My Bloody Valentine (1981) ***
dir. George Mihalka
Starring: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Cynthia Dale and Don Francks
Review By Greg Klymkiw
My Bloody Valentine is one of the best slasher movies ever made, and one of the primary reasons it’s so good is that it’s Canadian. Both of these assertions (proclamations, if you will) might be viewed with a mixture of skepticism and gales of derisive laughter. Well, doubt away and yuck-it-up to your heart’s content, I stand by this controversial claim – especially in light of all the remakes of 70s horror fouling our screens, and most notably the dull My Bloody Valentine 3-D.
Of all the slasher pictures from this period, this delectable Canuck blood spurter splashed onto the silver screen with an indigenous sense of time and place that contributed very significantly to the overall creepiness of the picture. Unlike the demonic, unstoppable, supernatural forces of Jason, Michael and Freddie, the central killer in My Bloody Valentine is a disgruntled miner who, due to the carelessness of some colleagues and mine officials, is trapped in a deadly mine explosion wherein he is eventually forced to devour the flesh of his deceased co-workers in order to survive.
As the accident happened on the night of a Valentine’s Day Dance at the Union Hall in town, our reluctant cannibal miner begins a reign of terror that forces the mining town of Valentine Bluffs to stop presenting a Valentine dance for 20 years. After two decades, however, the citizenry feel that it’s time to resurrect the annual love-fest, especially since the killer has been safely incarcerated in a loony bin.
Bad move. No sooner than you can spit-out a Valentine salutation or create a saliva rope whilst kissing your best gal (or guy), the mysterious miner – replete with super-scary helmet, goggle eyes, Darth-Vader-like breathing mask, adorned in blacks duds from head to toe and utilizing a variety of fine items like pick axes, nail guns, rope and other mining accoutrements, begins to dispatch a whole passel of townsfolk in some of the most grotesque, stomach-turning killings ever committed to film.
The killings are even more delightful now that they’ve been restored to their unrated, uncensored glory on the special edition DVD from Lionsgate. My favourites include death by tumble dryer, face-in-a-pot-of-boiling-hot-wiener-water (one of the greatest pot p.o.v. shots ever) and an impaling from the neck and out through the mouth on a gushing water pipe.
While some might argue that the abovementioned proceedings may seem stock, if not downright derivative of the earlier work of the likes of Mario (Twitch of the Death Nerve, Blood and Black Lace) Bava, Bob (Black Christmas) Clark and John (Halloween) Carpenter, the fact remains that there is absolutely no attempt to hide the fact that this is set IN Canada, IN a real mining town, IN Nova Scotia, IN a real mine and featuring an all-Canadian cast replete with unmistakably Canadian accents (including some obviously “local” extras).
This goes a long way to creating an experience that makes the genre’s situations and requirements richer and, dare I say it, more realistic. Not that the film is replete with the typically “quirky” Canadian casting – most of the young leads are suitably hunky and/or babe-o-licious (especially leading lady Lori Hallier), but they look especially appealing in their Canadian-hoser plaid, faded jeans, dirty caps and small town and decidedly (un)chic Woolco/K-Mart duds. (Though one young lady appears to be adorned in an angora sweater – Hubba! Hubba!)
That said, there are a number of supporting players who feel a bit more “quirky” including a John Candy look-alike fat guy who ends up being pretty tough and courageous – that’s definitely “Canadian”. And cool, too. (The only obvious non-Canadian thing is that Don Francks plays a sheriff – something Canucks do not really have presiding over the law and order of small towns.)
The way in which director George Mihalka uses his excellent locations is especially welcome. The small-town union hall, the Laundromat, the numerous signs proudly proclaiming the availability of Moosehead Beer and that dank, dark, creepy and VERY REAL mine all contribute to presenting a tale of terror with a real local flavour.
In scene after scene, Mihalka makes practical and imaginative use of everything real that’s available to him – certainly something every good filmmaker should do, but especially when directing a thriller. Hitchcock’s rule of thumb in terms of utilizing EVERYTHING that is naturally around you to generate thrills is exploited beautifully in this picture by both the script and Mihalka’s direction.
In addition to the great locations, both the art direction and costume design go a long way to creating a work that lives beyond the stock situations. As well, the cinematography is first-rate. Above ground, there’s a terrific, slightly over lit quality that captures every decrepit detail of the town and in the mine, the use of light, shadow and black is expertly rendered and adds considerably to the terror below.
At the end of the day (or night, if you will) it’s great that Lionsgate secured the rights to the original My Bloody Valentine from Paramount and expertly restored it to the glory originally envisioned by its makers. The especially cool thing is that these enhancements are JUST THAT – enhancements. My Bloody Valentine always felt like an original and stayed in one’s mind for over two decades. Now, it is in a much better form where it can shock, thrill and delight future generations of horror fans.
The original 1981 “My Bloody Valentine” is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment (Alliance/E-One).