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My Bloody Valentine

Paramount // R // September 3, 2002
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 9, 2002 | E-mail the Author
With a name like Valentine Bluffs, it doesn't come as much of a surprise that the sleepy mining town takes February 14th pretty seriously. For more than a century, their annual dance was the highlight of the year. The event was so hotly anticipated that one year, a pair of sloppy supervisors left five workers stranded in the mines in their haste to get to the party in time for punch and pie. Things grew uncomfortably warm when unchecked methane levels increased to explosive proportions, killing four of the miners and burying the surviving fifth under countless tons of rubble. Six weeks passed as crews worked furiously to unearth the miners' bodies, not expecting to find anyone alive. Harry Warden was indeed still among the living, if a little mentally unhinged, having survived the past month and a half feasting on the remains of his friends and co-workers. Upon his release from the looney bin, Harry returned to slaughter the two supervisors whose negligence destroyed his life and those of his pals. He tore out their hearts and placed them in candy boxes, warning the townsfolk that he'd return if Valentine Bluffs celebrated the holiday with a dance or party again.

Time heals all wounds, and after two full decades of steering clear of its annual shindig, Valentine Bluffs is ready to give the party another shot. As promised, Harry strolls into town, still decked out in mining gear and leaving his trademark calling card to show Valentine Bluffs that his threat wasn't a...well, you know. The city's dance is quickly cancelled, but some of the miners take it upon themselves to organize a party of their own. To try to sneak it in under the sheriff's radar as best they can, the plan is to hold the party in the mine. Of course, Harry catches wind of this, and wackiness ensues. As if the presence of a mass-murderer wasn't enough, things are made even more tense by the recent return of prodigal son T.J., whose stint out west to make it on it his own flopped worse than The Adventures of Pluto Nash. He had left his lady love Sarah behind in Valentine Bluffs without any warning, and he didn't even bother to call or write while he was away. In his absence, fellow miner Axel took advantage, and T.J. was less than thrilled to return home only to find Sarah hanging off his former buddy's arm. Is T.J. merely peeved, or is that murderous rage...? Hmmm...

Nothing warms my heart in quite the same way as a slasher movie produced at the dawn of the '80s, and though My Bloody Valentine doesn't get any points for originality, I'd cheerfully rank it as one of my favorites of the class of 1981. Once you get past the bizarre concept of a movie where a mass-murderer offs the residents of a small mining town to discourage a Valentine's Day dance, My Bloody Valentine is a surprisingly entertaining slasher that remains effective even after two full decades. Its attempts to build suspense haven't been ravaged by time, though the same can't be said for the dated dialogue and certain wardrobe choices (T.J.'s seeming inability to button his shirt, for instance). A lifetime of slashers have exposed me to every jump scare in the book, but several scattered throughout My Bloody Valentine still succeeded in propelling me an inch or two in the air.

Though many of the kills follow the expected naughtiness/killer P.O.V. shot/stab, stab, stab progression, they're still more effective than the glut of slashers I've waded through over the past few weeks. The best murders in these sorts of movies are those where the killer toys with his victim, prolonging the inevitable at least for a minute or so. My Bloody Valentine doesn't rush its kills, ekeing as much tension as it can out of scenes such as the one where an abandoned female victim is increasingly surrounded by empty outfits hanging from suspended hooks, trying to fight her way through until she stumbles into a set with someone inside it.

Rather than pile all of the bodies in a central place for some sort of dramatic reveal for our remaining one or two characters in the final reel, Harry's a little more creative. A laundered lady, a slutty spigot, and a heart-touching demonstration of the meat fillers in hot dogs (sorry about that last one, but alliteration only goes so far) are among the highlights. The uninteresting love triangle between T.J., Axel, and Slash...I mean, Sarah...drags the pacing down a bit, mostly because both guys are jackasses, and Sarah's too wishy-washy to decide which is the lesser of two evils. Other than that, the movie doesn't get too bogged down in plot or character development, neither of which really have much place in a twenty year old slasher. My Bloody Valentine adheres to a number of slasher conventions, and anyone who's sifted through enough of these movies will be able to tell if that close-up of an ominous package or a P.O.V. shot is innocuous or not. The identity of the masked killer is guarded fairly well, not telegraphed far in advance or surrounded by innumerable attempts at duping the audience with red herrings.

