Saturday, March 26, 2011

Film Review: MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981, George Mihalka)

Stars: 4.6 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Paul Kelman (GAS, BLACK ROSES), Lori Hallier (NIGHT OF THE TWISTERS, THE GUNFIGHTER), Neil Affleck (VISITING HOURS, SCANNERS), Cynthia Dale (star of HEAVENLY BODIES), Alf Humphreys (FIRST BLOOD, ACT OF VENGEANCE), Jack Van Evera (BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE LITTLEST HOBO), Patricia Hamilton (GOLDENROD, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES '85), Don Francks (HEAVY METAL, I'M NOT THERE), Larry Reynolds (KILLER WORKOUT, BLOWN AWAY). Music by Paul Zaza (PROM NIGHT, A CHRISTMAS STORY). Produced by André Link and John Dunning (MEATBALLS, BUFFALO '66), and Lawrence Nesis (VIDEODROME). Written by Stephen A. Miller (AIRWOLF, SIMON & SIMON) and John Beaird (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, BAKER COUNTY, U.S.A.). Directed by George Mihalka (PICK-UP SUMMER).
Tag-line: "There's more than one way to lose your heart..."
Best one-liner: "Beware of what you make fun of, you little asshole!"

Well, it's late March, and I'm finally getting around to a no-longer-timely review of a fine little slasher flick called MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Beneath the original HALLOWEEN, of course, I'm prepared to bestow upon it the highest honors that one can give to a holiday slasher: in short, I suppose you could call it FOOTLOOSE with blood.

You see, the film is set in the hamlet of Valentine Bluffs, a sleepy mining town with a sinister history that makes it a little uptight, at least in reference to V-day partying. Twenty years after a madman's warning to never again celebrate the holiday for which the town is named, some townsfolk decide to throw caution to the wind and prepare for a raucous celebration– but a pick-axe-swinging psychopath in mining gear has other, more literal, plans for breaking hearts...

Rather than tell you anything more about the plot, I'll instead offer nine reasons why MY BLOODY VALENTINE holds up as one of the best slashers of the 80's:

#1. Canadian films of the tax-shelter heyday, from OUTRAGEOUS! to HEAVENLY BODIES (whose lead actress Cynthia Dale appears here) to MY BLOODY VALENTINE possess uncommon, character-driven humanity. It's upsetting to think that 'lack of humanity' is usually the norm, but naturalistic casting, earnestly emotive acting, and rough-around-the-edges filmmaking techniques contribute to an atmosphere that feels genuine.

The filmmakers are less concerned with pomp and pizazz than in establishing a real, slice-of-life verisimilitude. Along with SLEEPAWAY CAMP, it's one of the best, somewhat lesser-known slashers that's skillful, creative, and sincere. You care about the victims (for the most part), it builds actual stakes, and it boasts a semi-feasible slasher scenario.

#2. Also, MY BLOODY VALENTINE really cuts to the chase: there's a fetish gas mask sex scene, breast impalement, blue collar street cred, character development, and a homoerotic shower sequence– and all within the first five minutes!

#3. I really respect how they take the theme of "Valentine's Day" and completely run with it. Some slashers just set themselves on a random holiday and leave it at that. MY BLOODY VALENTINE could not be re-written for another holiday– the metaphorical heart/blood-pumping heart parallel is absolutely essential, not to mention that EVERY single setpiece is inundated with valentine decorations, candy boxes, Cupids, hearts, and other such ridiculousness.

The colors of pink and red runs through this film like blood through a vein, adding electrifyingly vivid splashes of the taboo hues to the drab and dreary landscape of broken-down mining equipment and prefabricated homes. It's pretty great.

#4. Redunkulous gore.

Notoriously censored (and now available uncut), MY BLOODY VALENTINE's makeup and special effects crew take it into overdrive, nearly out-Savining Savini!

#5. Speaking of which, the "drowned in boiling hot dog water" scene may not boast the most impressive of effects, but still we must give it the highest marks.

I mean, sure, Argento may have done a similar scene back in '75 with DEEP RED, but answer me this: were weiners floating around in the scalding water?

