Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Very Violent Valentine's Day

I have few things to participate in on Valentine's Day...and no, I'm not about to throw a tantrum about it being stupid, condescending to singles, and driven by greeting card and candy companies.  What I mean is, there isn't a lot for the holiday to offer outside of bright decorations, specially packaged candy, and an amplification of awareness that most of the world is single.  We don't get off school for it, because honestly...no one needs a day off work to spend the day with a loved one.  We don't give gifts, unless we have a friend or significant other that we have made agreements with.  We don't even really do parties for it (I mean grown up parties...the little ones kids do in elementary school don't count) because it's become unattractive to be a part of.  Like the Star Wars prequels (or the whole series if you're as tired of it as I am), it is something that is fashionable to hate because many of us are bitter about being alone and having to sit through the weeks leading up to an event that we are not invited to.  I have many friends who wish people a Happy Singles Awareness Day instead, though I think that focuses too much on our own frustrations with being lonely and less on the real trouble with the holiday...that it doesn't honor it's roots.  Valentine's Day began as an observance of one or more Christian martyrs named Valentinus and it was not until the time of Geoffrey Chauser that the day became associate with romantic love or courting paractices (and people began giving valentines).  You read that right kids, the day is meant to honor those who died for their faith (probably violently) and not those who have found love (or at the very least, lust).  It is fitting then, that I look at a film today that is not about romance, but about violence against an innocent.  I'm sure the filmmakers of this particular horror yarn were not thinking this deeply, which simply makes the irony even more prevalent in the fact that they chose to capitalize on the "holiday horror" craze of the 80s by making a film where a killer butchered some young people on Valentine's Day.  So this...belated...valentine is for those of you who feel left out and ignored by the romantic side of Valentine's Day, won't you be My Bloody Valentine?

In 1960, the town of Valentine Bluffs suffered a terrible tragedy.  Due to a couple of foremen wanting to get to the annual Valentine's Dance on time, a methane warning went unchecked and an explosion trapped five miners in the Hanniger Mine.  Six weeks later the accident's sole survivor, Harry Warden, was rescued...much to everyone's horror.  It seems that Warden survived by eating his dead co-workers and he had gone completely mad in six weeks time.  After a year in a mental institution, Harry escaped and went back to Valentine Bluffs to kill the foremen responsible.  As a warning, he cut the heart out of each man and placed them in heart shaped boxes with a note threatening that he would kill anyone who ever tried to hold a Valentine's Dance there again.  Several years pass and Harry Warden has become a town legend that is laughed at by the kids and young people there.  A group of miners decide to revive the dance, concluding that Harry Warden is nothing but a ghost story and that there is nothing to fear.  However, when more hearts show up in heart shaped boxes and murders begin to occur, the town cancels the dance so as to avoid more trouble.  Not to be disappointed, the miners set up their own party at the mine where, unseen, a man in a miner's outfit is slowly dispatching of them one by one.  Has Harry Warden returned?

My Bloody Valentine gets a lot of flack for being one of Paramount's "Friday the 13th" clones and I think only a marginal amount of it is justified.  Yes it has gore and a masked killer, and yet it is set on a 'day specific' event but there the similarities end.  If anything, this film is more like Prom Night and other slashers of it's ilk where there is a mystery to be solved.  Also, Valentine handles it's mystery elements and 'whodunnit?' angle better than Friday the 13th because you actually wonder about whether or not the killer is Harry Warden or one of the people from town.  Another element that separates Valentine from it's brethren is it's setting.  Whoever decided that a mine would make a good scary setting really had something there.  Yes, "Scooby Doo" goes to the old abandoned mine a lot for clues, but live action film never really goes there in terms of setting a menacing location.  Having the mine play a prominant role and having the killer wear a gas mask and mine suit makes everything about the 'horror' elements work together as an organic whole.  The performances are standard and none of them really stand out...in fact, the three leads who make up the three parts of a love triangle are all fairly weak and underwritten...but luckily they are surrounded by interesting supporting cast members who take some of the weight off of their shoulders.  Valentine's sense of humor is refreshing too in it's sense of irony.  For example, when one girl that we know is pick-axe fodder by minute 15 is talking about her dress for the party she almost knowingly says "Cut down to here, split up to here...I might not get out alive!"  It's a tremendously funny, yet also chilling moment because we know that cuts and splits don't just refer to fashion and that very few will get out of this alive.  The film is peppered with funny moments like these that help to relieve the tension but that also provide excellent dramatic, situational, and verbal irony for those of us who are in the know.  I think that My Bloody Valentine is clearly one of the better slasher films to come out of the 80's slasher craze, and certainly one that fits it's holiday's roots much better than you might think.  These innocent victims recall the Valentinus martyrs of old and how they were needlessly slaughtered to satisfy the cruelty of another.

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