Roses are red, violets are blue. One is dead, and so are you!
Welcome to the first film of the theme week on 31 Days of Horror. This week every horror film takes place on a different holiday, with the exception of Halloween. Tonight’s film is My Bloody Valentine, which of course centers on Valentine’s Day and all the broken hearts that are created.
What a descriptive title! It conjures images of a February 14th massacre. And that appears just what audiences will get according to the trailer. In the town of Valentine Bluffs, on Valentine’s Day, a killer wanders around dressed in coal miner’s outfit and a pick axe killing various people. It looks like a film capitalizing on the slasher-genre made popular by Friday the 13th the previous year.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
In the quiet mining town of Valentine Bluffs, Nova Scotia, a killer has returned. Twenty years ago, a miner named Harry Warden was rescued from a cave-in at the local mine, six weeks after he was trapped. He wasn’t quite right and was put in a local psychiatric facility but escaped one year later to murder the supervisors of the mine that had left their posts early, leading to the accident. He then removed their hearts and put them in heart-shaped candy boxes for the townspeople to find at the dance, with notes saying to never hold another dance in the town again. After twenty years the mayor has decided to hold another dance, when another heart shows up in a box.
On Thursday, February 12, the local bartender, Happy (Jack Van Evera), tells the story to a group of young adults, some of which work in the local mine. They, of course, don’t believe him and scoff and mock the spooky legend of the town. Later that day Mabel Osborne (Patricia Hamilton), one of the city planners for the dance, is attacked by a man in miner’s gear and a pick axe. While this is going on, a number of the boys, including T.J. (Paul Kelman) and Axel (Neil Affleck) are hanging out at the junkyard, drinking and playing harmonica. Axel and T.J. have a strained relationship, as they are both interested in the same girl, Sarah (Lori Hallier).
T.J, who used to be Sarah’s boyfriend, left the town a while before to go to the West Coast. He failed spectacularly and is back, trying hard to fit in. Sarah is being non-committal on choosing either one of the boys, which her friends tease her about. The next day on Friday the 13th, Police Chief Newby (Don Francks) finds Mabel’s dead body tumblin in a dryer at her laundromat, along with her heart and a note. He notifies Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds), who owns the local mine and is also T.J.’s dad, and decides to cancel the dance this year. The kids decide that if the town won’t hold a dance, then they will–at the local mine.
Happy decides to set up a little scare for the kids, and rigs a fake miner with a pick-axe, but is soon killed by the real killer. The kids arrive at the rec room and begin setting up with beer, hot dogs, chips and the like. Dave (Carl Marotte) is killed in the kitchen, with his heart dropped in the boiling hot dog water, and his body stuffed in the freezer. Axel and T.J. argue again about Sarah with Hollis (Keith Knight) helping to break it up. Sylvia (Helene Udy), who has gone off for some alone time in the shower room with her boyfriend John (Rob Stein), is killed by having her head shoved onto a shower head. She then becomes a shower head!
Six of the kids decide to take a tour of the mines after hours, even though T.J. advises against it. As soon as they leave John returns to let everyone know of Sylvia’s demise, plus Dave is found. All the remaining youth leave with T.J. and Axel heading into the mines to find their six friends. In town, Tommy (Jim Murchison) tells the sheriff, who calls the Mayor and gathers a posse to head out. In the tunnels Harriet and Mike (Terry Waterland & Tom Kovacs) head off on their own. Hollis gives Sarah, Howard (Alf Humphreys), and Hollis’ girlfriend Patty (Cynthia Dale) a tour, occasionally trying to scare them. T.J. warns them to leave, so Hollis goes to tell Mike and Harriet who have been reamed with an auger while making love. Hollis is then shot multiple times in the head by a nail gun.
