As we get settled into the month of October and her swiftly approaching Halloween season during probably one of the spookiest years yet, let’s take a look at George Mihalka’s slasher film My Bloody Valentine (1981). A versatile horror movie, it is fittingly great for either Halloween or Valentine’s Day festivities. Screaming kitschy-80s-horror vibes from the rooftops, My Bloody Valentine offers another cheap thrill from its small-town setting and camp aesthetics to its perfectly mediocre performances in all its gory glory.
Set in a small Canadian mining town called Valentine Bluffs, the story of My Bloody Valentine centers around a twenty-year-old curse that comes back to haunt the local population after many years of caution. After a deadly explosion killed a group of miners on Valentine’s Day twenty years prior, one survivor by the name of Harry Warden went insane, leading him to resort to cannibalism and eventually killing two of his supervisors out of revenge. He vowed to continue to kill if the town ever decided to throw a Valentine’s Day dance again. After being locked up in an insane asylum since the murders, twenty years went by with no dances until now. This year, the local young folks decide it’s time to move on and celebrate together, but little did they know, their festivity preparations invoked a resurgence of the cautiously avoided Valentine’s Day serial murders.
The town’s police chief, Chief Newby (Don Francks), receives what looks like a heart-shaped box of chocolates from a potential admirer, but what he finds inside will bring him back to the horrors that happened twenty years ago. Inside the box is a bloody human heart with a note that reads “From the heart comes a warning filled with bloody good cheer. Remember what happened as the 14th draws near!” Believing that the infamous Harry Warden is back to kill, Chief Newby tells everyone that the dance is off and no parties are allowed for Valentine’s Day this year.
The 1970s slasher horror took the decade by storm, creating easy-to-follow formulaic plots, aesthetics, and tropes that ultimately became a copy-paste hack for studios to create cheap horror movies that would sell. As clearly laid out in Wes Craven’s self-reflexive cult-classic Scream (1996), the rules and standards of which these movies adhere to translate well to their cult following seamlessly. Riding the same wave, My Bloody Valentine adopts many of these similar iconic tropes that emphasize the audience’s edgy response to the narrative. One of the most notable (and my personal favorite) tropes in the film is the heavy emphasis on the breathing of our masked killer, which is also very prominent in Carpenter’s rendering of Halloween’s (1978) Michael Meyers. Dressed head to toe in mining gear, the killer maintains his anonymity with his gas mask, keeping him silently mysterious. When he’s ready to kill, the audience is brought inside the mask, seeing through his perspective by way of a handheld camera. The audio is swallowed up by his heavy breathing which brings the viewer to anticipate the upcoming kill. This provokes a tight sense of asphyxiation that is equally tense as it is anxious, especially when we’re down with him in the mineshaft.
The handheld camera is most evident during the killing sequences. As the killer approaches his victim, the perspective of the shot switches back and forth from the killer’s to that of the victim’s, putting the audience in exchanging positions of aggression and vulnerability. As the tension grows, the initiation of the kill begins and then the sequence is quickly cut, preventing us from seeing the actual killing. The gruesomeness of the scene is left to our imagination. When the film’s second victim, Mabel (Patricia Hamilton), is attacked, we see the pickaxe come down upon her then we make a quick cut to the front of her launderette accompanied by an icky “splat” sound of blood. The stillness of the shot, with the nighttime silence of the sleepy town, makes the tragic event all the more dramatic without being too over-the-top.
While the film does fetishize gore like any other contemporary slasher film of the era, this film leaves it to brief embellished moments like a quick insert of the extracted human heart or a swift glimpse of a mangled dead body stuffed in a fridge. It offers up all the gimmicks we are to expect from an 80s slasher film to satisfy our craving for a horror movie but leaves plenty of room in between rather than covering our eyes with a 90-minute blood bath and a soundtrack of screams. My Bloody Valentine is by far not a good movie, but it’s a fun ride for anyone who is looking for an update to their nostalgic 80s slasher film festival roster.