I love holiday horror films. To me, they demonstrate the genre's ongoing commitment to ruining even the happiest of occasions with visions of nightmarish terror. There was a time when Halloween was the only holiday associated with evil and darkness and that set it apart as the isolated capsule of fear. But then, one by one, the other, more joyful, holidays became targets for horror interpretations. It's gotten to the point that no festive celebration is without its own signature slasher or identifiable bloodbath.
With that in mind, I started a little project to chart these holiday horror films throughout the calendar year. Last month we rocked bloody hard with the triumphantly campy New Year's Evil. This month, more to the point today, we find ourselves locked in the inescapable embrace of cupid. But before you rush out to buy that special someone a cheap, material validation of your love, treat yourself to the heart-warming romance of My Bloody Valentine.
My Bloody Valentine is the story of a group of young people that work in a mine in the town of Valentine Bluffs (a town somewhere in Canada). These are just regular Joe Hosers who are excited about their tiny town's Valentine's Day dance. Turns out, this is the first dance this town has had in 20 years because of something terrible that happened decades earlier. Apparently there were a group of miners left down in shaft by neglectful supervisors anxious to get to the dance. There was an explosion and they were trapped. When they were found days later, only one had survived: Harry Warden (who had survived by eating the others). Harry was subsequently committed as the incident drove him bugnuts. As you could expect, one year later, he escapes and kills the supervisors with a pick ax, depositing their hearts at the dance in candy boxes. So naturally the dance was a taboo for the next 20 years. Now the town wants to put that nasty past behind them and rejuvenate the happy tradition; Harry has other plans.
So that's the plot. It was interesting to me how much this movie was sort of an amalgamation of several slasher films that all came out around the same time. Not that I'm claiming any one copied another, but it's interesting to note as an encompassing view of the slasher genre. I can actually break it down point by point but beware that we've reached the spoiler point of no return:- The villain was born of a tragedy resulting from the neglect of others------Friday the 13th
- The killer has a strong connection to a holiday------Halloween
- The town is therefore afraid of celebrating said holiday------Halloween sequels (granted these were later)
- The murderer turns out to be someone among them traumatized by a childhood memory---Prom Night
But the thing that made me fall in love with this movie is its monumental deviation from a film like Friday the 13th: a solid, well established link between the characters and the world of the movie. Think about it, how many Friday the 13th sequels involve taking uninteresting characters who are indistinguishable not only from the boobs in previous entries, but sometimes even from one another and dropping them in the woods to be picked off one by one? Pretty much every single one. It seems like those movies are written from the kill scenes backwards. Granted, I enjoy a well-executed decapitation or innovative impaling as much as the next guy, but wouldn't it be nice if any of these films had an ounce of character development or allowed the story to foster the scares? Enter My Bloody Valentine.
From start to finish, I believed that these people lived in this town and worked in this mine. They felt so organic and rooted in what was happening juxtaposed to the meandering d-bags in most 80's horror who only exist to slate our bloodlust when their insides come out. I actually despaired a little bit when one of the characters here, a guy who was so damn likable with his big beard and disproportionally hot girlfriend, got nail-gunned in the face. I actually felt a loss when he bought it, and that is something I had never experienced from a slasher film. Actually, in some way I haven't quite been able to nail down yet, this film felt more like a modern horror film than it did an 80's selection. It may have been the timeless setting of a mining community that one could still find littering the middles of nowheres. But who knows. I also thought the frantic movements of the killer, whose miner costume lends itself so perfectly to horror, were really interesting and expressed a rage not often seen in Myers or Vorhees.
My "issue" with the movie does not arise until the ending. We find out that Harry Warden, the Michael Myers-like golem stalking the miners, is none other than their own friend Axel. Turns out Harry died in the asylum years before and Axel was getting revenge because his father was one of the supervisors whom Harry did actually kill. I still don't know how I feel about this ending because on the one hand, it lends a certain organic quality to the film. But it also treads on the legendary status of the mysterious and deadly Harry Warden. Gone now is the mysticism of the killing machine behind a mask and it is replaced with a slew of suspension of disbelief. 1.) Why did this guy wait so long to get his revenge-happily working at the mine for all these years and showing no sign of madness? 2.) Why had no one heard that the man that made their town notorious and effectively put them on the map had died? 3.) Why, when the killing started did no one mention that they all knew Axel was the son of one of the original victims? Arggghhh!!!! It is such a better movie if it is actually Harry Warden because the fact that we know so little about him and we can't see his face are the essential elements for the eeriness of well crafted slashers.
If you've purchased the recent Lionsgate DVD or Blu-ray then you are probably aware that there are two radically different cuts of the film. When I first saw the film, only the theatrical cut was available. The difference in the level of violence between the two editions is staggering. After seeing the theatrical cut, I noted how subdued the film was in terms of gore and went so far as to dub it Friday the 13th's more polite Canadian cousin. But when you view the extended cut, you realize just how brutal they wanted this thing to be. I don't know how much is added by the more violent edit, but there are some pretty memorable moments of blood-spilling that will satiate even the most jaded of horrorphiles. Watch for the extended dryer kill scene and you will know exactly what I mean.
All in all, this movie is fantastic. It's fun without being really stupid. It's violent, but even the extended cut doesn't use gore as crutch. It's smart without taking itself too seriously. It has characters, not just victims. And it has some indefinable quality that makes it timeless. That I loathe the remake, and to me My Bloody Valentine will always be a lost 80's classic. Too many current horror films spend about as much time on the script as Harry does choosing his wardrobe. This is cult brilliance and genuine entertainment.
Roses are Red......Violets are Blue........I love My Bloody Valentine........and so will you.