My Bloody Valentine (1981) Review – 9/10

Eat your heart out, ‘Halloween’

(MINOR SPOILERS)

The slasher genre is not a particularly well-respected genre. From the endless parodies inserted into nearly every horror comedy by insincere modern writers and directors, to the self-aware horror films that try and get one over on the bastard step-child of film; slashers are often overlooked, degraded, and demeaned. ‘My Bloody Valentine’ had the misfortune of being released, according to the director, right after the murder of John Lennon, and right when the slasher craze began to tilt into high gear, causing a large back-lash against the film’s violence. It was censored; torn to ribbons in the editing bay, then torn to ribbons by the notoriously traditional film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, among a few others. It seemed that this film was doomed to wallow in mediocrity and obscurity…Until now.

Having watched the beautifully 4K transferred ‘Shout Factory’ steel-case edition, I must say I was blown away by the picture quality. While 99% of the film is pristine in its lurid colors with Valentine’s day decorations and cold, dank, mine interiors, 1% of it contains the previously never-before-seen footage which you can immediately tell was added. It contains a stark difference in the color grading compared to the rest of the footage, being less neutral and more warm in its palette, making you question if they were taken from the same stock of film negatives as the rest of the movie. Apart from that though, the rest of the film is perfectly captured. Not a frame out-of-place or a shot that looks quick-scanned. It is all here.

As for the film itself, it takes place in a small, isolated, mining town somewhere out in the rural country-side. Most of the outdoors shots are wide open and filled with a sense of dread, as if the mining town is clinging on to whatever small pieces are left, especially after the incident that happened 20 years ago; a mine collapse. They only managed to save one, who was driven to cannibalism, and then further goes insane when he realizes that the reason the town could not get to them sooner was because they were indulging in a Valentine’s day celebration. As a result of the tragedy, the tradition of the town that had persisted for generations has now been banned. But 20 years later his visage returns as the celebrations return, wreaking havoc on the town during their Valentine’s day dance once more.

While the plot seems pretty bog-standard for the genre, what really sells it are the actors; a lot of them do not even feel like actors, in a positive sense. Generally, they look and feel like the rough-and-tumble young adults of some small mining town, forced into this kind of labor because of a lack of opportunity. A lot of the girls are also attractive, but not too attractive that it becomes distracting. In essence, they cast the perfect people to play their roles. The actors also adequately fill their roles, with the two main actors portraying ‘Axel’ and ‘T.J.’, doing an exceptional job at portraying the slowly growing rift between them as you can sense a previous history. There are a few moments where characters act in a questionable manner, sometimes seeming artificial, and other times where it tries to force comedic relief, which are extremely hit or miss. This is partially because the actor does not measure up to the others, but also because the film does not need much, if any, comic relief. Ironically, the only comedy I found in it to be effective was the inadvertent comedy, which is not a negative mind you. It comes from the realistic portrayal of people who you feel like they know each other, simply interacting. One actor in particular who executed this well was Keith Knight who plays ‘Hollis’. I found myself rooting for ‘Hollis’ in the end, hoping he would survive. He was just too enjoyable to watch on screen, along with his stand-out mustache. Besides the people there is also a good deal of “car acting” as well with people burning out gravel and drifting off frame, primarily in muscle cars. It should offer an inkling of interest to car enthusiasts.

The primary drama between the characters is driven by a love triangle where friends have to take sides, emotions flair, and in the end, it becomes less about who will get the girl and more about who could potentially be the killer. This focus on a love triangle fits with the theme of the film and its Valentine’s day setting, utilizing its holiday-exploitation to tell what could potentially be looked at as a satire of the holiday itself, although I will not dare venture deep down that pretentious rabbit-hole. In all honestly, the holiday horror film, and the holiday film in general, should simply use the aesthetics of that holiday to reinforce the narrative they are trying to craft. I do not fall for a lot of the “subversive, deconstructive, critical analysis” bullshit a lot of others seem more than happy to latch on to, making unnecessary connections and applying completely irrelevant modes of philosophy. Quite frankly, the film poking fun at a holiday all about love is as deep as that aspect needs to be, with the killer using hearts concealed in chocolate boxes as his calling card. In truth, if one were to truly “pry the lid off of” this film, you would find at its heart (no pun intended) a film more about trauma, and a small town attempting to heal from a very realistically potential disaster that the elders attempt to hide and bury in the past.

In terms of its effects, they are portrayed exceptionally well. We see impalements through the chest and head, boiling of skin, among a litany of other interesting deaths, one of which shows a decapitation-via noose from an already-dead character whose body we then see fall down a long shaft for a final thud at the bottom, lingering on the impact just long enough to get the visceral feel from it, and shot in such a way that it does not overtly expose the obvious dummy. There are also a number of smaller effects, such as when they play the knife-hand game at the bar, the fighting sequences in the mine, and a lot of environmental details which may or may not just be circumstantial due to the fact that they are real, such as sparks from the pickax and the shattering of lights. The production quality is executed and shot well enough that the few hitches in quality that there are, are well-hidden, and the prominent effects it shows front and center are always made with care and precision.

Outside of the story and characters the cinematography is also gorgeous, again, thanks in-part to the wonderful 4K transfer. The rustic countryside is just downright comfy to look at with its wide open ranges and with its quaint-looking town and, of course, the dark and foreboding mine, which it surprisingly manages to make varied and interesting throughout. There is a mine-cart fight sequence, a murder at the entrance where people hang their mining suits which is used to great effect, a pretty neat sequence where they try to escape via ladder, and of course the claustrophobic tunnels of the mine itself. It makes it feel like an actual mine shaft instead of just some sound stage or abandoned crappy mine they paid for some permits to shoot in. There is simply excellent craftsmanship behind the camera:

The film’s visual style is of the “fucking spectacular” variety

But what good horror film is without a memorable theme? This has to have a stellar theme, does it not? While there is no particular “theme” here, it instead goes for a more dramatic, eerie soundscape of violins and what sounds like cellos, mixed in with some moody, low-key synth sounds reverberating in the background. Listening to ‘Pickaxe Impalement Suite’ gives you a great variety of intense, thrilling, haunting, dream-like, and discordant music, with a shrieking crescendo of ear-murdering violin noises. And of course, what good is a rustic love-themed film without a ballad? Oh yes, the film ends with a ballad for the legendary killer in the film. An interesting choice, but one that makes it all the more memorable and unique. It does not tease you with lurid fascinations of some supernatural killer, or end on some striking and catchy pop song, but instead chooses a melancholy ode to the figure responsible for the slaughtering you just witnessed, immediately following the ending scene where he slinks off into the darkness of the mine, mortally wounded, cackling maniacally.

While the film did not get its dues back when it came out, I am more than willing to give it its due now. It does what every film should strive to do and to be; nothing more and nothing less than what it tells you it is about, while using the best abilities of its filmmakers to realize that vision for you, the viewer.

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