The inaugural entry in the series hails from the magical far-away land known as "Canada": 1981's My Bloody Valentine. Made early-on in the slasher heyday, MBV is obviously an attempt to cash in on the "holiday" craze prevalent in the genre. While the movie does hold with certain conventions of the slasher flick, it's a polished and mature effort that's a cut above most.
20 years ago, in the sleepy town Valentine Bluffs, an explosion trapped several miners thousands of feet below the earth. It was the night of the town's annual Valentine's Day dance, you see, and a few supervisors were so hot to trot that they left their posts unattended. Of the miners, only Harry Warden survived...and when he was finally rescued weeks after the accident, he was a stark raving nutso who had stayed alive by eating his fallen brethren. Harry was rightfully committed to an asylum, but got out and took his revenge on the neglectful supervisors years later- on the night of the Valentine's dance. Harry warned the town that so long as they held the dance, people would die. The town cried 'uncle' and has been danceless ever since...until now! The townspeople felt it was finally time to stick a metaphorical middle finger up at Harry Warden and get on with the V-Day festivities. Soon after the red construction paper hearts get taped up, however, folks end up getting killed. It seems that Harry's back and mighty pissed off at Valentine Bluffs...
Sounds by-the-book, right? Sure it does. But as I said, there's some small touches in MBV that set it apart from the pack.
First and foremost, the characters aren't your typical horny zit-faced teens. The men in MBV spend their days toiling away in the coal mines, and when 5:00 rolls around, it's Miller Time. These characters seem to have real lives, and the movie captures the feel of a small working-class town and its inhabitants quite well. It's as if these young men and women find themselves saying "is this IT?" regarding their lives, but they chug along anyway and do the best they can. Ex-lovers TJ and Sarah (Paul Kelman and Lori Hallier) are very real, very well-drawn characters- surprising in a slasher movie. TJ has returned to Valentine Bluffs after attempting to get away for good. He doesn't elaborate, but it seems he failed miserably at starting a new life in California. Now he's back and resigned to a life working in his father's mine. When TJ and Axel (Neil Affleck) come to blows over who's going to be Sarah's main squeeze, Sarah says, quite downtroddenly: "I just don't care anymore". These aren't simply nameless teens trying to score in a sleeping bag- My Bloody Valentine feels much more authentic. As screenwriter John Beaird said, he and director George Mihalka were trying to make "the Deer Hunter of horror films".
The setting of MBV also works to set it apart from the pack. A majority of the film was shot inside the Sydney Mines, near Cape Breton- it's not simply "the woods" or a soundstage. Low-wattage lights had to be used during filming to avoid explosions, which simply adds to the atmosphere. Harry Warden fades in and out of darkness as he stalks the mine shafts, his single head-lamp shining through the smoke. It's a fantastic place to film a horror movie, and Mihalka uses the mine to maximum effect: characters get lost, hear unidentifiable sounds...it's all exceedingly creepy.
Shot under an extremely tight timeline with a budget of around $2 million, My Bloody Valentine looks and feels better than movies with more money to play with. The cast, largely unknown, is above average in the acting department. While every single death scene was cut-up to meet MPAA restrictions, MBV still has its share of gruesome gore. Someday, hopefully, the restored footage will find its way onto DVD.
The wide-open ending sets up a sequel perfectly, and apparently there's one in the works, tentatively titled My Bloody Valentine 2: Return of the Miner. In the proposed sequel, TJ and Sarah are married with kids...Sarah's the sheriff of Valentine Bluffs, and the killings begin again.
This often over-looked entry in the slasher genre deserves more attention, and I'd certainly welcome a sequel. It was one of my favorite flicks when I was a young-un, and still...I Heart My Bloody Valentine!
For more info, check out the absolutely huge interview with director George Mihalka over at Terror Trap. They've also got a MBV gallery for your viewing pleasure.