Hollis stumbles into the mine corridor spooking Howard who takes off. Axel, Sarah, Patty, and T.J. start climbing up a ladder out of the mine, but turn around when Howard’s body falls past them with a rope tied around his neck–yielding a decapitation in front of the girls. Walking a back way through the sump, Axel falls (or is pulled) into the water (off-screen). T.J. investigates a side path while directing the girls to the way out. As they walk up the incline Patty is surprised by the killer miner and takes an axe in her gut. T.J. returns and he and Sarah hop on the tram heading out, closely followed by the miner. The posse shows up to see T.J. fighting for his life with the killer, when Sarah pulls off his mask revealing it’s Axel. The sheriff confirms that Harry Warden died 5 years ago, but was the one that killed Axel’s father twenty years ago. Axel is stuck in a small cave-in, and as the posse rush to dig him out he saws off his own arm and runs deeper into the mine shouting, “Harry, I’m coming,” and crazy lines about killing everyone in the town!
“Beware of having a party at all on Saturday night! You may not live to see daylight!” – Happy
Even though its release was only about nine months after the previous slasher hit, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine was already lagging behind the trend, as it entered theaters during a glut of copycat films. It played on the common theme of the murders happening around a central event, such as a holiday, but was not as well received as other films of its class. This may have been for a number of factors: including a busy marketplace of slasher and gore films, censorship issues, and public pressure.
Paramount studios released My Bloody Valentine, hoping to recreate the success of their successful Friday the 13th franchise, but it did not perform as expected. It still has survived as an interesting film in the annals of the slasher film progression from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to Halloween (1978) to Friday the 13th (1980) and beyond. Films such as Prom Night, Terror Train and New Year’s Evil (all 1980) continued to follow the formulaic prospect of teens or young adults running afoul of psychopaths with a deadly instrument. In light of films like this, My Bloody Valentine just didn’t change things up enough.
Or maybe it doesn’t go quite as far as audiences were expecting. The controversy surrounding the MPAA-dictated cuts on the film was the subject of one of the documentaries on the BluRay edition. Producers made the necessary cuts suggested by the ratings board in order to secure an R-rating. As with The Exorcist, it was originally suggested that an X-rating was appropriate for the amount of sex and gore in the film. But after complying, the MPAA held the film for even more cuts, forcing the producers to literally gut the parts of the movie that audiences would be expecting. It explains the lack of an on-screen killing for Mike and Harriet, and some other odd cuts surrounding some of the murder scenes.
Released on February 11, 1981, My Bloody Valentine came out just two months after the killing of musician John Lennon. At that time conservative legislature and parents groups were already decrying the amount of violence in films, and this one seems to have been caught in the middle of the battle. Of course tales of censorship and controversy can backfire on films, as with The Exorcist–which had people bussing in from out-of-town to see screenings. Unfortunately none of that happened with My Bloody Valentine, as it was probably just seen as another slasher film, and nothing special.
However, the film still is a stand out in the horror genre. Slasher films take place, to a high degree, at summer camps, college or school campuses, or suburbia. My Bloody Valentine is unique in that it appears to be the only genre film to take place in a coal mine, and around Valentine’s Day. That has to stand for something! On the down side, the film has no real stand out moment like other films. The killer is not particularly memorable, and it’s not particularly well-written or acted. It does try to take the killings seriously. The genre had not evolved to the self-conscious meta-humor about the killings that it would later in the decade with killers like Freddy Krueger quipping about his murders.
It’s too bad that there was never a sequel to the film. The end of the movie sets one up, and could have been an interesting follow-up. But assuming the lackluster box-office axed that prospect. My Bloody Valentine is popular or unique enough to have a remake that was made in 2009. Released in 3-D, it fared better with critics than the original, but audiences did not love it as much. Anything that gets a remake is probably iconic enough to warrant a viewing at one point or another, so if you want to see a unique slasher film, then My Bloody Valentine is probably for you. Be sure to stop by tomorrow as I look at another horror film set on another holiday!
- Howard’s death is presaged when Hollis tells him “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t tied on with rope.”
- Filming in an actual mine lends a lot of production value to the movie, with the various tunnels, low light, dripping water and other dark crevices.
- Do you think the creators purposefully made the character of Axel the murderer because he used a pick axe-L?
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.