We’re just two days out from everyone’s least favourite fake holiday – Valentine’s Day. During the golden era of the slasher film in the 1980s, most holidays on the calendar received the horror treatment, even April Fool’s Day. One of the better B-level entries during the slashers’ original run was My Bloody Valentine (1981), but it’s not Valentine’s Day yet (we’ll save MBV for the day itself). When Wes Craven turned the subgenre on its head with Scream (1996) he inadvertently re-ignited a brief slasher renaissance that saw several films released that adhered to all the conventions and tropes with none of the self-awareness. At the tail-end of this slasher revival, in February 2001, Valentine (2001) was dumped into theatres and quickly forgotten at the bottom of pharmacy and Wal-Mart discount bins but with Valentine’s Day approaching it’s time to re-visit this slasher misfire.
From the opening credits Valentine embraces the slasher film basics by first treating us to the past tragedy that sets the plot in motion. Jeremy Melton, a shy and awkward sixth-grader, asks several of the popular girls to dance. He is cruelly rejected by each until one girl, Dorothy accepts, and ends up kissing him under the bleachers. When they are seen by other kids Dorothy lies and accuses Jeremy of attacking her, prompting several bullies to beat him up and humiliate him. Years later, the same girls who rejected Jeremy begin receiving threatening Valentine’s cards and are stalked by a figure wearing a Cherub mask. Has Jeremy Melton returned to seek his revenge?
Valentine is about as generic as the average Valentine’s Day card you’ll find on a pharmacy store rack. Nothing in the 90 plus minutes of this film is even able to rise to the level of ‘so bad, it’s good’; this is the cinematic equivalent of a bowl of melting vanilla ice cream. The screenplay is lazy – apparently social rejection and fairly minor bullying in sixth grade can lead to juvenile delinquency, institutionalization, and adult homicidal behaviour. The characters are stereotypes based on horror film tropes older than most of the actors in the film. Marley Shelton is Kate Davies, the ‘nice one’ and obvious ‘final girl’. Denise Richards plays ‘Paige’ the ‘promiscuous one’, and Jessica Capshaw is Dorothy, the formerly overweight, insecure one. Red herrings are introduced and quickly discarded. Is Gary, the pervert neighbour, the adult Jeremy Melton? Or is it Campbell, the gold-digging boyfriend? Or Jason Marquette (J.M.), the obnoxious blind date? David Boreanaz, who was riding the wave of the Angel television series at the time, is Adam, Kate’s alcoholic ex-boyfriend who seems really nice and sincere, but also has the body type most closely resembling the killer. Could he be the now adult Jeremy Melton? None of this matters because most of these red herrings are killed almost as quickly as they’re introduced.
The rest of the film is the equivalent of a cheap pre-packed gift bag from an aromatherapy store. Victims run but are somehow still caught by a killer who never breaks more than a brisk stride. The killer is omnipresent, turning up whenever it’s time for another death scene regardless of plot or logic. If you’re concerned about getting too scared there’s no need to worry because the rising crescendo of creepy music will let you know when the jump scare is coming. Just be forewarned that almost every jump scare in the film is proceed by a fake-out. The only thing Valentine is missing is that scene where the victim adjusts the bathroom mirror and the killer appears.
Lazy scriptwriting in slasher films can still get you a passing grade if you can deliver a memorable killer and innovative death scenes. Sadly, Valentine is about as disappointing as a bad blind date on both of these fronts. The film’s killer wears a cherub mask that is the exact opposite of scary; he also gets nosebleeds after every murder. In contrast to the original run of slasher films in the 1980s, the slashers released following the success of Scream (1996) were surprisingly light on both graphic violence and nudity, and Valentine is no different. While it’s rated-R, the death scenes are largely bloodless and pretty straightforward. One scene involving a hot tub, cover, and drill is entertaining but it’s hardly a classic and fails to energize this lifeless film. When a floating head surfaces in a pond it gives the audience a pretty strong hint as to why the camera cuts away quickly during most of the film’s kills – the special effects are cheap-looking.
At over an hour and half, Valentine long overstays its welcome. Nothing remotely scary happens during this time and the ending offers an absolutely pointless fake-out that is both obvious and a rip-off. Like a bad online dating profile, Valentine knows what audiences want to see but can only offer a hollow imitation. If you’re planning on staying in this Valentine’s Day and are looking for a good scary movie to watch with your significant other I’d recommend swiping left on Valentine.