My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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*. In his history of Canadian horror cinema They Came from Within, Caelum Vatnsdal calls My Bloody Valentine “a film that stands almost without rival as the most Canadian horror movie ever made.”
*. I really like Vatnsdal’s book, but this is a judgment that doesn’t have a lot of support. Yes, the film was shot in Sidney Mines, Nova Scotia and there are indeed a number of plugs for Moosehead Beer. The cast do seem “like genuine small-town hosers” (“hoser” being a now dated term for a Canadian provincial), and the scene where the mayor (not the police chief, as Vatnsdal writes) opens a box of chocolates to reveal a bloody heart and only grimaces may qualify as a Great Canadian Moment of underacting. But none of this strikes me as particularly illustrative of national traits or characteristics.
*. The theme, certainly, was nothing new. What we have here is yet another Halloween clone, the formula followed almost to the letter. There’s a back story involving a violent crime in the past, and a psycho killer locked up in an asylum who may be on the loose and looking to avenge the anniversary. The killer himself wears a face-concealing disguise and we get various shots from his POV, with the requisite black gloves in the foreground. And the victims are primarily horny young people, their murder a bloody coitus interruptus.
*. Instead of being a peculiarly Canadian slasher film, what sets My Bloody Valentine apart is its social setting. This is a true rarity in the genre, being a blue collar horror film. It’s not just that we’re not in high school any more, but we’re not even in a middle-class suburb. Valentine Bluffs is a company town (the mayor owns the mine) and the people we meet are workers who are going nowhere. T.J. tried to get away but has come back because, let’s face it, once in the mines you’re never out.
*. It’s a remarkable point to reflect on. For a horror film, this milieu is nearly virgin territory. The working class may be economic victims but they aren’t expected to fall prey to supernatural or psychological terrors. And even if they did, who would care? Not the audience for such films, who are unlikely to have ever seen the inside of a mine.
*. That said, I wish more had been done along these lines. Unfortunately, we’re still in high school. The mine seems to be staffed entirely by youngsters. There are no old-timers, which is odd given how it’s a union mine and those jobs typically last forever. There is a locker room and showers, and the tunnels are like hallways. Everybody is keen on going to the big dance party and making out. Adults are generic authority figures: the maternal Mabel (memorably disposed of in an industrial drier) and the Mayor and the Police Chief (cigar and pipe, respectively).
*. It might have been a classic but for the censors. There were a lot of cuts, making the unrestored version hard to follow in places. The opening murder, for example, in the theatrical release version, leaves it vague as to just how the girl is killed. We never see the point of the pick breaking through her heart tattoo.
*. If you want to see this movie I strongly recommend the restored DVD version, which isn’t perfect but is still a lot better. The kills really are quite imaginative and well rendered.
*. I love the gang’s response to the discovery that a killer is stalking them at the party: they all jump in their cars and bug out as fast as they can. Not a bad call, all things considered.
*. Even in the unrestored version I’d still rank this as one of the better slasher pics of the period. Yes, the ending is both a reach and predictable. And yes there are some eye-rolling moments (I winced at Patty’s reluctance to leave the dead Hollis). But this isn’t an idiot plot and the kids are neither stupid nor unlikeable.
*. All this and the “Ballad of Harry Warden” playing over the end credits? You could do far worse. You know you could.

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