December 04, 2009

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) - 28 years later...

(Canada, 1981)

This beats Friday the 13th, any day of the week!

I'm pretty sure I saw this supporting Friday the 13th - Part 2 in a Bournemouth cinema while Lady Diana and Prince Charles were getting married (July 29th, 1981). The Royal Wedding was on every TV in the country and I wanted to escape somewhere until it was all over...

The original My Bloody Valentine has always been a solid horror movie, but the many shock moments were severely castrated by censor cuts. Practically every kill is cut down so much that you barely know what has actually happened. What was worse is that there were some great colour photos of the make-up effects in Fangoria magazine showing us what we'd missed.

Through the years, each release on home video - VHS, laserdisc, all the way upto the first Paramount DVD release - I was hoping for some cut footage to reappear. But even the DVD was the same censored version.

Then in 2006 came the entertaining and fact-packed documentary about the 80's slasher movie genre, Going to Pieces. In the DVD extras was the tantalising news that the director of My Bloody Valentine, George Mihalka, had held onto the uncut version. Thankfully this has lead to a full restoration.

Now, I've finally watched the Special Edition, released on DVD earlier this year, ending a 28 year wait to see the version that I'd always wanted, with all the scenes promised in those early issues of Fangoria. This new version is a slasher that surpasses the early Friday the 13th movies on almost every level.

In Valentine Bluffs, a Canadian mining town, preparations for a Valentine's Day party are underway. But the Sheriff and the Mayor are getting nervous because the last time they had such a celebration, a lot of folks got killed by an insane miner brandishing a pick-axe. They haven't celebrated the occasion for nearly twenty years, until now. As February 14th gets closer, it looks like the date is indeed cursed. Also, the biggest Valentine's party picked the worst location possible, near the entrance to the town's coal mine...

Near the start of the story, someone gets a rhyming Valentine card and a gory present that feels exactly like the end of the 'Poetic Justice' segment if Tales From The Crypt (1972), in turn based on the EC horror comic story. But after that it's a familiar blend of sexed-up youngsters (miners, not minors) and gory mayhem, right down to the barman who could be a close relation of Friday the 13th's Crazy Ralph. "It could be you!" is his way of saying "You're next" to die horribly, rather than a prophecy of a lottery win.

Like Friday the 13th, I didn't recognise any of the actors, and the atmosphere is helped enormously by extensive location filming, that keeps everything looking real, even though some of the acting isn't. The leads are all very strong, with stern silent hero-type T.J. (Paul Kelman) looking a lot like a young Rufus Sewell. My least favourite is the goof-off character who manages to make all his friends laugh by making the worst jokes possible.

But My Bloody Valentine is very different from Friday the 13th in many ways. The drama actually works, with the older townsfolk looking very nervous about the town's nasty secrets, and two of the miners caught in a painful smalltown love triangle.

While Tom Savini's effects for the first Friday were convincing, they were barely glimpsed. The murders in My Bloody Valentine are more complex and sustained, often with a 'double-whammy'. They take the more realistic take that murder is often prolonged and painful. At the same time they dreamt up some unique kills for the slasher genre. Even the photos of the body being dragged along the ground, a pick-axe skewering the jaw of the victim, look remarkably convincing.

The scene in the showers is famous for its pay-off, but I found the build-up particularly unsettling, with prolonged takes of the victim being carried along, held by her head, shown from the point-of-view of the murderer, shining his helmet-lamp into her terrified face. Yes, it's intense and horrifying - in Friday the 13th it's almost over before it begins.

The FX are remarkably convincing for the most part, at a time when everyone was trying to perfect prosthetic gory effects to top the last. For the first time I noticed a hand 'wobble', in the game where two macho miners play the 'stabbing the table between the fingers' game (also used in Aliens). Looks like they were using a very convincing prosthetic hand - I thought they found a couple of experts to do it for real!

While the many of the characters are 'up for it', and this is an unofficial entry in the get drunk, 'have-sex-then-die' genre, sex is treated far differently than the usual half-naked girl wandering around with a knife. The opening scene cleverly confuses expectations in an underground triste, the best pool player in town is a flouncy-looking blonde, when the hero is in a fight the women don't just stand around and cower - they join in, and my particular favourite, a guy actually gets a condom out before sex. This is so very rare in movies nowadays, let alone 1981! It's a more adult attitude, and a bucking of the cliches. After watching a lot of horror films, I've gotten very tired of the cliches.

Lastly, while Friday the 13th took three films to sort out the iconic look of Jason, My Bloody Valentine hits the ground running with the awesome image of the miner dressed in black, with a gas mask covering the face. The pick-axe completes a really scary look. But with most of the blood diluted by censorship (Friday the 13th had cuts as well), the film disappeared without a sequel, maybe because it didn't have a catchy ad campaign, and the killer doesn't have a nick-name. I don't know why, but it didn't catch on - but now it's one of my favourites of the slasher genre.

The new Special Edition Lionsgate DVD has the option to watch both the original cinema release or the new restored version - both work seamlessly. There's also an interesting interview with the director and a couple of the cast, (why build sets when everything you need is 2000 feet underground?) and Ken Diaz (The Thing, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Tom Burman (The Manitou, The Exterminator, Grey's Anatomy) talk about how their impressive special effects were done.

The restored, original trailer of the 1981 My Bloody Valentine is here on YouTube...


  1. yeah! one of my fave films! is that paul williams doing the "Ballad of Henry Warden"?? i dont think he is credited but it sure sounds like him!!

  2. This movie is all kinds of cool, but I had not realized that the one I saw was the edited version! I will be picking up that special edition as soon as possible, thanks for the heads up!

    Also, great blog you got going on here! Subscribed!

  3. Thank you for subscribing. Google reader is a great way of keeping up with all your fave blogs...

    As for MBV, the road to a perfect slasher movie collection is long and winding...

  4. Your write-up encouraged me to give this another go. I thought it was "okay" when I first saw it on the old Paramount DVD, but I didn't hold on to the disc as I considered the film not worth keeping a truncated version of.

    So I picked up a reasonably priced Bluray. And I after watching it last night my feelings about the film remain the same. It's okay!

    The Bluray looks good enough to reveal one character is wearing a Gary Numan badge on his black leather jacket, but perhaps it highlights too much the difference between the pristine film and the newly inserted footage, thus alerting the viewer to a "gore moment" and taking you out of the movie.

    It's also a problem that once you're aware who the killer is - and most first-timers will surely guess well before the unmasking - the scare factor drops considerably because he's not an imposing figure like a Michael Myers or a Jason...or frankly, even Jason's mother! I must confess I don't much care for lead Paul Kellman and don't empathise with the group in the way I do with, say, the girls in HALLOWEEN.