Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Sorry it's been a while since my last review; that's what happens when you have the first test of the semester in an algebra course that you're retaking. (I got an 81 on it; studying and paying more attention to silly mistakes paid off!) In keeping with the spirit of the Valentine's Day weekend, I've decided to review a film themed around the holiday -- and because I'd rather be spit-roasted than have to watch Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day, I'm reviewing a film from the opposite end of the spectrum...

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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To horror fans like myself, the 1980s were the golden age of the slasher movie -- that subgenre focused around a killer stalking and killing a group of (usually young and horny) people, one by one. Volumes have been written about the sociological undertones of slashers (especially the concept of the"final girl") and how the peak of their popularity coincided with the age of Reagan, which is a bit much to get into for a simple film review; I'll probably write a full article on the subject another time and add to those volumes. Anyway, the slasher genre burned out by the end of the '80s, the icons of the era having devolved into self-parody by showing up on The Arsenio Hall Show and killing people with Power Gloves, and barring a brief revival in the late '90s driven by the success of Scream (mental note: I oughta watch that series again), slashers have been mostly dormant barring a few one-offs.

My Bloody Valentine is one of the better films to come out of the '80s slasher boom. Made to capitalize on the success of Friday the 13th in 1980, it had the misfortune of getting, pardon the pun, butchered in the editing room thanks to a severe case of unfortunate timing. John Lennon was murdered just two months before this film's Valentine's Day weekend opening, and as a result of the ensuing backlash against media violence, Paramount was forced to lop off a whole nine minutes of footage in order to avoid getting an X rating. Seeing the uncut version that (finally) got released to DVD in 2009, I can say two things with certainty. First, having grown up with graphic "torture porn" films and zombie movies, the violence that stunned the MPAA in 1981, while still quite grisly, didn't really seem all that shocking. Second, stripping the film of its shock value demonstrates just why it was still considered a classic even in its edited form. Quentin Tarantino named this his favorite slasher film ever, and while I hesitate to give itthat level of praise, I do think it's worthy of being held in high regard.

To start with, this film is tense, especially as it creeps towards its conclusion. While I was able to guess who the killer really was about thirty minutes before the film was up (and the reveal did seem to come out of nowhere), I was still held in suspense as I waited for the characters to figure it out. The dark, claustrophobic mineshafts that dominate the film's second half are a great environment for a slasher film, and this one makes excellent use of them. The killer could be around any corner, tenaciously stalking his victims and striking with brutality, and the mines themselves are an ever-present threat; one slip and you could drown in a flooded shaft, or trigger a cave-in. The acting is decent as far as slasher movies go, though the thick Atlantic Canadian accents did catch me off guard once in a while (the film is set and was shot in Nova Scotia). While the pickaxe fodder was, of course, fairly flat (as is to be expected), I did appreciate that the film attempted to give some measure of depth and development to the protagonists, even if the big "guy who saw his parents murdered when he was a boy and is now a killer himself" twist has been done to death since. However, between the aforementioned accents and sound recording that could be dodgy at times, I had to watch this with the subtitles on in order to follow the story.

Score: 4 out of 5

This would make a hell of a date movie if your significant other is into horror movies. On other days, it's still a worthy investment for any fan of old-school slashers, and is a standout example of the genre. Check it out.

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