected a lot of things like creating better characters, more suspense and tension, and just making it feel like a fun horror flick. MY BLOODY VALENTINE isn't a horrible flick at all but it really does nothing for me - and I love 80s slashers. While I loved your review, we'll agree to disagree on this one.

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  2. Fair enough Fred. The remake left me cold. I thought that if you removed the 3D elements there would be little to nothing left. While the characters in the original MBV don't have tons of backstory I thought they were built better off the performances alone. The little things made them real while there wasn't anyone in the remake I could relate to.

    Thanks for liking the review even if you disagree with it, and thanks for all he great comments you've been dropping recently!

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  3. The original MBV is definitely one of my favorite slashers.
    And I think a big part in this is - as you say - that the characters are just a lot more relatable than your usual bunch of victims, giving the deaths a bit more weight and making their potential survival more important.

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  4. I originally bought MBV for the sheer fact that it was only $6 and I saw a clip on Going to Pieces, and thought it was going to be a bland, formulaic bore capitalizing on the holiday theme. Wrong. I love it as well, its truly one of the greatest slashers out there. It offers the fantastic and brutal deaths of The Prowler without a boring middle of the road plot. Great review man!

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  5. I grew up around the Sydney Mines in Cape Breton where this film took place. What I love about this movie that made it really stand out among slasher movies was that it wasn't just the same sort of actors playing the characters of kids in suburb communities. The characters in this move were everyday working people whose lives revolved around the mine, and just by looking at the town it is obviously a depressing place, as s Cape Breton in real-life (since the mines and nearby steel factory shut down the whole place has just become a rundown redneck metropolis). Put altogether, especially with the soundtrack composed by Paul Zaza and the infamous missing footage cut by the MPAA, this movie is one of my favorites, and it beats the remake, which was made to appeal to the texting, reality TV watching generation of teenagers today. I went to the theater to see it when I was fifteen, I would have demanded a refund except that the usher was picking his nose and really didn't want to go near him.

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