My Bloody Valentine 1981 Review
My Bloody Valentine 1981
Directed by: George Mihalka
Starring: Paul Kelman, Neil Affleck and Lori Hallier
Updates review from the release date of the special edition DVD
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
And so finally the slasher ‘Holy Grail’ has been re-discovered and after thirty years of patience, we can finally see the almost-complete version of this hugely popular early-eighties genre piece.
Notorious for being the film most tortured by censors upon its initial release, My Bloody Valentine has become something of a cult classic with a large number of fans. Even the most lukewarm horror enthusiast must admit to being slightly excited by the prospect of witnessing all the notorious gore that has, up until now, only been seen in a set of studio stills. The previously available print was missing over three minutes of footage, which thankfully producer John Dunning has now located. The on-line campaign to get the full uncut copy restored and released was one of the largest of its kind and thanks to the efforts of the movie’s legions of adoring fans; we now have a special edition disc with nearly all of the glorious splatter intact.
A small mining town in Canada has become famous over the years after a maniacal ex-miner went on a killing spree in the early sixties. He was the only survivor from a fatal accident on Valentine’s night that stole the lives of numerous workers and left him having to survive by feeding on the corpses of his colleagues. Harry Warden murdered the supervisors that he considered responsible for the tragedy and stuffed their hearts into candy boxes to remind the townsfolk that their incompetence should never be forgiven. Twenty years later and the town is preparing for its first Valentine’s dance since the gruesome massacre, but it seems that it is not only the decorations and romantic spirit that has returned. As a mutilated heart is sent to the local Sheriff with a gruesome warning that there will be more murders, it seems apparent that Harry Warden has come back once again….
My Bloody Valentine is certainly a fine example of all that gave the most popular eighties slashers a significant standing in the annals of horror cinema. It boasts a likable cast that make up for their lack of A-list dramatic credibility with a warmness and depth of character that although laughably cheesy, evokes sympathy from the audience. The love triangle between the three leads is an intriguing sub-plot and the script is strong enough to allow the characters to work their way into the hearts of viewers.
It can also lay claim to arguably the best arsenal of marketable gimmicks ever to be included in a single splatter feature and if the authentic calendar date doesn’t induce your interest, then it’s impossible to resist the excellent guise for the maniacal killer and the creepy mine location. The gas mask adds an extra dimension to the killer’s essential clichéd heavy breath and the pickaxe makes for an exquisite tool for gory slaughter. You can almost visualise the director’s smile upon witnessing for the first time the awesome sight of his bogeyman strolling through the dimly-lighted shaft and stalking his intended victims. In terms of slasher visualisations, it’s pure poetry-in-motion and Mihalka understandably milks the possibilities. On top of that you have the killer’s calling card, which was a slasher trait that disappointingly disappeared from the genre just after 1981. Graduation Day had a stopwatch, The Prowler had a rose, Curtains had that creepy doll but I liked this one the best. This maniac puts the hearts of his victims in valentine decorated boxes and pencils a corny rhyme, such as: ‘From the heart comes a warning filled with cheer, remember what happened as the 14th draws near ‘. I agree, it’s cheesy as hell, but sets a nice tone for the feature.
Mihalka is no John Carpenter and he struggles to sustain suspense, but he does an impressive job in building an atmosphere and he creates one or two decent jolts. The cast are surprisingly good for complete amateurs and their above-average performances are a rare and welcomed bonus. It was a conscious decision from John Dunning, the producer, to use actors that boasted far more potential than they did impressive CVs, because he wanted to invest heavily in the special effects. Mihalka has said that people don’t go to see a slasher movie to witness a ‘name’ actor. He is right in acknowledging the fact that the amount of money a producer would spend on such a performer just to see him get splattered on the wall is an entirely pointless exercise.
The movie began filming in September 1980, but the set designer took the time to make sure that everything was decked out in hearts and banners and they made things look like it actually was Valentine’s Day. Mihalka makes good use of the spooky mine as a setting and most of the murders are imaginative and well thought out. In one scene a victim is trapped in a room where miner’s uniforms are dropping from rails and surrounding her. In her panic she tries to find a way out of the claustrophobic confinement (all courtesy of the imaginative killer), before bumping into a costume that actually has the murderer in it. If that isn’t bad enough, he kills her in a most gruesome fashion. (One of the best kill scenes – ever!)
A great uncut trailer for this feature…
You only need to take a brief look at this site to see that I am an avid ‘slasher-fanatic’, but My Bloody Valentine has never been amongst my favourites. I often wondered how the movie could have even been considered to be better than the likes of Intruder, The Prowler or even Curtains, because to me it felt like I wasn’t watching the vision that Mihalka had initially intended. Now, with most of the gore intact, the film feels ‘complete’ and in its entirety it is a completely different concept. Despite popular belief, there were many early slashers that were stylishly produced and genuinely strong entries to the horror catalogue. My Bloody Valentine is one such feature and it’s well-deserving of its legion of admirers.
The gore effects are as decent as their reputation would lead you to believe and the movie credibly mixes approachable characters and mean-spirited mass-slaughter to create an excellent mix of moods. Unfortunately we are still missing Michael and Harriet’s death scene, which was either a decision by Mihalka (perhaps it looked too fake?) or that particular footage was never recovered by Dunning. It doesn’t really matter however, because finally we have a copy of My Bloody Valentine that has almost everything that was intended and Sylvia’s remarkably grisly slaughter and the notorious ‘pick-axe through the face’ are visions that are an iconic part of the whole slasher cycle.
The plot is actually pretty smart for a slasher flick. I won’t go into too much detail because I can’t say anything without spoiling it all for you, but watch how they manage to keep you guessing toward the film’s climax. It’s also worth noting that James Mangold borrowed that classic body (or in his case, head) in a tumble dryer scene for his part-slasher, Identity in 2003.
If you are even a half-hearted fan of early eighties stalk and slash flicks then I urge you to part with your pennies for this excellent example of non-franchise slash with panache that sums up everything that was great about the early eighties domination. No collection is complete without this sitting on a shelf next to Joseph Zito’s The Prowler and Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row. The Harry Warden legacy has finally come full circle…..
Killer Guise: √√√√√
Final Girl √√√√