Arts & EventsDVD Reviews: My Bloody Valentine ~ 1981 & 2009

DVD Reviews: My Bloody Valentine ~ 1981 & 2009

DVD Reviews: My Bloody Valentine ~ 1981 & 2009

Even though it is one of Canada’s first slasher films, I haven’t the heart to recommend the Special Edition of MY BLOODY VALENTINE (in which all the gory scenes excised from the 1981 feature were restored without digitally enhancing their image quality). If you’re going to restore a “cult classic” to high definition quality, why not also restore the missing scenes that the movie’s legions of fans have been clamoring for over the decades?

I can’t understand how this low-rent cinematic feature (budgeted at only $2.3 million) has developed such a devoted cult following over 30 years, rating a cover story in Rue Morgue Magazine and a 2009 remake. George Mihalka’s direction is uninspired. The film stock is grainy. Most of the actors seem like refugees from little theatre productions. The special effects may have been groundbreaking in 1981, but most of the footage of bloody mutilation, decapitation and amputation was deleted by timid Paramount Pictures executives - the very scenes that lured teenage audiences to theatres in the first place. And yet the minimal gore that remained was enough to ensure the film’s reputation as a cult item.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) is a working-class slasher movie, largely set in a leaky mine near Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The novel setting gives the film a certain documentary realism, but almost every time an actor opens his or her mouth, the illusion of professionalism is shattered. Making this tripe all the more ridiculous is that the lead players try unsuccessfully to disguise their “funny Canadian accents”. MY BLOODY VALENTINE was aimed at the U.S. market, where sounding like a “hoser” is considered a no-no.

Here’s the plot summary: A mine shaft collapses during a Valentine’s Day party in the depressed Cape Breton community of Valentine Bluffs, after two mining company supervisors leave their posts early to attend the party. The miners are trapped for weeks while rescue attempts are underway. Only one survivor emerges from the rubble: Harry Warden, who has devolved into a cannibal... killing and eating his co-workers. Harry is committed to a local mental hospital, escapes and takes his revenge upon those he believes are responsible for the cave-in; he warns the town fathers that there will be trouble if another Valentine’s Day party is held in Valentine Bluffs.

Twenty years pass and people forget about the mine disaster and Warden’s threat. The community comes together to organize a Valentine’s Day dance. Predictably, a homicidal maniac decked out in a miner’s outfit shows up to spoil the party: he wears black protective clothing and a helmet equipped with a detachable flashlight. Goggles and a gas mask cover the killer’s entire face – giving him a distinctly insectile appearance.  It is quite a compelling image. Valentine’s Day boxes are sent to the homes or businesses of the next victims … only instead of candy, the boxes contain fresh hearts ripped out of human bodies.

Most of the actors in MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) were never seen or heard from again. The exceptions are Cynthia Dale (best known for the TV series Street Legal) and the ravishing Lori Hallier. Both actresses acquit themselves well in MY BLOODY VALENTINE, have remained in Canada and are still working steadily all these years later. Familiar faces include the late Larry Reynolds as the town’s mayor, Patricia Hamilton (Road to Avonlea) as a doomed laundromat owner, and Don Francks (R.C.M.P., Nikita) as the ineffectual small-town police chief.

The 2009 remake, shot in 3D in Pennsylvania coal-mining country, is far superior to the 1981 original. The opening titles are spectacular, cleverly revealing through floating newspaper headlines and three-dimensional photographs the back story of how the mine owner’s foolish son Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles, star of the Supernatural TV series) causes a drilling accident. The mine collapses, burying six men alive. The rescue team finds only Harry Warden still breathing, and the other miners murdered by pickaxe, and concludes that Harry killed them to save oxygen for himself... and to eat their remains. While being transported to the nearest hospital, Warden discovers that the mine collapse was caused by a methane gas explosion, when Tom Hanniger forgot to vent the methane gas levels after rushing to a Valentine’s Day celebration that night. Warden then falls into a year-long coma.

On the following Valentine's Day, Warden emerges from his coma and kills 22 people, including a group of teenagers who are partying in the mine. The only survivors are Tom Hanniger, his girlfriend Sarah (Jaime King), their friend Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith) and his girlfriend Irene (Betsy Rue). Warden vanishes. Tom leaves the town of Harmony, Pennsylvania, for 10 years, returning after his father’s death to sell the Hanniger Mine. In the intervening decade, Sarah has married Axel, who is now the local sheriff, but Tom still carries a torch for her. On Valentine's Day, Harry Warden (in miner’s get-up) returns to kill those who dare to hold a Valentine’s Day Party, as well as those he believes are responsible for the mining tragedy... The remake follows various horrific twists and turns, but the storyline varies considerably from the 1981 version. Mercifully, MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D is not a more expensive carbon copy of the Canuxploitation feature of decades ago.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D is stylishly directed by Canadian horror auteur Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry, Dracula 2000, Dracula II: Ascension, Dracula III: Legacy) and generously budgeted at $15 million. The characters are well defined and the pacing excellent. The suspense is unrelenting and the scenes in the mine induce a mood of intense claustrophobia, expertly captured by cinematographer Brian Pearson through the use of deep focus magnified by RealD - The New 3D technology.

The performances are uniformly excellent.  Veteran thesp Tom Atkins (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Maniac Cop) is particularly effective as Harmony’s retired sheriff, and noted character actor Kevin Tighe (familiar to many as John Locke’s devious father in Lost), excels as a town elder implicated in the vigilante murder of Harry Warden. But if Warden was executed 10 years earlier by a gang of small-town vigilantes, who is killing all those teenagers who are partying on Valentine’s Day after Warden expressly forbid them to do so – on pain of death? If you want to find out the answer, screen the remake and skip the original, with or without the add-ons.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: SPECIAL EDITION (1981) and MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D (2009) are both issued by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

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