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Shout Factory // R // February 12, 2019
List Price: $34.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
"Roses are red / Violets are blue
They'll need dental records to identify you!"
- J.M., Valentine
None of those girls have paid Jeremy Melton much mind in these many years since. Why would they? Still close friends, the five of 'em are drop dead gorgeous bombshells in the big city pursuing fabulous careers and...well, far less fabulous romances, but what are you gonna do? Adam (David Boreanaz) is an alcoholic, Max (Johnny Whitworth) is a pretentious, untalented, sleaze of a fingerquotes-artist, would-be dot-com millionaire Campbell (Daniel Cosgrove) is less interested in Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) and more smitten with her trust fund, and speed dating winds up being about as terrifying as anything in Scream Factory's release slate.
Things in that department are looking up, though! They're each treated to lovingly handcrafted Valentine's Day cards from a secret admirer. Sure, they're all signed J.M., are more threatening than romantic, and at least once involve maggot-riddled chocolates. Hmmmm, plus Shelley (Katherine Heigl) was just savagely murdered, and no one's seen Lily (Jessica Cauffiel) in a good, long while. Does "J.M." stand for what they think it does? Is one of the men in their lives that they think they know secretly the awkward little boy whose life they made a living hell back in junior high? Whose heart is gonna be skewered by Cupid's bow next?
There were very few movies I'd been as feverishly anticipating as Valentine back in the day. I was an enormous fan of director Jamie Blanks' Urban Legend – still far and away my favorite from the second wave of slashers, Scream included. My excitement as I tore through issues of Fangoria was not exactly in step with the dismal critical reception that Valentine met with once it stormed into theaters. When I finally had that shiny DVD in-hand and started writing my own review, the best I could muster was "well, it's not that bad". Over the past few years, I've found myself itching to revisit Valentine, curious how I'd react now that I'm older, wiser, and so much further separated from my stratospheric expectations. The answer...? Pretty much remains "well, it's not that bad".
Valentine certainly gets some things right. The killer's cold, emotionless cherub mask is a brilliant choice, as is the blood that streams from its nose with each murder. As is frequently noted throughout the extras, I appreciate that its central characters are more than marketably gorgeous – they're capable, intelligent women. It's further appreciated that they're a tightknit group of friends who (generally) put each other first rather than cattily competing for romance or being blinded by what they mistake as love. And hey, friendship will always win out over the parade of hysterically shitty dudes that litter Valentine.
There's so much color in the screenplay as well: a parade of dismal thirty second dates, Kate (Marley Shelton) dunking her head in the toilet to wash out shampoo when her water goes out, Dorothy and a stepmother young enough to be her kid sister bickering in different languages, a creepy neighbor who exclusively speaks in rhymes, Paige (Denise Richards) pouring wax from a half-melted candle on some dipshit guy's exposed crotch, a borderline-pornographic maze of video monitors...I mean, a big chunk of what unfolds in Valentine could hardly be mistaken as more of the same.
The problem is basically everything else. As much as I swoon over the cast and appreciate the bond of friendship among these women, I can't say that I feel emotionally invested in any of them. The most infectiously fun one of the bunch dies way too early on. Dorothy rants near the end about how there's the sexy one and the smart one and the big, fat one, and sure enough, the five of them don't transcend such archetypes the way they should. The "whodunnit?" element of the mystery is woefully uninvolving. Though this is an R-rated slasher, Valentine was a victim of well-intentioned restraint in the wake of Columbine, with effectively no gore and precious little blood surviving to the big screen. None of the kills, even if left uncut, would make a highlight reel of the most memorable from this era of slashers. Several of the attacks, if unexceptional, are still executed reasonably well, from a dazzlingly fluid assault with Cupid's bow to this psychopath systematically stabbing a series of body bags in a morgue. Part of the issue is that the murderer tends to be quick to attack, throttling what tension or suspense could otherwise have been had. Sequences that should leave me squirming on my couch – particularly a Slumber Party Massacre throwback combining claustrophobia, drowning, and oversized power tools – instead fail to get any adrenaline pumping. It's odd because there's so much going on, and yet Valentine still somehow feels sedate and dull.
