Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

In every horror fan's life, there are those select films that give us, to this day, those butterflies deep within. Butterflies like when you first meet that special boy or girl and you're trying to get them to notice you. Then there's that tingly feeling you get all over when he walks into the room. I mean, she. Sorry. There are those films that you end up, without expecting, having an unmistakable love affair with throughout the years and no matter what anyone says about said film, you stand by it as if it were the dreamy captain of the varsity football team. Wait, head cheerleader! Dammit!

This, for me, is that film. I can still remember that winter night in 1984 when I woke up one night with the urge to use the restroom. We had just moved onto a small humble ranch in Texas and we siblings all had to sleep in the same room. I noticed how late it was and I found it strange that the television in the living room was on. I walked in on my father watching a film showing on KGBT and suddenly, the image of a miner's mask came onto the screen. I was terrified, I crouched behind the couch and looked over at the television again and I saw the image of a man in a miner's outfit chasing a girl with a pick axe. Scared out of my mind, I remember quietly sneaking back to my room, getting into bed, and not being able to sleep the rest of the night. The image of the eyes behind that mask was something I never forgot.

Several years later, I was wandering though Weslaco's Valley Mart and browsing - again - through the horror section of the video rentals, I stumbled upon the box for this beloved ditty and my heart stopped out of pure fear at the sight of the miner's mask emblazoned across the front. It was something that had secretly invaded my dreams at night. That mask. That light. Yet I couldn't stop myself from picking the box up and meeting it face to face for the first time. There was something about the picture on the front that was captivating me slowly. There was a charm to the way Paramount was presenting this picture to me and I knew that I would fall victim to it someday. Unfortunately, that wasn't the day. Over the years, I'd see this on and off again at mom and pops and local grocery outlets and I'd always have fights within myself as to rent it or not. For reasons that I, at the time, would understand, I just felt that it would be best to just wait. One day, in 1999, fed up, I walked into the local H-E-B Video Central, picked this up off the shelf, and took it home. I popped it into the VCR and told myself that I had to face my fear and this image that had been haunting me for the past decade. This wasn't like Jason or Freddy, this was different. I turned off the phone, turned off all the lights and locked my front door. I didn't want to be bothered. This was going to be a sort of mind-cleansing for me and I had to be completely alone for it to work. When the film ended and the credits rolled, something wasn't right. I'd expected to be curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the living room, thumb in my mouth, calling out for my mother. I expected this whole thing to backfire in my face and leave me even more traumatized than before. To my own surprise, and without wanting, I had fallen in love with this little Canadian film and just like that, I became it's number one fan. For the next nine months, I rented this film every weekend. There was something about it that pulled me into its gaping jaws. And there was no turning back.

The plot is actually very simple: When several supervisors leave their post to attend the annual Valentine's Day dance, miner Harry Warden and several mining colleagues become trapped underground after an explosion. Being the only survivor, he is placed in a mental institution and escapes, coming back on the one-year anniversary of the accident to the small town of Valentine Bluffs to off some of the locals. Flash forward to the present where the local kids are planning a Valentine's Day Dance on the 20th anniversary of the disaster. When the sheriff of the town receives a box of candy, or what he thinks is a box of candy with an ominous warning, fear of Harry Warden's return fill the air. The news is passed on to the kids and the dance is cancelled. But do the kids listen? Of course not! So here comes Harry to get his revenge! But, look a little bit deeper at this beloved piece of horror history. There's a a lot more going on than you see on the surface.

This is one of those films that has a complete love/hate relationship among horror fans. Some, including yours truly, savor this each time we watch it and hold it close to our hearts. Others pass this off as a holiday-themed Friday The 13th knock-off. And why wouldn't they? I mean, the film clearly states at the beginning that the story takes place on Thursday, February 12th. You do the math. Coincidence? I don't think Paramount did that completely by accident. Some argue that the MPAA's slicing and dicing of the film back before its release hurt the overall potential and punch the film really could have had. And though I agree with that statement at some point, we all have to remember that it wasn't the film maker's fault that 9 minutes of the film had to be cut to avoid the cutthroat "X" rating. But you have to look at the story the film is trying to tell, the sub-plot of the complicated love triangle going on between T.J. (Paul Kelman), Sara (Lori Hallier), and Axel (Neil Affleck). Take a step back and take away the gore, the special effects, and the main villain and you get an honest, all-American (well, Canadian) love story between a grown man, the woman he left behind, and the new beau, who happens to be one of his dearest friends, that has taken his place. There is a frank maturity portrayed in this film between the cast that you don't see at all in slashers from this time period. From the story itself, to the people playing each part, to the reasons why the killer is motivated to terrorize the town. These folks aren't your run-of-the-mill group of horny teenagers at a campsite taking a summer vacation. These are mature, working-class adults who hold pretty blue collar jobs and the women who stand behind them. I think that's one of the things that grabbed me about this film: the honest portrayal of adults in a horror setting. You don't see any of them committing any of the horror cliches that you normally see and it presents itself as a strong, mature piece of film making. Sure, some of the scenes run slow, but they all have their purpose within the story. I think it was wise of director George Mihalka, for example, to have Sara explain her back story regarding T.J. and what pushed her to be with Axel. All of it ties itself together at the end.

The gore in this film is rather tame, but again, blame this one on the MPAA. This is one of those few films that received a massive chopping from the ratings board - along with Friday the 13th part 2 that same year - and its full version intact has been on the "holy grail" lists of horror collectors since the film was released. I've even been on one particular horror site where a guy devotes a huge article to the uncut footage, the "does it exist or not" theory, and his push for Paramount to finally release it altogether. Impressive, seeing that it's 9 minutes of missing footage we all want to see. When Paramount released this DVD for the first time back in 2002, lack of the film's original poster art and the piece of shit sleeve they put together made me totally pass on buying it. And I'm being dead serious. Then, to see absolutely no special features? Give us a break, Paramount! It wasn't until the re-release in 2006 with a new cover bearing the likes of Harry Warden that I finally decided to pick this up, again, sans special features. How hard is it to put the trailer on there for this one? I mean, I can go to YouTube and download it in the snap of a finger. So really, what was the big deal?

Luckily, Lionsgate heard our plea and bought the rights to the original film along with rights to remake it. They've just released a special edition DVD of this with all 9 minutes of lost footage put back in thanks to original producer John Dunning. As of this posting, I haven't picked it up only because I've been sick in bed with the flu. Though, in my opinion, I would have rather seen the proposed sequel, My Bloody Valentine 2: Return of the Miner instead of a remake, which, at the time of this posting, I've already seen it an advance 3D screening. In all fairness, I gave the updated film a chance and though Jensen Ackles makes my butter melt, the film wasn't good enough to say that it trumps the original as the definitive version. Sorry, Lionsgate, I'm just being honest. I am forever grateful, though, that you brought us, after many years of patient waiting, the restored uncut print of the film. I would have really loved to have seen Lionsgate release the original in its restored form as a double-billing with the 3D remake. That would have been something to marvel. So, the hunt for the complete version is film is over. We can all sit back, relax and enjoy this often-overlooked but much-beloved 80's slasher flick and breathe easy.

If you're reading this, you've either seen this several times and/or have this in your collection. I own the original Paramount VHS and the 2006 DVD re-release. I think I've seen this on a Paramount double-bill DVD with April Fool's Day for about $9 and just for this film itself it's worth the price. If you've never seen this, get it and watch it with an open mind. I think you'll find there's more than just an angry miner offing kids on Valentine's Day. One of my all-time top five, and for good reason.

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