Soon many people will be celebrating Valentine’s Day, a day set aside to show your love for one another and really give that special someone your heart. This week I watched a pair of movies that feature someone taking people’s hearts. Forcefully. Through their rib cage. With a pick ax.
I’m a romantic, deep down.
My Bloody Valentine (1981) is a slasher flick of the kind that was en vogue during the time. A masked killer stalks a quiet little town seeking revenge that ultimately leads to a group of young people holding a party at the very site of a tragic event many years ago so they can nearly all be slaughtered. The fact that the aforementioned tragic event took place on Valentine’s Day is the only way this movie tangentially relates to the holiday, but it’s enough for the killer to have a calling card of human hearts left in heart shaped valentine candy boxes.
That is where this movie impresses most, with its blood and guts. There are some gruesome and creative kills in this movie. The killer uses his pick ax to impale chests and gouge out eyeballs and it’s all done in glorious early 80’s prosthetics and fake blood. Sometimes the skin looks like rubber as the blade shoves through it and the body parts aren’t entirely convincing, but there is value in using in camera effects. Sometimes an average practical effect can be more effective than a great CGI one.
The look of the killer is suitably intimidating and unique. With his pick ax, coal miner’s helmet, and dehumanizing gas mask, he creates a frightening image. His victims however are all dull and plain. The times when the movie is furthering its characters I found myself just waiting for the killer to show up to off one of them again. At only 90 minutes this movie never drags too long, but all of its value is with its boogeyman and his violence. Oddly, an unnecessary twist ending is shoehorned in at the eleventh hour, but that doesn’t ruin the fun I had getting there.
With that 1981 film being pretty good overall, I was shocked to discover that the 2009 remake is also pretty good! My Bloody Valentine (2009) successfully takes what works from the original and updates what didn’t. It pokes loving fun at its predecessor by making the opening scene the same as the original’s climax; teens partying where they shouldn’t be and getting hacked up because of it. This modern update then goes on to tell a more engaging story.
Taking the 1981 version’s random twist ending and running with it we now have a whodunnit mystery to go along with the killings. Is the killer really a specter returned for revenge or could it be one of the townspeople? Rich storytelling it’s not but the conflict this creates between the characters is more engaging than what we have in the 1981 version.
With an updated story, this modernization retains the original’s knack for visceral and spectacular kills. Updated practical effects look gooier and more realistic. CGI is used to assist in spots but never so much as to take me out of the moment. What is funny to watch is all the things that very pointedly come flying directly at the screen; this movie was filmed in 3D. Luckily the filmmakers don’t rely on that gimmick alone.
The killer looks identical to his past self and that’s for the best. Some of the kills and scares are lifted from the original’s greatest hits with only minor tweaks. This is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel perfunctory but rather as loving homages to the best of the original.
Both versions of My Bloody Valentine are products of their time. the 1981 version is a slasher that leans on its creatively cringe inducing kills to carry its audience past plain characters who only serve as a body count. The 2009 version updates the violence and the image of the killer with a more modern narrative to great effect. My sensibilities prefer the 2009 version but both are solid flicks to suit whichever era of horror you may have a taste for.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Valentine – When a boy is rejected and spurned at the sixth grade Valentine’s Day dance he returns a decade later to exact revenge! Should I find this problematic that the whole setup is a guy killing people because girls wouldn’t dance with him or is that giving this silly horror movie too much credit? The killer’s mask is a creepy cherub, nice touch. The highlight of the movie is actually the homemade morbid Valentine cards. Everything else is fairly wrote albeit kinda fine and popcorny. Shout out to David Boreanaz doing what he does best: brooding.
Stardust – Three separate fantasy stories about princes, witches, and twoo wuv hinge on one macguffin: Claire Danes, a literal fallen star. Despite some exceptions (the Lord of the Rings movies are some of my favorite ever) swords and sorcery is not my genre. Fairy tales such as this one and their usually simple structure in particular tend to leave me cold. I felt checked out from most of this movie. The evil guys are evil just because and the protagonists didn’t grab me. Fantastic magical things happen and I feel like I’m supposed to drawn in simply by the story book nature of it all but alas, I was not. I perked up at Robert De Niro as a comedic sky pirate who steals lightning for…reasons? He was entertaining and I wish there was more of him. Unfortunately his short time on screen and a climax that was visually exciting and fun to watch isn’t enough to save the rest of the dull story. Shout out to a baby faced Charlie Cox who would go on to play Daredevil on Netflix. I’m glad you found your way to a better story.