As strange as it seemed, the theatrical cut of My Bloody Valentine (1981) always seemed to be lacking something in spite of the vivid small town atmosphere and a menacing killer who wields a pick axe at foolish folks determined to start up Valentine’s Day celebrations.
The film was already quite harsh in tone, but it’s surprising to learn Valentine was designed to showcase a substantial level of graphic gore – none of which made it to theatres, really, because of Hollywood’s cyclical anti-violence swing.
As writer/historian Adam Rocker (Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film) explains in Maple’s new DVD, the slasher wave lasted about three years, and while Valentine came out a hair before the middle period (roughly 1980-1983) before things went nasty and derivative, it fell victim to the anti-slasher backlash; the film was released, but the grisly effects stayed locked up until the 2009 remake apparently offered director George Mihalka the chance to restore the surviving footage saved by co-producer John Dunning.
The down side is what has survived isn’t complete; the director has said in a recent interview with Rue Morgue magazine that it’s not possible to create a true director’s cut; moreover, the footage is markedly shopworn compared to the near-pristine theatrical cut print into which the deleted gore was inserted. The latter issue, though, isn’t all that much of a problem because when grainy and worn footage appears, it means serious gore is about to happen, and like a ‘fear flasher’ or ‘horror horn,’ one can’t help relishing the anticipation of some inventive kills.
In the DVD interviews, Mihalka tends to overuse ‘never been done before’ and ‘first time,’ over-selling the newly restored footage a bit, since nastier effects were already present in Mario Bava’s own grisly horror films (Bay of Blood, made in 1971, is still a marvel of shocking carnage), but Mihalka’s intention to present gore in its natural and unpleasant detail works; it’s not artfully photographed, but shown as organic ugliness against the pasted colours and banal decors of the banal sets. The gore isn’t the star of the film, but the grisly killings – many done with sick humour – are memorable, of which the infamous ‘showerhead’ and ‘Happy’s head trauma’ are show-stoppers.
The reason Valentine has evolved into a genre classic (and will continue to become more endearing) is the richness and humour that make it a really fun B-movie; the dialogue is often silly and clever (an impossible but genuine co-existence); the acting is just the right mix of weak and overly grave (all the older actors play their roles with total gravitas, with Jack Van Evera as “Happy” stealing scenes every time with his crazy odes of damnation); and the full use of a small mining town in Nova Scotia immediately immerses the viewer into a landscape that’s as real and fascinating as the Irish mining community in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Seriously.
Mihalka was brave/crazy in shooting the trapped ‘kids’ (presumably twenty-ish young adults) and the evil Miner’s hunting spree in a real mine. That atmosphere is beautifully exploited by cinematographer Rodney Gibbons, who conveys the mysterious depth and claustrophobic environment five miles under the ocean floor, and the filmmakers made good use of existing elements – a rickety elevator, the miner’s train, lime-powdered unused tunnels and rooms – to evoke an aging local industry.
In the making-of featurette, co-star Neil Affleck describes the drinking and local brawls that erupted in town when locals gathered at the neighbourhood bar, so the characterizations of beefy guys getting hammered and duelling over local girls doesn’t seem so clichéd.
None of the youths are particularly bright, but they’re likeable, and that’s an important reason the love triangle still works in what’s a fairly simple script. It also helps that the acting is uneven, and the cast includes bubbly/hammy Cynthia Dale (Heavenly Bodies), genial Keith Knight (Meatballs’ Fink), and sultry Lori Hallier (TV’s Bizarre).
Paul Zaza’s mostly electronic score is very sparse and restrained, and the film’s soundtrack is comprised of hideously cheesy bar ballads and ditties, with a decent theme song that closes out the end credits. Maple’s DVD offers a pseudo-Surround Sound mix, but the original mono track offers a less gimmicky blend of panned effects created from mono sound elements.
Viewers have the option of watching the theatrical and restored edits of Valentine, and a deleted scenes gallery gives viewers the option to re-watch the gore scenes with short intros by Mihalka and effects men Thomas R. Burman (Cat People, Nip/Tuck), and Ken Diaz (Fright Night). Co-producers Dunning and Andre Link also recount an amusing ‘cadaver’ deliver in the making-of featurette.
The DVD’s major extra is a making-of featurette, “Bloodlust,” that initially reprises Adam Rocker’s slasher preamble from Going to Pieces, but eventually focuses on the basic production aspects of the film, with a few cast interviews, including actors Affleck and Hallier.
Where the featurette seriously fumbles is by literally jump-cutting to material on the 2009 3-D remake. That remake’s creators pay modest verbal tribute to the original, but the featurette’s original focus on the cast and crew of the ’81 film is entirely dropped, and valuable DVD space is wasted on straight publicity material instead of finishing off the compelling making-of story that was well underway.
One gets a feeling there’s probably more interview bits and closing comments from Rocker and others on the cutting room floor, so perhaps the featurette will get its own restoration in the next DVD incarnation.
For genre fans as well as those fond of darker haunted house tales, Maple’s DVD is a major upgrade to the long-out of print Paramount TV that sported the theatrical cut, but the featurette is a real missed opportunity to add further cast interviews, as well as cover Mihalka’s own post-slasher career.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan