Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: George Mihalka
Writer: John Beaird, Stephen Miller
Producer: Andre Link, John Dunning, Stephen Miller
Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Don Francks, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Terry Waterland, Jack Van Evera
A masked madman stalks a small mining town to take revenge for a Valentine¡¯s Day tragedy that turned him into a crazed murderer.
20 years ago in 1960, ¡®The Legend of Harry Warden¡¯ began. Back then, the annual Valentine¡¯s Day dance was always the talk of the small town of Valentine Bluffs. The event proved so popular, two supervisors sloughed off their responsibilities at the local mine to hit the drunken festivities early. Without their watchful eyes, a methane explosion ended up trapping five miners underground.
It took rescuers six weeks to dig through the rubble. When they got to the bottom they found only one man still alive. Harry Warden had survived by feeding on the flesh of his friends, and the ghoulish ordeal drove the poor man insane.
The following year, Harry came back from a mental institution to take revenge on the men responsible for his madness. Before being recommitted for his brutally bloody crimes, Harry left Valentine Bluffs with a warning. Either cancel the annual dance forever, or face Harry¡¯s murderous wrath every February 14th.
Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby assumed two decades was a long enough wait. Now the town¡¯s miners and associated girlfriends anxiously anticipate the holiday dance¡¯s triumphant return. What they don¡¯t anticipate are the arrival of human hearts wrapped in candy boxes tagged with poetic threats. When new bodies start dropping under the pickax of a masked miner, frightened townspeople wonder if Harry Warden returned to stalk their streets once again.
¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± is the midnight movie you get when you combine the whodunit mystery of ¡°Friday the 13th¡± (review here), the cyclical holiday horror of ¡°Halloween¡± (review here), and the Canadian cop caper of ¡°Black Christmas¡± (review here). Following formula definitely dates the film to its 1981 release year. Considering the plentiful competition among comparable chillers from this period, it¡¯d be fair to say ¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± is more of an imitator than a halcyon horror hallmark likely to be imitated.
¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± still holds up well as a solid slasher four decades on. At a surface level, it feels routinely recognizable. Masked murderer on the loose. Law enforcement frantically following one step behind. Local politician sweeping potential panic under the rug. A love triangle constituting human drama for three primary players. A comical amount of splitting up so people can be privately slaughtered. Consider it a little closer however and a number of things not often seen set ¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± apart from countless clones and more popular peers.
It¡¯s easy to appreciate the core cast¡¯s demographic. At a time when similar movies simply stocked lineups with teens in tight clothes, or no clothes at all, Valentine Bluffs¡¯ young adult population consists of working class mine workers. Even though they behave like high-schoolers, they¡¯re actually blue-collar twentysomethings who just really like to blow off steam after their shift. You can pass off their partying as a product of living in a Podunk town where drinking beer at the bar is probably the only fun thing to do. Why else would everyone get insanely excited about a community dance at the union hall unless there was nothing better going on?
The group comes with the usual assortment of pranksters, horndogs, and flexers of alpha male machismo. For the most part though, they¡¯re a genuinely good-natured, non-abrasive bunch that¡¯s enjoyable to hang out with in those downtimes when no one is taking a pickax to the gut.
A counterpoint could argue that at a baker¡¯s dozen, T.J., Axel, Hollis, Howard, Sarah, Patty, Sylvia, John, Mike, Dave, Harriet, Tommy, and Gretchen constitute too many people to leave meaningful impressions. Rocky relationship problems between T.J., Sarah, and Axel eat up most of the setup time spent with the miners and their girlfriends. Secondary characters, particularly the women, aren¡¯t developed nearly as well. The extra heads don¡¯t even contribute to a body count like they do in ¡°Friday the 13th¡± films, so it¡¯s even stranger that ¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± floods its floors with faces it has no notable need for.
Back to distinguishing boons, the movie also benefits from its unique mine setting as well as a masked maniac with a look worth merchandising, if only the movie had made a greater impact. Although it¡¯s plenty popular with its devoted cult following, not birthing a franchise is probably part of why ¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± was sent to a lesser tier of slasher infamy alongside the likes of ¡°The Burning¡± instead of becoming a hugely successful VHS rental.
Retrospect rightfully affords more kindness to how much ¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± does well to become a fun Friday night fright flick. The small town setting full of folksy locals creates an inviting atmosphere. Dirty coal shafts and mining equipment set up atmospheric creeps and cool kills. (Although drowning in a pot of boiling hot dogs might be my favorite death.) And the horror of Harry Warden adds an urban legend element that freshens familiar fiction with slices of suspense.
¡°My Bloody Valentine¡± may not mimic enough of ¡°Friday the 13th,¡± ¡°Halloween,¡± or ¡°Black Christmas¡± to supersede those films. But it channels enough of those same touchstones to be a satisfying slasher in its own right.
Review Score: 75