Controversy has been swirling around on various horror bulletin boards about My Bloody Valentine, which was gutted of eight or nine minutes to net an R-rating back in 1981. As one could probably assume by the sheer amount of footage, these cuts don't go by unnoticed. The camera flinches whenever a victim is in danger, cutting away before the slightest amount of harm can come to anyone on-screen. Saturated candy boxes and brief glimpses of bodies aside, the movie is so bloodless that it's ready for broadcast on TBS as is. One constantly circulating rumor was that Paramount wasn't opposed to the idea of an uncut release on DVD, but that director George Mihalka was less than enthusiastic about the film and refused to participate with the studio in compiling such a disc. Despite his apparent disinterest, fans rallied for a fully restored version of My Bloody Valentine. Several visitors to the appropriately titled Longer, Gorier, and Uncut indicated that those rumors are baseless. Not only were Mihalka and producer John Dunning interested in an uncut version, they'd been in frequent contact with Paramount for quite some time trying to being such a project together. The footage gutted from the film is not lost, and Dunning plans to incorporate portions of these scenes in some form in a My Bloody Valentine II, should it come to fruition.

It's an unpleasant situation; despite claims that uncut releases of various Friday the 13th movies are being considered, Paramount seems to have no interest whatsoever in releasing unrated versions of their films on DVD. Even worse, they won't license these titles to any one of the number of companies who would leap at the chance to give these movies the treatment they deserve. The reasoning for this is baffling. Admittedly, I don't have my finger on the pulse of the DVD-buying public, but it seems fairly obvious to me that the audience for a movie about a pickaxe-wielding mass murderer who cuts out the hearts of his victims probably don't shy away from gore. If Paramount has been hogtied by parent company Viacom or if there is some desire to make their releases "safe" for their notoriously puritanical corporate sibling Blockbuster, something is severly wrong with someone wielding a controlling influence and is in dire need of an infusion of common sense.

Video: Paramount is frequently criticized on various DVD discussion boards for charging a couple bucks more for their product than the other guys, but gorgeous transfers like the one on My Bloody Valentine make that difference in price much more palatable. Presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, My Bloody Valentine boasts vivid colors, deep black levels, a striking amount of detail, and an overall clear, crisp image. Speckling is infrequent, and the exceedingly light film grain in a handful of shots doesn't present much of a distraction either. Some of the wider shots of Valentine Bluff, such as the one announcing the "Friday, February 13th" date, are soft and grainy, but these moments amount to maybe ten or fifteen seconds total. I can't gush about this presentation enough. It would be excellent for any film produced more than twenty years ago, but that this is a comparatively obscure slasher from the vaults of a studio often embarrassed by such material makes this stellar transfer seem all the more impressive.

Audio: The lower frequencies are well-represented in My Bloody Valentine's robust Dolby Digital mono soundtrack, despite not having a dedicated channel of its own. The rumbling of the score in the opening sequence particularly grabbed my attention, and a door being kicked open around the 39:58 mark and random thuds scattered throughout are accompanied by a generous helping of bass. The only instance where the low end sounded particularly weak was during the methane explosion, but maybe flashbacks in some way are inherently limited in terms of dynamic range. Oh well. The only quibbles I have are related to the slightly harsh quality of the dialogue, compounded further in a couple of scenes where songs playing on the jukebox drown out most every line. These complaints are pretty minor in the scheme of things, and I'd definitely rank it as one of the livelier mono tracks of recent memory. Also provided on the DVD are a French dub and English subtitles.

Supplements: Just like the other three slashers Paramount released on September 3rd, My Bloody Valentine contains absolutely nothing in the way of supplemental material.

Conclusion: My Bloody Valentine stands out as one of the better slashers churned out in the wake of Friday the 13th's unprecedented success. The lack of any supplemental material is more than offset by the quality of the presentation, and if Paramount had taken the incremental time and effort to provide an uncut version, I would've happily given it a high recommendation. They didn't, so I won't. The movie itself is well-worth seeking out for slasher buffs, but until a proper version is released, Rent It.
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