If you've never gotten around to seeing Valentine, I'd suggest streaming it first rather than shelling out $35 or whatever sight-unseen. On the other hand, if you're a longtime fanatic who's been aching for Valentine to at long last make its debut on Blu-ray, Scream Factory has a hell of a Valentine's Day gift for you. With well over eight hours of extras and a shiny, new remaster, this collector's edition will wildly exceed most any expectation you could possibly have set. We'll split the difference and say Recommended.
Newly-remastered in 2K – presumably by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging from an interpositive, although the exact source isn't specified – Valentine looks marvelous. Sure, I can't shake the feeling that I should be seeing something just a bit crisper at times, and contrast is deliberately kept somewhat low, but I can't really imagine looking at a shot like, oh, this one:
...and somehow walking away disappointed. Clarity is terrific. Its deliberate use of color (which, y'know, reds) hits the marks I'd hoped to see. The presentation consistently feels filmic from its first frame to the last. Even though this BD-50 disc is stuffed to the gills – around five hours of HD video in all, given that even the archival standard definition extras have been upscaled to 1080i – the AVC encode for the film proper doesn't suffer for it. Both from a traditional viewing distance in my home theater to screenshot scientist scrutiny on a PC, I couldn't spot any artifacting or other digital hiccups. And it comes as no real surprise that there's no damage or wear to speak of either. I wouldn't rank Valentine in the uppermost tier of slasher remasters, but this is a disc that's been on my wish list for ages now, and Warner and Scream Factory have delivered a strong presentation that proves to be well worth the wait.
I can't get enough of the discrete effects and the strong sense of separation from one channel to the next in this 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack: the metallic clatter that startles Shelley as she's about to carve open a cadaver, the reverb during Max's speech at the art gallery, encircling voices in the video maze, clinking glasses and chugging Drop C guitars at Dorothy's big shindig (wouldn't have pegged her for a Disturbed fan, but whatever), smashing an uptight lady hellbent on revenge through a glass shower door, Paige tumbling into the hot tub and the heavy cover slamming down, and the list keeps going on and on from there. The emphasis on directionality is so effective that Valentine really benefits from being experienced on a proper home theater rig.
A couple of brief concerns do stand out, and I don't hear either of these issues when sampling Valentine on VUDU. (Sorry, I don't know what I did with my eighteen year old DVD either.) Around the 25:18 mark, the audio drops out for the tiniest fraction of a second. It's not the most glaringly obvious thing in the world, but you'll hear a brief skip about five seconds into the recording below, just as the score is coming in:
Around a minute later, when the clock ticks to 26:39, there's a muffled pop or something when Lily is snarking at her video date:
Neither of those are dealbreakers, of course, but they are a bit disappointing to hear. The audio strikes me as being a touch on the low side overall – I found myself turning up the volume a good bit higher than usual to compensate – and, despite booming club tunes and the way the almost-orchestral score swoops in during more intense moments, the audio rarely roars the way I'd expect a 21st century slasher to. Somewhat of a mixed bag, I'm surprised to say, but generally positive.
Also included are a set of English (SDH) subtitles and a pair of audio commentaries.
Oh, your sweetheart shelled out for a card from Target and a box of chocolates? Great. Scream Factory, meanwhile, has assembled right at eight and a half hours of extras for you. If that's not true love, I don't know what is.
- Audio Commentaries: Valentine features two commentaries with director Jamie Blanks, recorded eighteen years apart. First is, of course, the phenomenal track from the original DVD release. Blanks proves more than capable of shouldering a commentary on his own, without a lull in the conversation to be found. Among the topics of conversation are how the childhood bullies' attack on Jeremy wasn't nasty enough without the Carrie homage, a gurney-cam that didn't always stop when expected, cinematographer Rick Bota recycling some sets for Hellraiser: Hellseeker, scheduling hiccups from asbestos, the headaches in getting everyone to agree on the look for the cherub mask, a last minute wardrobe change that required dropping some practical effects and resorting to CGI, and a discussion of Valentine's long journey to the big screen. Turned out Tara Reid was gonna star back when the movie was at Artisan! When I first wrote about Valentine back in 2001, I noted that I enjoyed the movie more with the commentary playing than without, and that's one of the few things about my initial review that doesn't make me cringe all these years later.
