Happy Valentine’s Day! Maybe you hate Valentine’s Day on principal. Perhaps you’re single or maybe you don’t want to be dragged out for an expensive dinner and an evening wasted on Fifty Shades Freed. Or maybe you’re just a rapid horror film fan looking for an ‘alternative’ film to curl up with on the couch on this Hallmark-themed holiday. Fortunately the horror genre has something to offer for just about every holiday on the calendar. In our Re-Animated column for this week, it’s all about Valentine’s Day, as we take a look at the two versions of My Bloody Valentine.
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Following the success of Friday the 13th (1980), studios rushed to release cheaply made slasher films that cashed in on the successful formula. One of the better B-level slasher films produced during the initial craze was the Canadian entry, My Bloody Valentine (1981), which was filmed in a small Nova Scotia mining town. While it was a smaller entry in the subgenre, My Bloody Valentine is held in fairly high regard by horror fans and is often cited as one of the better examples of the subgenre. Director George Mihalka’s film also achieved some notoriety upon its release when it fell victim to the wave of censorship prompted by renewed concerns about film violence in the wake of Friday the 13th’s mainstream box office success and the death of John Lennon. Anywhere from six to eight minutes of footage were reportedly excised from the film in order to avoid an X-rating from Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This cut footage was saved, restored, and included in the 2009 Blu-Ray release of the film, which is sadly now out of print.
My Bloody Valentine is set in the fictional mining town of Valentine’s Bluff where, 20 years earlier, an accident left several miners trapped underground. The sole survivor of the accident, Harry Warden, murdered the other miners trapped with him and resorted to cannibalism. Driven insane by the experience, Harry Warden takes revenge against the two supervisors who triggered the accident after skipping their duties to attend the annual Valentine’s Day dance. Warden, arrested and committed to an asylum, vowed to return and kill again if the town ever held another Valentine’s Day dance. When a group of young miners dismiss Warden’s warning as legend and decide to hold a Valentine’s Day dance the murders resume.
For fans of 1980s horror, there is a reason why the original My Bloody Valentine draws a lot of praise. There is nothing necessarily innovative in its storytelling and, like most of the slasher films released from this time period, the film looks grainy. Nevertheless the low-budget feel of My Bloody Valentine lends an authenticity to it and, in terms of production, it’s a much better made film than most of its B-level slasher contemporaries. The killer’s ‘miner’ disguise is one of the better designs for a slasher antagonist from the 1980s. Mihalka also stages several effective scares and death scenes across the film. You’ll never look at your dryer or a boiling pot of hot dog wieners the same way again after My Bloody Valentine.
This is a low-budget horror film so we’re not talking about Oscar-calibre performances, but the actors are believable in their roles and, most importantly, the characters are likeable. It helps that the story focuses on adults rather than following the slasher trope of horny teenagers. Mihalka also puts a lot more effort than other slasher films into developing an atmosphere that keeps the audience engaged in between the violent set pieces. The final third of the film takes place in an actual abandoned mine and the setting really does enhance the atmosphere, giving the proceedings a bit more of a creepy sense of dread than you’ll find in the typical slasher film. It’s the final act of My Bloody Valentine that really elevates it above most of its peers.
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
In the latter half of the 2000s, as ‘torture porn’ films were meeting with increasingly diminishing returns, Hollywood began raiding the VHS shelves of abandoned video stores for 1980s slasher films to re-make. Studios quickly worked their way through the classics – from The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Halloween (2007) to Friday the 13th (2009) – and eventually had to move on to recycling the B-level entries. Re-making a lesser-known film – even an original film that may not have been that good in the first place – actually presents a more sound strategy, giving a filmmaker the opportunity to improve upon an interesting premise rather than trying to ‘catch lightning in a bottle’. While most of the slasher remakes were misfires, the My Bloody Valentine remake is the rare example of how to do a horror remake right. While the original film is remembered fondly by diehard genre fans, it’s a lesser-known quantity for most audiences that does not carry with it the same lofty expectations as remaking a classic.
Director Patrick Lussier and screenwriter Todd Farmer take the same basic premise of the original film and wisely opt to dial up the violence gore, and nudity by ten rather than offering a scene-for-scene rehash. The remake places a little more emphasis on the mystery surrounding the killer’s identity and its twist is more elaborate and over-the-top than the original but this in keeping with the film’s overall tone. My Bloody Valentine is an intentionally and, quite frankly, delightfully insane remake where the CGI blood is spilled with a manic energy. Not much in the film makes sense, the characters are paper thin, and the dialogue is tone-deaf but it doesn’t matter because this is a film that you’re not meant to take seriously. Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine is a pure popcorn flick that lets you shut off your brain; it’s the kind of film best enjoyed watching with others. Horror purists will take issue with the CGI gore effects and the 3D effects, while fun in theatres, look staged and gimmicky on a regular television. Ultimately, the My Bloody Valentine remake never takes itself seriously and instead focuses on giving slasher fans a briskly paced, fun horror ride.
I don’t imagine there will be very many instances in this column where a remake is put ahead of the original film. In the case of My Bloody Valentine, the original film is hard to beat for fans of 1980s slasher films. If you asked me to recommend a slasher film not called Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Halloween, the original My Bloody Valentine would most likely be my first suggestion. While the remake does not improve upon or even meet the quality of the original, it’s gleefully over-the-top approach is a welcome change from some of the hollow remakes of 1980s slasher films that surfaced in the 2000s. If you go into the remake of My Bloody Valentine with appropriate expectations you’ll find a fun horror film.