Last Halloween I reminisced about the horror double bills of my childhood that acquainted me with such lifelong friends as Karloff, Cushing, and Lee. Well now I’m going to try and recapture a little of the magic of those fiendish pairings with a weekly foray into the world of horror cinema. Each week will feature two films, usually one old (pre-1990) and one modern, with a (sometimes tenuous) link. This inaugural outing features the perfect pairing for Valentine’s Day.
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
An early entry in the glut of stalk 'n' slash films that followed the success of Friday the 13th, this ranks as one of the weakest in the subgenre, lacking not only in suspense but also in those other staples of this kind of film – sex and gore.
The pre-credits sequence features a bit of kinky sex as a miner gets it on with a hot blond down in the mine. After she fondles his air hose (no, that’s not a euphemism) he spots her heart-shaped tattoo and decides rather than get off with her he’ll just off her.
The film takes place in the mining town of Valentine's Bluff where several years before a group of miners were trapped underground. Only one man walked away from the tragedy — Harry Warden, who survived the weeks it took to rescue him by turning cannibal. A year latter Harry went on a killing spree seeking revenge on those responsible for the accident by cutting their hearts out on Valentine’s Day. Harry was found insane and should be spending the rest of his days in a padded cell but when people start dying as the town plans its first Valentine’s Day party in twenty years, Harry seems the obvious suspect, particularly as the victims bear the marks of his trademark open heart surgery.
This is clearly a Friday the 13th clone, with the action transplanted to the mine. It even tries to pull a similar “Who’s the killer?” style twist at the end, although unless you’re completely new to this kind of film you’ll have guessed who the real culprit is within the first half hour.
The film is populated by the standard bunch of nobodies, none of whom have gone on to great things subsequently. Still, they all manage to remember their lines and, as most are only there to provide victims for the pickaxe-wielding killer, that’s as much as you can really expect.
This kind of film stands or falls on the strength of the director but George Mihalka clearly isn’t up to the task. He’s given what must surely be a gift of a location for creating a suspenseful chase; dark, confined, and oppressive, the mine shaft where the climax of the film takes place is crying out for a John Carpenter or even a Steve Miner to make effective use of it, but Mihalka just gives us lots of running around in the dark.
With no scares, no nudity, and practically no gore, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this film.
Jump forward twenty years and the stalk 'n' slash movie is given a new coat of self-referential paint thanks to Wes Craven’s Scream. As with Friday the 13th the film generated a rash of Scream wannabes – I know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, and Cherry Falls, just to name a few. Unlike the '80s however, this time it was familiar faces who were meeting a gruesome end, as well-known Hollywood names were queuing up to be offed. Directed by Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend), Valentine came in towards the end of the craze but was still able to boast a cast featuring Denise Richards, Katherine Heigl, and David Boreanaz.
What’s most surprising about this is that although it was based on a novel, there doesn’t seem to be enough plot here for even a short story. Geeky kid gets rejected by all the girls at a high school dance except the fat girl and when he’s caught practising mouth to mouth with her, a gang of boys beat the crap out of him after she claims he attacked her. Jump forward twenty years and he’s back for revenge. That's it for the plot.
While the acting talent has improved, the characters remain as clichéd as ever with one of the girls even referring to them as “the popular one”, “the brainy one”, “the fun one”, “the sexy one”, and “the big, fat one”. An attempt at the knowing humour of Scream? Possibly, but if so, it falls flat as do the numerous references to other horror flicks of which Carrie and Halloween are only the most obvious.
While the identity of the killer is clear even from an early stage (and gets more obvious as he kills the other possible candidates) the film still tries to keep us guessing even to the extent of pulling a double bluff at the end that you’d have to be deaf and blind not to spot coming.
One day someone may make a good Valentine’s Day horror movie, till then we’ll have to make do with this. While it may not be scary it does feature Denise Richards in a hot tub (sadly not naked) and that must weigh in its favour. Unfortunately it’s all that does.