My Bloody Valentine (1981) **Ĺ
Seeing as I missed the last three holidays that I could commemorate this way, it seems to me that I need to get back in the game and review a thematic slasher movie in celebration of every prospectless single guyís favorite day of the year. Now the obvious thing to do would be to head on down to the nearest multiplex and catch the just-released Valentine, but no way in hell am I going to do that! You can pay full price for that if you want to, but Iím waiting Ďtil it gets the $1.50 theater. Come on, manó itís a post-Scream slasher flick! Iíd pay $7.50 to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the big screen (hell, Iíd probably pay $7.50 to see Nail Gun Massacre on the big screen, if you got me drunk enough), but not Valentine. So with that avenue closed to me, itís a good thing I know of a video store nearby that still hasnít thrown away its copy of Canadaís most famous contribution to the 80ís holiday slasher cycle.
Let it never be said that My Bloody Valentine doesnít know how to get your attention. A woman in mining gear making out with a similarly equipped man who refuses to doff his helmet and gas mask down in the tunnels of a coal mine is definitely not something Iíve seen before (unless you count the last time I saw My Bloody Valentine). We of course know Mr. Gas Maskís lady friend is about to have a run-in with some variation or other on the sharp piece of metal, because thatís the only possible outcome when men who insist on wearing masks are involved. And sure enough, Mr. Gas Mask impales her on the back prong of the pickaxe he jammed into the nearest support beam before he and his girl started going at it. Like I said, gets your attention.
The mine turns out to belong to Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds, of Welcome to Blood City), and it appears to employ everybody in town between the ages of 18 and 25, including Hannigerís son T.J. (Paul Kelman, from Black Roses). T.J. has just recently returned from a failed attempt to strike out on his own in California, and coming home to the depressed coal town where he grew up noticeably rubs him the wrong way. In addition to reminding him of his personal failures with the dawning of each new day, it forces him into contact with the people he used to know, whom he ditched without a word of explanation however long ago it was. His girlfriend Sarah (Black Lightís Lori Hallier), for example, has taken up with Axel (Neil Afleck [Iíd love to know if heís related to Ben], of Scanners and Visiting Hours), who seems once to have been T.J.ís best friend. And as the final kick in the ass, the only worthwhile job available to him is in his dadís mine!
But for everybody but T.J., itís big fat happy time in Valentine Bluffs. Itís Thursday, February 12th (note that Valentineís day falls on the Saturday after Friday the 13th), and the whole town is gearing up for the annual Valentineís day dance. Or at any rate, the Valentineís day dance that was annual once. Actually, the dance, which had been the biggest social event of the year back in the day, hasnít been held in two decadesó not since the time Harry Warden took a pickaxe to his bosses to commemorate the anniversary of their carelessly leaving him in the mine, allowing a methane explosion to cut off his section from the surface, and forcing him to eat the flesh of his co-workers killed in the blast to survive. (The foremen had rushed their closing-up routine because they were itchy to go to that yearís dance.) After something like that, it just didnít seem proper to have town-wide major fun on Valentineís day, even without all the letters Harry left pinned on his victimsí hearts warning that heíd do it again if the town ever held another dance. But Harryís been in the nuthouse since the early 60ís, and the city fathers think itís about time Valentine Bluffs put all that nastiness behind it. So, under the skillful leadership of a sweet old lady named Mabel (Patricia Hamilton), the preparations for the dance are underway.
Itís at about this time that somebody notices that woman that Mr. Gas Mask killed before the opening credits. Police Chief Newby (Don Francks, who contributed some of the voices to the first Heavy Metal movie) finds her heart in a candy box on the countertop when he goes to see Mabel at the laundromat she owns. A few seconds later, Newby finds Mabeló dead, heartless, and thoroughly cookedó inside one of her dryers. Thereís also a note stuffed inside Mabelís gaping chest cavity, which warns of more carnage unless the dance is canceled.
Youíre not going to believe what happens nextó Mayor Hanniger actually cancels the dance!!!! Granted, he and Newby decide to keep the murders hushed up, but even so, canceling the dance is a display of civic responsibility unheard of in the annals of horror cinema. The local twentysomthings donít see it quite that way, though; sure, theyíre sorry to hear about Mabelís ďheart attack,Ē but they donít see that as any reason to cancel the first Valentineís day dance the town has held since they were old enough to give a shit. With no dance to go to, these resourceful folks come up with the self-destructively moronic Plan-B to end all self-destructively moronic Plan-Bs. They decide, at T.J.ís instigation, to throw their own party in the rec center attached to Hannigerís mine!
Meanwhile, itís starting to look like Mr. Gas Mask might really be the returned Harry Warden. Warden isnít at the hospital to which he was supposedly committed, and the hospital has no record of him ever having been there. But those viewers who have seen a couple of these movies before know that they should be paying at least as much attention to the developing rivalry between T.J. and Axel. T.J. refuses to concede his romantic defeat to Axel, and Axel has no intention of stepping aside so that T.J. can reclaim the girl he walked out on. For her part, Sarah seems to want T.J. back, but she doesnít seem convinced that itís worth dumping Axel to get him. So what does your spider sense tell you about this development, and how it might relate to that guy running around cutting out hearts with a pickaxe?
Mr. Gas Mask makes his inevitable appearance at the big dumb party, killing a couple of kids and leaving their bodies in places where other characters can find them later for maximum terror value. But before any of the stiffs are found, Sarahís friend Patty (Cynthia Dale) makes the stunningly idiotic suggestion that the mineís coal cars would make an excellent makeshift roller coaster, and that riding them down to the mine proper would be a hoot. Okay, letís have a look at this. You and a bunch of your friends ride down a tunnel 2000 feet into the Earth, to a notoriously hazardous place where cancerous coal dust, lethal and explosive methane gas, and cave-ins are among the more obvious bad things that you could run afoul of. Oh, yeahó and youíll do it while thereís a serial killer on the loose!!!! Yup, thereíll be no stopping the barrel of monkeys then! This is a horror movie, though, so obviously at least half a dozen of these schmucks are going to go for it. Those schmucks end up being Patty, Sarah (who has cut both of her suitors loose because sheís sick of being fought over), lovable fat guy Hollis (Keith Knight, from Of Unknown Origin and Class of 1984), comic relief bozo Howard (Funeral Homeís Alf Humphreys), and some Expendable Meat. Note that this plot contrivance serves the vital function of whittling down the cast size to manageable proportions for one-at-a-time slashing.
The Meat couple is the first to get it, at about the same time that someone upstairs finally discovers those bodies. From then on, itís the usual routine, with T.J. and Axel trying to rescue Sarah and the other dimwits while Mr. Gas Mask introduces said dimwits to his pickaxe. But all, naturally, is not as it seems, and for once, that statement even extends to the movieís treatment of its genreís conventions.
That convention-fiddling is the only thing elevating My Bloody Valentine above the rabble. The setting of the final stalk-and-slash in the tunnels of a coal mine, rather than in the more familiar remote forest or unaccountably lightless suburban home, combines with the jettisoning of the usually sacrosanct Final Girl formula to give the movie the rare advantage of having a couple of tricks you havenít seen before, and that advantage is just enough for the good to outweigh the bad. Youíll still have to suffer through characterless characters, motiveless motivations, and a preposterous and dramatically unfair ďsurpriseĒ ending (the five-second flashback that justifies it is especially risible), but considering how low the bar is for 80ís slasher movies, My Bloody Valentine doesnít look so bad in the final assessment.