The original commentary is that much more of a rewarding listen given that there's really not that much overlap with the newly-recorded track, which teams Blanks with filmmaker Don Coscarelli and slasher historian Peter Bracke. This commentary has the benefit of both the different perspective that comes with the passage of time as well as it being more of a proper conversation. Blanks speaks about his self-produced I Know What You Did Last Summer trailer that got his foot in the door in Hollywood, that the only thing used from Tom Savage's novel was its title, that he would've preferred a "whydunnit" to a "whodunnit", Warner's mandate for less blood and gore (the MPAA's not to blame this time), filming in an era before the cast and crew were tethered to their smartphones, the less-than-enthused critical reception, and originally eyeing Urban Legend star Rebecca Gayheart to play Lily. Having such similarly technically-minded folks in the room takes the discussion in interesting directions, from Valentine's aspect ratio to the tweaks Blanks hoped to see in the then-not-yet-complete high-def remaster. Neither Bracke nor Coscarelli are exactly strangers to genre cinema, helping comparisons to be drawn with the "Father's Day" segment in Creepshow, the work of Luis Buñuel, and the debt owed to the giallo. Again, a pretty much essential listen for anyone taking the time to pick up this Blu-ray release.
- Thrill of the Drill (10 min.; HD): Three of Valentine's leading ladies are interviewed here, beginning with Denise Richards. She speaks about how much of a blast it is to be a part of demented death scenes, being puzzled by the speed dating fad, striking the right balance so Paige didn't devolve into a character you love to hate, and how much she appreciates Valentine's camaraderie among its female-led characters, the film's sense of humor, and its underlying message about standing up for oneself.
- The Final Girl (14 min.; HD): Marley Shelton also speaks about Valentine's upending of expected gender conventions in her newly-conducted interview, as well as having studied horror cinema at UCLA, her chemistry read with David Boreanaz, a scarf that made her break out in hives in an early scene, what a joy it was working with Jamie Blanks as well as the rest of the cast and crew, and what a fascinating late '90s time capsule the film proves to be.
- Shot Through the Heart (23 min.; HD): Lily steals every scene she's in, so it's a thrill to see Jessica Cauffiel land the lengthiest of the three cast interviews. Among the many highlights are the revelation that Lily as a character was born during Cauffiel's audition, being too far away to hear "cut!" in her big make-out sequence, how proud she is of her on-screen death (spoiler: even if the arrows really did knock the wind out of her), a whole bunch of fun anecdotes about the cast and key crew, and re-evaluating Valentine in the era of #metoo and #believeher. All of the cast interviews are worth watching, but if you only have time for one, "Shot Through the Heart" tops the list.
- Writing Valentine (64 min.; HD): I'll confess to being a bit worried when I first saw that this interview with screenwriters Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts clocked in at more than an hour in length. Thankfully, that's more than justified. In fact, it's my favorite of Valentine's video-based extras. The longtime writing team speaks about the spam-in-a-cabin script that originally got them attached to Valentine, the key differences between their take and the original script by Donna and Wayne Powers, and juggling this project with small screen gigs at 90210 and Roswell. There's so much about the screenplay to discuss: an episode of Little House on the Prairie informing the killer's mask, a writing process that kept the two of them separated in an era before email was so ubiquitous, a bunch of their clever ideas rejected for packing too much of a price tag, the evolution of this slasher's kills, collaborating with Jamie Blanks, and who the killer was in their version. Berg and Harberts also delve into where their script was taken once it was handed off, struggling to figure out what, if anything, to do with a producer's request for "an army of models", and when your movie needs more romance, why the only sensible solution is to hire the writer of Antz. Interspersed throughout is a bit of footage from their visit to the set. Of the many bullet points in this section of the review, "Writing Valentine" is among the most essential.
- Editing Valentine (28 min.; HD): Steve Mirkovich speaks about quite a few of the other films he's edited, particularly his collaborations with John Carpenter that piqued Jamie Blanks' interest. Mirkovich delves into his not entirely conventional editing process, why he recoils in horror when his first cut is labeled an "assembly", why he believes Valentine still holds up well, and the lasting impact that Blanks has happily had on his life.
- Scoring Valentine (12 min.; HD): The last of Valentine's interviews sits down with composer Don Davis, who discusses the invisible art of the film score, collaborating with a director who was a composer in his own right, the convincing samples he used as he wasn't afforded the budget for a real orchestra, avoiding revealing too much about the film's killer through music, and how a well-cut film like this eases the obligations of the score.
