REVIEW: My Bloody Valentine [1981]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 90 minutes
    Release Date: February 11th, 1981 (Canada)
    Studio: Paramount Pictures
    Director(s): George Mihalka
    Writer(s): John Beaird / Stephen A. Miller (story)

It can’t be happening again.

Only Canada would let a holiday slasher film like My Bloody Valentine—known for having its most disturbing bits of gore chopped away for the ratings board—end with a folk ballad that gives its murderous psychopath Harry Warden an almost nostalgic lilt. With John McDermott‘s voice lending it credence, we’re pretty much given a full recap of the legend that George Mihalka reignites twenty years after those first deaths ravaged Valentine Bluffs’ sleepy little mining town. It was the community’s namesake party on February 14th, 1960 that got the ball rolling with planned festivities drawing two supervisors away from the mine while five men became victim to an accident burying them alive. One miner survived (Warden), going crazy in the process before ultimately killing the bosses responsible.

Written by John Beaird from an original concept by Stephen A. Miller, the story picks up two days before V-Day as the town readies for another shindig. The citizens had put old Harry Warden out of their collective minds after his being captured and locked away, so the mayor (Larry Reynolds) receiving a heart-shaped candy box with the butchered heart of an unknown woman inside wasn’t something anyone expected. He and police Chief Newby (Don Francks) decide to keep a lid on things so as not to worry everyone while they try and figure out if Harry escaped custody to restart his deadly vengeance. The next day brings another “gift” and the next a secret party thrown by teens too young to understand their parents’ dread.

The first half of the film pretty much guarantees this celebration by scaring the adults into canceling the sanctioned events Warden warned was the cause of his rage. This is an 80s film with headstrong kids doing all they can to break free of dead-end lives ruled by mom and dad, so of course T.J. (Paul Kelman) and the gang would figure something out once the mayor (his father by the way) locks the union hall as a precaution. We therefore watch as those with authority try to bury the truth and hide from the real possibility of a massacre while the rebellious, sex-crazed twenty-somethings position themselves around a love triangle between the recently returned T.J., his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier), and her new boyfriend Axel (Neil Affleck).

Where should they take their fun then? How about the local mine where everyone works? It’s got a pool table, refrigerators for beer, and a stove to boil hotdogs (gross). When lust rises there are plenty of rooms to go for privacy and when boredom strikes they can go down the mineshaft so the men can give the women (No girls allowed!) a tour. You can guess what happens next as the body count begins to grow despite a series of bad luck fate maintaining a blissful sense of ignorance to it. We know what’s happening because we get to see the ventilator mask-wearing antagonist impaling people with his pickaxe. They just think everyone is making out and thus incapacitated, pairing off to try and be incapacitated too.

This last bit is My Bloody Valentine‘s greatest strength since isolating the multiple victims allows for so many to die before anyone acknowledges what’s happening. That’s not to say this script warrants intensive study or anything, just that it’s smarter than it probably needs to be in order for the violence to run wild without us thinking everyone is stupid. Because that’s the main gripe people have about this type of film: Why would these characters risk doing such idiotic things? Beaird and Mihalka really do a good job answering that question by letting fear drive the adults and immortality drive the kids. They let this town distract itself from the very real danger looming above until the pile of bodies can no longer be avoided.

It’s a crucial detail for our enjoyment since almost everything else feels extremely dated from gender politics to horseplay so tame you’d think these men were twelve. Couple the latter with thick Canadian accents and it’s hard not to laugh as these squeaky clean gentlemen pretend to be “bad boys” when nothing could be further from the truth. The one time a punch is thrown (T.J. and Axel love the same girl after all) only needs big Hollis (Keith Knight) to get in the middle and have them put their hands up in apology. So often the need for a murder is necessary simply to cut through the idyllic small town doldrums and remind us the stakes are high. Thankfully each death is severe enough to exactly that.

The laughs are therefore intentional even if the reasons we’re laughing go beyond intent. Grown men jumping in front of cars with arms waving to prevent them from going to the bar wasn’t funny, the the juvenility of it all was. What this also means, however, is that I never once laughed at the horror because the killer is very methodical and his victims always sufficiently terrified if they even know what’s coming. As for the gore, what remains in this MPAA-approved 90-minute cut is realistic enough to treat with sadness rather than delight. We want Warden to be stopped and thus mourn his victims. This cult classic might even have been able to drop the “cult” if its twist wasn’t a blindsiding “gotcha” devoid of actual foreshadowing.

Watched in conjunction with Season Six of Buffalo, NY-based horror series Thursday Night Terrors, curated by Peter Vullo. Logo by Josh Flanigan.

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