My Bloody Valentine: 40 Years Later
The cult classic slasher celebrates four decades on the silver screen.
This year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Valentine’s Day came and went without fanfare. The usual complainers complained and the usual celebrators celebrated, but it was all so quiet. The CDC warned against travel during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but no one seemed to care about V-Day.
I have an elderly neighbor who likes to point out ridiculous holidays whenever we cross paths. I’ve heard exclamations like “Don’t forget it’s Magna Carta Day!” on more than one occasion. On December 31st, with my arms full of groceries, she asked if I had a picked up a cake for the most obvious of celebrations — her birthday.
I wondered what she celebrated on February 14. Arizona’s admittance into the Union? The Coronation of Akbar the Great? YouTube’s birthday? If you didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, you could at least cut a slice of cake for one of these commemorations.
What else is there? On February 14, 1849, James K. Polk became the first sitting President of the United States to have his picture taken. It’s also the day Oregon became a state. In 1961, the town of Valentine Bluffs, a Canadian mining town, saw two gruesome murders committed by Harry Warden. The previous year, two supervisors of the mine attended the Valentine’s Day dance and forgot about a crew of miners below. After a methane gas explosion, all of them died except Warden, who resorted to cannibalism to stay alive until he could be rescued. He killed those two men as an act of revenge and promised more killings if the annual Valentine’s Day dance ever returned.
At least, that’s the rumor that floats around Valentine Bluffs.
That’s the setup for the 1981 slasher classic My Bloody Valentine, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. The film has been rereleased in theaters and I was able to catch it for the first time on the big screen.
Valentine Bluffs is a small town, reminiscent of the American ruralities of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Montana. No one seems to leave often. The boys grow up to be men and begin working in the mines. The women…well, it’s never very clear what the women do. Presumably they marry the men.
Mayor Hanniger’s son TJ tried to leave this one-stoplight town, but after a failed attempt doing…something (can you tell exposition is thin in this one?), he’s back working at the mines and he’s ready to get back together with Sarah, the girl he left behind. The only problem is: she’s now dating Axel, another miner with a short fuse. With about a dozen or so other young people, they comprise the youth of the town. Despite them all looking much older, they hover around the late teenage/early adult years. When these horrific murders took place two decades prior, they were but tots — if they were even alive.
And they want to party.
Even though they spend every evening after work drinking and smoking in the bar, they need something more. They need the Valentine’s Day dance.
Time heals all wounds, right? I mean, I know people choosing to get married this autumn on the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, so what’s a day but another box on the calendar? It’s been 20 years since the tragedies of Valentine Bluffs, so it’s probably been long enough to not only ignore the one and only demand of a deranged murderer, but completely rub it in his face but doing it totally up — the whole town is decorated in red hearts and pink ribbons. The town elders are cautious, but everyone is ready for the return of the dance.
It isn’t long before the kills start rolling in.
For a bit of cinematic context, for a few years before this film, the world had seen a few slashers connected to holidays and/or important events in a young person’s life: Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978), and Prom Night (1980) all come to mind. Despite this conceit, the slasher sub-genre was still relatively young.
My Bloody Valentine boasts many genre tropes we are familiar with today, but had not yet become reliable back in ’81. The most obvious being: as soon as you start having sex, you’re dead.
They’re a gang of horny youths and it’s the Valentine’s Day dance in the small town Valentine Bluffs, so there’s obviously a lot of (hinted) premarital sex before and during the party. In this film, they usually don’t even get beyond pulling out the protection before they are offed.
The movie is never unpredictable — just review the paragraph reciting the young residents of the town and you can figure out who the killer is in about ten seconds. But to be fair, slashers are hardly ever unpredictable. They need to do one thing — scare you. And this one delivers. The opening sequence is chilling and unsettling, the disposal of dead bodies is creative, and the handheld camera work at the peak of the climax adds a dose of tension to that already found throughout the entire picture.
It’s a cult classic for a reason. It’s scary, it’s sloppy, it’s amusing and it’s absurd.
If you avoided celebrating Valentine’s this year, it’s not too late. But remember that it’s never safe to throw a party — either in Valentine Bluffs or during the middle of a pandemic. Just watch 1981’s My Bloody Valentine instead.