- Behind the Scenes (114 min.; SD): Clocking in just shy of two hours – considerably longer than the film itself! – is this extensive reel of fly-on-the-wall footage documenting pretty much the entire shoot. This includes a detailed look at all of the key setpieces, which didn't always go quite according to plan. There's a potential issue with smeared blood during an unmasking, for instance, and a stuntwoman standing in for Denise Richards who's wounded when taking a tumble in the hot tub. The camera is occasionally addressed, whether someone on the crew is jokingly assigning blame or David Boreanaz quips about taking home a green jacket at The Masters. Also of interest – Not Quite Hollywood's Mark Hartley is one of the credited contributors!
- Vintage Featurette (8 min.; SD): A mix of behind-the-scenes footage and talking head interviews, this featurette chats up Denise Richards, Marley Shelton, Jessica Capshaw, Jessica Cauffiel, David Boreanaz, producers Dylan Sellers and Grant Rosenberg, production designer Stephen Geaghan, and director Jamie Blanks. Completionists will already have heard much of this in the 'Press Kit' feature that follows, but there's still plenty of unique material here, particularly the insight into Valentine's production design. This includes a Valentine-themed slasher inviting the use of red, the design of the video art exhibition, and doubling Vancouver for San Francisco. Oh, and David Boreanaz' paralyzing fear of chickens.
- Press Kit (17 min.; SD): Jamie Blanks and most of the film's stars – David Boreanaz, Denise Richards, Marley Shelton, Jessica Capshaw, and Jessica Cauffiel – contribute some brief comments. The presentation is a bit odd, cutting to black and the audio dropping out after each complete thought. While a lot of this is the actors describing their characters and recapping the plot, there's still some good stuff in here, such as Shelton detailing why Valentine is an ideal date movie and Richards' fascination with juxtaposing horror with Valentine's Day. Also included is some footage from the set, such as the women meeting Max at the art exhibition and a bunch of stuff with the third act shindig, among a handful of others.
- Deleted Scenes (8 min.; SD): There are nine deleted or extended scenes in all, five of which are expanded versions of kills. Don't expect anything massively more gruesome or intense, however. Also included are an excised sex scene with Jeremy's mom, wretching at the big party, a lengthier version of Kate stumbling upon a corpse, and an extended conversation among the girls that further fleshes out their characters. Oh, and for anyone wondering why this footage hasn't been reinstated into the film proper:
Maybe one day Warner will dig up the original footage and restore Jamie Blanks' director's cut, but until then, this workprint material is the best we're gonna get.
- Club Reel Music Video (3 min.; SD): The music video for Orgy's "Opticon" is comprised entirely from footage from the film.
- Teaser Trailer (1 min.; SD): I'm a sucker for teasers that don't contain any footage from the film proper, and that's very much the case here, with a wistful "he loves me, he loves me not" pining against a pastoral backdrop that...no, doesn't end well.
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min.; HD): The full theatrical trailer didn't wind up being much longer, and it too opens with footage from the teaser. This time you get to see it in high-def, though!
- TV Spots (1 min.; SD): There are five brief ads in all.
- Easter Egg (1 min.; HD): If you carefully trawl the Extras menu, you'll find this brief conversation with writer/director Jack Sholder that once and for all addresses some controversy swirling around one of the films that inspired Valentine. I wonder if this suggests that Scream Factory might be releasing one of Sholder's films sometime soon.
- Still Gallery (4 min.; HD): The long list of extras draws to a close with a gallery some fifty images strong, from production stills to international promo art.
The newly-commissioned artwork by Devon Whitehead looks phenomenal – tempted to say it's my favorite of any Scream Factory release to date – and, yeah, you're treated to it on a slipcover too. If that's not so much your thing for whatever reason, the cover reverses to reveal the vintage poster art that Jamie Blanks rightly loves so much. Unlike the victim-centric snapcase cover from Warner's 2001 DVD release, this artwork places its emphasis squarely on the cherub mask.
The Final Word
Barring a director's cut that I'm sure will never see the light of day, this is as definitive a release of Valentine as I could ever hope for. Longtime admirers of the film could easily devote a full day watching Valentine and immersing themselves in its many, many hours of extras. The downside is that...well, it's still Valentine, a tepid slasher that I was excited about revisiting but didn't find myself enjoying any more all these years later. It's too divisive a film to recommend buying sight unseen, but for established fans and slasher completists alike, this is the release you've been waiting for.