Monday, February 9, 2015

V-Day Review: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

In the tiny mining village of Valentine Bluffs, they haven’t held a dance on February 14 in years—not since the cave-in that killed a bunch of miners, pushed the lone survivor, Harry Warden, past the brink of sanity, and drove him to return a year later to murder the two supervisors responsible for the tragedy.

But now, two decades later, Valentine Bluffs is holding a dance again—and somebody dressed up as a miner starts tearing out hearts all over again.

Has the mad killer returned to town? Or has someone else donned on the gas mask and lifted the pickaxe again?

If so, who could it be? Is it T.J. (Paul Kelman), who moved away to California (presumably to become an actor), only to fail miserably and return to toil in the coal mine back home? Or Axel (Neil Affleck), the new, surly boyfriend of Sarah (lori Hallier), T.J.’s ex? Or affable Hollis (Keith Knight), the burly peacemaker and voice of reason? Or the police chief (Don Francks) or the mayor (Larry Reynolds), both of whom were around for Harry Warden’s original killing spree?

Sounds like the typical setup for yet another holiday-themed mad slasher film, doesn’t it? Well, in many ways it is, especially after those wacky “kids” (who, thankfully, are young adults instead of the usual dumbass teenagers) decide to hold their own dance--where else?--at the mine itself, where the body count rapidly rises.

What sets My Bloody Valentine apart from the average slasher flick, then or now, is the detailed setting--the film was shot in a real coal mining community in Nova Scotia, a rare case of a Canadian town actually playing a Canadian town rather than subbing for an American location --and the patience with which director George Mihalka and screenwriter James Beaird develop most of the characters before killing them off in gruesome ways.

(Some of the murders were so gruesome, in fact, that the film was censored, with anywhere from three to nine minutes of gore removed. A 2009 special edition DVD restored some, if not all, of the excised footage.)

It also doesn’t hurt that the miner outfit, with its gas mask, grimy jumpsuit and battered hardhat, is effectively creepy and does a fair job of hiding the identity of the killer--at least until enough victims have been perforated, boiled or otherwise mangled that the process of elimination becomes much easier.

Like so many other ’80s slasher films, though, the conclusion of My Bloody Valentine leaves open the possibility for a sequel--one which failed to materialize. However, also like so many other ’80s slasher films, there was a remake, serving up still more mayhem from the murderer in the miner’s mask, only in a much more explicit manner than the original ever could.

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