#6. Amazing old-timer character actors. There's "Happy," the cantankerous bartender, played by Jack Van Evera.

There's Jake Newby, the stoic, silver-haired police chief, played by Don Francks.

There's "Hanniger," the glad-handing but sincere mayor, played by Larry Reynolds.

Then there's "Mabel," the sweetly bizarre small-town spinster, played by Patricia Hamilton.

Look into their eyes. Look deep into their eyes. Old-timer character actors are generally the bread n' butter of any genre film, and here it's no exception. Bravo.

#7. They actually filmed in a Nova Scotia mineshaft, twenty-seven hundred feet below the Earth's surface. Lighting and camera equipment had to adhere to carefully monitored methane levels to prevent explosions. Cast and crew had to be assembled very slowly via a ramshackle elevator that could only hold a few people at a time.

Claustrophobia and palpable danger reigned supreme! All of this comes through wonderfully in the film– splintery, shaky ladders and dark crevices lead to pools of dripping water and fog and dirt and dust. It's certainly scary enough before the pick-axe-wielding butcher shows up!

#8. The ecstatic beauty of the moment when the heavy, mustachioed Keith Knight (who in my mind, looks like my mental picture of Ignatius J. Reilly from A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES) bursts into the party with a sixer of Schlitz and immediately makes out with the star of HEAVENLY BODIES!

The guy to the right with the black and white camo vest is duly impressed.

#9. The incredible closing credits song, written by Paul Zaza (the man who brought us the disco-horror classic "Prom Night Part 2" from the motion picture PROM NIGHT) and entitled "The Ballad of Harry Warden." It sounds almost exactly as if it's being sung by Harry "Cat's in the Cradle" Chapin, but, alas, it is not. We can always pretend, though!

In all– good show, MY BLOODY VALENTINE. I'm sorry I wasn't able to review you in a more timely fashion, but here's nearly five stars just the same.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

"FOOTLOOSE with blood" - bravo, sir! heh. I totally agree. This is such an entertaining film for all the reasons you mentioned. Esp. the casting of people who actually look like real people and not beautiful kids from the WB network something, which, of course, the remake went with. This is a creepy film and the setting goes a long way in creating an unsettling atmosphere. So glad that the uncut version has finally seen the light of day. Another potent reminder of what great run Canada had making horror films in the 1980s...

Anonymous said...

Bravo, indeed. It really is the slasher flick with the most "real" setting. I was a little kid growing up in Hot Springs, AR in the very early 80's, and when I saw this movie, it took me back. There's just enough of Hot Springs in Valentine Bluffs' small-town, good ol' fashioned folks, and it really rings true in a way that, say, Friday the 13th never did. Hard to explain, but it's like something you feel and can't fake. Great post!

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for the kind words, bud- Canada really did have a great horror run in those days (and of course a little of the credit goes to a certain Mr. Ironside). Did not see the remake, but I suspect that it would draw my ire.

Mike B.,

Thanks for stopping by! You're right that Valentine Bluffs feels like a real place- the proceedings have a definite verisimilitude to them that is rarely seen in a slasher. I'd say that HALLOWEEN has it to, and to an almost magical realist extent, so does SLEEPAWAY CAMP.

I enjoy FRIDAY THE 13TH and its sequels, but on a much different level– for example, I never have found myself admiring the craftsmanship in an F13 flick as I really did while watching VALENTINE.

Anonymous said...

Good call on Halloween, I didn't think of it because MBV's setting hits closer to home for me, in a way. And I totally see it in Sleepaway Camp too; for such a poorly made film it does get strangely unnerving. A lot of times a lack of any semblance of good "acting" can work in a film's favor (I'd probably put Phantasm in that realm, too, and I don't mean that in any way as an insult - it rules!).

Anonymous said...

Well I quite enjoyed watching this movie on USA Up All Night back in the olden days. And now that you also mentioned Sleepaway Camp, why no review of that?

Sean Gill said...


I suppose I've never gotten around to it, but it's definitely on a back burner somewhere– my backlog is ridiculous!