As it’s Valentine’s day we thought we would take a look at the essential Valentine themed slasher film that is My Bloody Valentine directed by Canadian George Mihalka.
In 1980 the horror industry practically changed overnight. All low budget distributors stopped looking at how to make a quick buck with a ghostly, demonic or vampire movie and instead focused on a more closer to home threat….the slasher. With the success of Halloween the year previously and Friday 13th this really opened the eyes of the fly by night specialists and calenders were opened all across America in order to pick the next holiday season to be exploited for slasher movie mayhem. There would be birthdays, New years, Christmases, graduation days, thanksgivings and spring breaks that would see a whole generation of snotty nosed, prankster loving and amorous teenagers wiped from the face of the earth by the endless array of masked killers that would be on offer over the next couple of years.
One of my personal favourites of these masked maniacs is George Mihalka’s Harry Warden from My Bloody Valentine. Filmed at the end of 1980 into the beginning of 1981, My Bloody Valentine was helmed in Canada and felt different to the other American slasher movies of the time. The main characters aren’t teenagers from high school or summer camp counsellors but actual working Joe’s of the local mining facility who like nothing better than take their girlfriends out to the bar over the weekend, get drunk, play asinine juvenile pranks on each other and eventually get into fights, all to be forgotten by the time they see each other again in work.
In this backdrop appears a killer who dresses as one of the miners. Pretty soon human hearts are sent to the town sheriff encased in heart shaped candy boxed. After a few murders and the setup of the main characters we discover that a nut-job named Harry Warden has escaped from a mental asylum. Harry it would appear had been responsible for a number of murders a few years earlier and he has been committed to an asylum ever since.
Even although there is a high chance that Harry is the unseen killer the film still maintains an element of mystery to the killers identity, setting up enough red herrings and clues that the killer could be someone known to the townspeople. The finale takes place as the group of main characters and girlfriends end up taking a Valentine’s trip down to the mines. Can’t think of a more romantic setting. The killer then starts his usual routine of stalk and slash and the claustrophobic nature of the mine setting really raises it above a good majority of what else was coming out at the time.
The film was released at the end of March 1980 and it never reached the success of it’s main Friday 13th franchise. It wasn’t such a flop that it was enough for Paramount to evaluate that slasher movies, particularly the Friday franchise weren’t going to generate money but it was enough to scupper plans for a sequel to My Bloody Valentine. I personally would have loved to see a sequel but one of the main reasons for its lukewarm response was most definitely in it’s treatment by the censors. My bloody valentine was perhaps one of the best examples to see how censoring of certain horror films can really have a negative impact, not only in success but in the way that some scenes no longer make sense in its cut form. I remember seeing a video version of this way back and I knew that overall it ticked the boxes of what I wanted in a slasher film and the suspense scenes really had an impact but I knew it needed just that extra something to make it a classic. Well at the time I didn’t realise just how badly it had been butchered by the MPAA and only now, after about 20 odd years of online petitions, fan demand and an eventual remake did someone step forward to give the fans what they wanted.
In my previous article on the censorship history of Friday 13th and it’s sequels I slightly touched on the censorship of this film. In that piece I spoke about the similarities of how Paramount have treated it’s most profitable franchise and this film. When asked why they won’t release an unrated version of My Bloody Valentine they outright lied by saying that the uncut footage was lost forever. Cue director George Mihalka who contacted paramount after hearing this statement. He informed them that he had kept a print of the film with all of the unedited gore footage and he was willing to work with them on a directors cut version of the film. Paramount were not interested as they felt there was little interest in such an old slasher film. This stayed in limbo until Lions Gate managed to acquire the rights a few years later where they produced a remake that would be filmed in 3D. Say what you will about the remake (personally I quite enjoy this remake) but for me the best thing about the remake is that it at least resulted in the release finally of the unrated version of the original. Although the footage is a little rougher around the edges I was happy to ignore this in order to see the uncut version I had been waiting so long to see.
Some of the best uncut scenes contain the kindly old Mabel where she is in the town laundrette. While she is alone she is attacked by the stalker. The scene then culminates in the discovery of her body inside one of the tumble dryers. She has been scalded beyond recognition as her head rolls around with the motion of the dryer. This is in my view one of the more creative and shocking moments in slasher movies at the time. Another highlight is the town drunk setting up a prank where the door is rigged to a dummy dressed in a miners outfit. The intention is that when the door opens, the string attached to the dummy makes it lunge forward with a pickaxe in hand. After testing it a couple of times he laughs to himself. He then decides to test it one last time. We all know what happens next. As the door opens the killer brings the pickaxe up to meet the underside of the drunks jaw. The effects work is very impressive here as we see the pick axe blade protruding from the eye socket and the eyeball is now hanging by a thread. Such a shame this was gone originally as it showcased some excellent work from the effects team and it was the kind of thing the audience demanded at the time. Probably the most important cut was in the finale but I will not go into too much detail for people who haven’t yet seen the movie. All I will say is that in the unrated version the ending actually makes sense and contains a severed arm.
For more information and screenshots of the unedited footage then just buy the DVD (it is Valentine’s Day after all and it would make a fitting gift for the horror fan in someone’s life) or just check Movie-censorship.com for screenshots of the missing footage.
The small town backdrop of My Bloody Valentine really plays well into the films authenticity and is filmed in a real small mining town in Nova Scotia. The story goes that after scouting the area and it was deemed perfect for the setting of the movie, the townspeople, excited at having their town featured in a film, gave the mine, buildings and the shopfronts a coat of fresh paint. This threw the production into chaos as they turned up for the first day of shooting with a town that had a strange Stepford wives vibe and looked nothing like the scouting photos. The film had to be postponed and $75,000 of the films budget had to be used so that they could degrade the town to make it look like an authentic location once again.
If you are in the mood for the perfect Valentine’s day themed horror film then this is the Citizen Kane of that particular sub-sub genre.
We hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s day!