Friday, October 14, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: My Bloody Valentine (George Mihalka)

Though risking being scoffed at for comparing a high art to a low one, I’d like to suggest that in many ways, the slasher films of 1981 were similar to a jazz recording. There’s a formula, and while we will always laud those that successfully break free from that formula to create a unique masterpiece, we should also appreciate those who play the notes really well. Fail in your execution though and you can turn an enduring Miles Davis classic into elevator muzak, but succeed and even a catchy show tune like “My Favorite Thing” can be turned into an elegiac wonder by the likes of a master like John Coltrane. The Canadian produced film, My Bloody Valentine, does not reinvent the wheel, nor does it transcend the genre. It’s a holiday set slasher with all the earmarks (past horrors haunting present, subjective POV shots, etc), but director George Milhaka hits the chords well, and provides enough interesting elements to the result of a film that still draws interest (a famous band named after it, a recent 3-D remake) thirty years later.

Twenty years ago, on the night of the annual community Valentine Day Dance, the small mining town of Valentine’s Bluff, suffered a methane gas explosion that killed many miners while the supervisors partied away. The sole survivor, who became a cannibalistic madman, Harry Warden, killed the neglectful supervisors and vowed to come back each year and wreak vengeance unless the dance was cancelled outright. And for twenty years, the small town heeded his warning, but a new generation wants to reestablish the tradition. But Harry Warden seems to be a man of his word as he sends warning by leaving the sheriff a heart shaped box full not of chocolates, but actually human hearts of new victims.

The working class blue collar nature of the environment and the workers, mostly in their thirties, is a welcome respite from the usual assortment of teenagers (or thirty something year olds playing teenagers) that served as fodder in these type of films. I like that the sheriff actually was proactive in cancelling the dance unlike the insensitive authority figures we’re used to seeing, but alas, these hardworking miners want to party and drink their Stroh’s and Mooseheads and through an impromptu celebration regardless. Mihalka is able to milk a lot of extra tension from the setting, especially in the final chase, when the darkness and claustrophobia of the mine becomes another obstacle in escaping the killer, something that was, pardoned the pun, mined successfully in Neil Marshall’s 2006 cave set horror film The Descent.

The MPAA made the producers cut three and a half minutes of gore footage to obtain the necessary R rating, which, if you will allow another music metaphor, is like asking a guitarist to function with one string missing from their instrument. While the film in its R rating still works, as Mihalka utilizes suspense tactics well, it’s a bit of a jarring experience, with certain characters death scenes completely removed. Lionsgate released a DVD with all cut footage intact a few years ago, which I used for my revisit for this review. The extra footage had not been color corrected, so it was quite easy to recognize the removed scenes. John Carpenter proved that you don’t need to have excessive gore for a successful and frightening slasher film, but that was an artistic decision, and My Bloody Valentine was made with the intention of having these grandiose murder sequences, so it was nice to see the hard work of makeup effects artist Thomas R. Burman finally inserted properly. The added footage includes face scolding, pick axes and what would be the result of placing a human in an industrial dryer for several hours, besides being “cool” scenes; it clears up the fate of everyone. If you’ve only seen the edited version, I highly recommend revisiting the film in its unrated cut!


Wings1295 said...

One of my favorites! It was one of those often-on-cable movies my brother and I watched a lot, always being freaked out by it. The laundromat scene especially scared the crap out of us!

Mummbles said...

I watched this one a while back and felt it was lacking something, I guess now I know for sure. I will have to watch the extra scenes and see how that alters my opinion of the movie.

le0pard13 said...

Always heard about the missing footage. I need to catch the disc with that restored. Very cool. Thanks, Colonel.

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