There was an ancient cinema in Queens where I grew up, the RKO Keiths Triplex. It was indeed ancient, having been around as a theatre during the days of Lincoln, but by the time I was able to ride the bus to get to it, it had seen better days. But its dilapidated state allowed myself and my friends to sneak in through the back door and partake of a number of classic and not-so-classic movies over the years.
There were three theatres, but we could only enter into one of them from the back door, and didn’t want to risk getting caught sneaking one of the other two, so we took pot luck with what was being shown. When we were lucky, it was THE CANNONBALL RUN, BATTLETRUCK, THE DEADLY SPAWN, MOONRAKER, THE FOG, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, PORKY’S… When we weren’t, it was COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, ORDINARY PEOPLE or BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.
Then there was my current cinema du jour: MY BLOODY VALENTINE. To a 14 year old who was more excited about sitting next to a real live teenage girl, I couldn’t remember all that much about the movie at the time, having missed out on seeing FRIDAY THE 13TH but hearing all manner of things about this one, but I was sure I enjoyed it.
But that was nearly thirty five years ago. Should one return to revisit old proverbial loves? I still adore the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, even though I look at it now and see the flaws in it. MY BLOODY VALENTINE is not that impressed upon my memories the way that DAWN OF THE DEAD is. It might turn out terrible.
As it turned out, it didn’t. Opening with the familiar Paramount logo (ahhh, nostalgia!), we open on two masked, helmeted figures walking together along a dirty, dilapidated mine, as the cast credits pop up here and there. They stop along the way, one figure undressing to reveal a tasteful white bra – this must be the Coal Miner’s Daughter I’ve heard about in song – and shaking her long blonde hair like she’s in a shampoo commercial. The other one stays masked, but she mutely reaches underneath and caressing the tube of his mask suggestively while he cops a feel.
Then he sees the heart tattoo on her left breast. Suddenly enraged, he lifts her up and impales her on the pickaxe he embedded on the wall behind her moments before, so the tip of the axe cuts squarely through the tattoo. Nice aim, pal, but you’ve really got to get over with aversion to decorated women, it’s really snobbish.
Anyway, it’s Thursday, February 12th, and the other miners there engage in the usual redneck banter and hi-jinks in the communal work showers, before racing back in their beat-up old VWs and pick-up trucks to Valentine Bluffs (“The Little Town With the Big Heart”), where their girlfriends are dutifully preparing the town and union hall for the Valentine’s Day dance, which Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds) and his old friend Mabel (Patricia Hamilton) helpfully exposit is the first dance the town has held in twenty years, though they also note that they really shouldn’t say anything further.
Back at the hall, we meet our movie’s Love Triangle: TJ Hanniger (Paul Kelman), the Mayor’s son who left the town and his girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier) behind, but returned when his attempts at success failed, and Axel (Neil Affleck), who shacked up with Sarah when TJ vamoosed. There’s also the designated joker, who bursts out of the hall looking bloodied to scare Mabel and the Mayor (because when you think of Valentine’s Day, you think of bloody practical jokes).
The joker also gives the Mayor a heart-shaped box of candy left for him, but he waits until he’s driving away with Chief Newby (Don Francks) that he opens it, finding a warning note – and what looks like a human heart. “Not again,” he moans, looking constipated. “Not again.”
Meanwhile, the old barman Happy (Jack Van Evera) is telling off the kids for having their party, and he goes into Crazy Old Coot mode as he talks about what happened twenty years before, when some careless mine supervisors caused an explosion that trapped several miners below the surface; by the time they were excavated, there was only one survivor, Harry Warden (Peter Cowper), who had eaten the others. He was committed to an asylum, but broke out a year later, cutting out the hearts of the mine supervisors and leaving them in candy boxes as a warning for the town not to celebrate Valentine’s Day again.
The Mayor and Chief call the asylum where Warden was recommitted, but they can find no records of what happened to Warden, and it would take several days to access the old microfiche records (ahhh, 1981 – you Internet Era kids today have no notion of what it was like back then). Then Mabel arrives at her laundromat and finds a candy box waiting for her too, along with a killer note – and the killer, the Masked Miner (wasn’t he a Scooby Doo villain?). We also get a protracted scene in a junkyard with a harmonica duet and some character exposition on the love triangle with the usual red herrings lined up.
The next day (not coincidentally, Friday the 13th!), the Chief finds Mabel’s body in one of the giant clothes dryers in the laundromat. Together with the Mayor, they decide the cancel the dance and remove the decorations, which possibly ranks as the smartest move anyone in a horror movie has ever made. However, the miners and their girlfriends are not gonna have their evening spoiled by some homicidal maniac, and plan a little get-together over at the mine. Sure hope the Masked Miner doesn’t hear about it…
MY BLOODY VALENTINE stands out from many others of its era by being an actual professional movie, expertly made, written, acted, shot and edited (Quentin Tarantino has named it as his all-time favorite slasher film). It would serve on its own as a whodunnit even without the gory elements.
As it happened, the movie had been released with several minutes of gore cut from it, and not reinstated until 2009, when a studio bought the DVD rights and released it, in preparation to the release of their own remake of the movie, in 3D of course, because every movie made in 2009 was by law required to be in 3D. The gore itself wasn’t as graphic as one might find from the likes of Jason Vorhees, and there’s no real nudity, but MY BLOODY VALENTINE makes up for it with some genuinely scary scenes, such as the one where the partygoers, having taken a trip down deep, hear smashing sounds behind them: the killer (looking impressively menacing in his gear) is smashing the lights as he goes along in pursuit.
The mine itself offers a unique setting, as well as a novel, convincing way to trap people together with their stalker/killer (filmed at Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, where only certain lighting devices could be used down below because of the potential danger of methane explosions. In interviews director George Mihalka said that though the mines were chosen because of their grubby appearance, when the locals found out that a movie was to be shot there they decided to spend $50,000 to have it painted and cleaned, and much of the film’s budget went towards restoring its original state).
Probably the biggest negative for me was the ending, when the killer was revealed to be… No, really? Him? It made no sense. I could think of a few others that would have been more likely. And the actual reveal occurs literally in the last minute of the movie, rather abruptly (star Neil Affleck has said that the identity of the killer was kept secret even from the cast until the day of shooting).
MY BLOODY VALENTINE is available on DVD, and the original trailer is below. Warning, some DVDs that show the movie “uncut” in fact have utilised gore scenes that look faded and clumsy in comparison with the rest of the film, making for a jarring experience while also making me nostalgic again for the days of VHS.
Director: George Mihalka
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Heartlessly.