Review: My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Someone is out for revenge in the sleepy town of Valentine’ Bluff. But who could it be? And who will survive the carnage in director George Mihalka’s bleak but enjoyable slasher film?
Directed by: George Mihalka
Written by: John Beaird
Starring: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Cynthia Dale, Terry Waterland
Released: 1981 / Genre: Horror / Country: Canada / IMDB
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As calendar event stalk and slash movies go, My Bloody Valentine is a delightfully dark exercise in turning Halloween’s genre blueprint into a set of sadistic but overtly entertaining clichés. Director George Mihalka’s bleak journey to Valentine’s Bluff on the night Harry Warden returns to cut out the hearts of anyone daring to celebrate the 14th of February has a feeling of borrowing someone else’s ideas. Yet its callous nature and devotion to convention is the sort of gory, trashy fun, slasher films were made for.
Michael Myers probably did kick the toys out of the pram before he grew up and went on a murderous rampage, we should just be thankful that Mihalka picked them up because essentially his film is nothing more than Halloween revisited – the lunatic escaping his confines to return home with murder on the mind. But My Bloody Valentine doesn’t care, forming itself on the structure of John Carpenter’s classic 1978 film, with such helpful cinematic aids as Black Christmas point-of-view photography and Friday The 13th whodunnit. The film begins with two miner’s (dressed with full breathing apparatus hiding their faces), heading out to a remote part of a mine. One of them takes off their mask revealing a beautiful blonde, her golden locks waved back and forth as if she’d just washed her hair for a shampoo commercial. She erotically caresses the other person’s mask but his or her identity is not revealed. Suddenly, in a fit of rage, the masked person lifts the girl up and skewers her screaming body on a pick-axe lodged in the wall. The camera enters her open mouth revealing the title credit. In the outside world, the other miners are oblivious to what has gone on below, but soon enough the killer is stalking the streets, hell bent on stopping the Valentine festivities. The local town sheriff thinks it’s an old foe who has come back for revenge.
In many respects My Bloody Valentine is too derivative to distinguish itself. Yet it’s an effective horror film because it uses its clichés to infuriate its audience into a frenzy of “why are you walking alone in the dark” questioning, before the notion sets in, with overt subjectivity, that we as the audience are as much to blame. Mihalka might not be as adept at playing with the art of voyeurism as Bob Clark in Black Christmas, but he uses it to provide the gory deaths with an underlying subtext of guilt-ridden, sadistic pleasure-seeking; and with the restrained pace, a superb sense of pot-boiling tension. When the film does flirt with a light-hearted tone (not very often it has to be said), Mihalka maintains the character’s jokes and jibes within the callous, self-referential fun of “I’ll be right back”-type dialogue and inventive gore. What the film lacks in finesse and originality, it more than makes up for with well-oiled scares, a genuinely creepy killer and a superb final twenty minutes.
If anything, My Bloody Valentine wouldn’t be regarded very highly at all if it was devoid of its quality climax. Mihalka takes the genre’s blossoming conventions to their full potential, relocating the action and the surviving characters to the mines’ blackened bowels. The ineffective law becomes a law that doesn’t exist, and of course the mine represents that shunned place where it all began – the centre of all the terror; you know the lift that offers the only escape won’t work. It’s almost like the director’s playground, a situation and a location that offers everything one could hope for to create an atmospheric, suspenseful conclusion, and Mihalka doesn’t disappoint. Indeed, the last quarter only emphasises the by-the-numbers approach the film takes to stalk and slash narrative techniques, but it’s the way the film simply accepts its limitations and does the best with what it’s got that makes it delightfully entertaining. Certainly, the characters being stalked through the endless passages of the mine, their salvation hundreds of feet above their heads, is a good basis for any horror film. But My Bloody Valentine turns the whole charade into a joyful examination of teenage butchery – the sense of who’s next and who the hell is doing all this is the perfect drive for the tension-filled, rollercoaster finale.
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