Happy Heart Day Humans.
I gotta admit…I have been dreading writing this review. I know how much of you love this movie, but for years every time I sat down to watch it I liked it a little less. The pacing in the first half is slow, the killer isn’t that frightening or interesting looking (I mean, seriously, he is a miner in a gas mask) and the characters are unforgivably stupid. But before you pull out your torches and pitchforks, let me just say that I recently popped in the legendary uncut version and it’s actually much better. The special effects are awesome! In a time where the innovation of making the innards of humans look real thrived, it confuses me how for almost three decades, the literal “meat” of this movie was buried under a pile of celluloid and the dreams of a begrudged director.
The backwater mining town of Valentine Bluffs is under the murderous siege of Harry Warden, a gas masked pickaxe wielding heart ripping murderer who hates Valentine’s Day. You see, back in the early 60’s, Harry and his fellow mining crew were killed in a methane gas explosion caused by the incompetence of the crew’s foreman. This was because the town was holding its annual Valentines Day dance and he was in a rush to get to the party, leaving his post unattended. Harry managed to stay alive down there for six weeks, eating the flesh of his co-workers. But consuming your friends while rotting tens of feet below the ground makes humans go crazy apparently, and Harry was committed to a mental institution. On the one year anniversary of Harry’s tragedy, he escaped and ripped out the heart of the reckless foreman responsible for the accident. So the legend goes, he stalks the town on Valentines Day, ready to continue his horrible murder spree if anyone ever holds another Valentines celebration. But now, twenty years later, the town of Valentine Bluffs is finally ready to try pissing on the electric fence and decide to hold another Valentine’s Day dance. Predictably, the bodies pile up and the Mayor tries to cancel the dance. But the local horny teenagers reject this reality and substitute it for their own by holding their own party, unbeknownst to the Mayor or the Chief of police, who work to capture the elusive Harry Warden. All the while, a love triangle between a young girl named Sarah and her two potential lovers, T.J. Hanniger and Axel Palmer commences throughout the film.
Before I get into what I don’t like, I want to emphasize the idea of a crazy killer whose motivation is to murder those who wish to openly celebrate Valentines Day is highly entertaining. My initial dislike of this movie comes from a general exasperation I feel for the slasher genre. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good gore brigade as much as the next blood thirsty lusus naturae. But too often, I find many of these movies are based around the stereotype of a masked, heavy breathing barbarian hacking up a bunch of sex crazed over medicated frat kids. We’ve seen it before and we still do, constantly. It’s difficult not to think of a million examples of the still living and breathing slasher genre. Off the top of my head, I know of a few films currently in production, like the remake of the cult classic Maniac, as well as a couple new movies, (Hack/Slash, Chained and a 100 Bloody Acres). A good slasher film generally incorporates a combination of an unsettling killer and atmosphere, a cleaver twist, the inclusion of likeable and annoying characters, and impressive special effects.
First off, I don’t find gas masks scary. This is because they tend to make me think of army/navy surplus stores. When I think of a cleaver slasher mask, I think of the William Shatner white face worn by Michael Myers in Halloween. The mask was eerie because it looked too synthetic to be human but still had the basic shape of a human face. This was emphasized by the fact that it was painted pure white, taking away even more subtle nuances of a human face. The end result was a face that looked vague and neutral. When you saw Myers, you knew there was no discussion with this guy; he had his mind set on what he was going to do to you. I get why Harry Warden wore a gas mask, he was dressed in his old miner’s outfit. It works, especially given the fact that the characters are all miners, making it ambiguous as to whether it really was Harry who was killing everyone. But it always came off to me as a cheap alternative to creating an original face of fear. Not bad, but it screams for a touch up.
At least that is how I felt before watching the unrated version, released in the 2009 Lionsgate distributed DVD. For those who don’t know, over 9 minutes of the film was cut out of it’s original version, leaving out a great deal of the gore and violence. But without it, all that was left was a bunch of sloppy teenage drunks lining up on the slaughter house conveyor belt. Don’t get me wrong, I am a purist more often than not and believe that once a movie is released, it should probably stay that way. After all, what is a final cut if not the final version of a movie? But now that this footage has been put back into the film the way the director initially intended, I can see how much better this was supposed to be in the first place. Some of these special effects were so fantastic, it begs an explanation from the MPAA. My favorite effect was the cadaver in the washing machine. The differences between the theatrical and unrated versions are minimal, mostly a few extra close ups of the manikin. But the body is so rotten and waterlogged, as if it had been shoved inside the machine the night before and put through a flesh melting spin cycle. Those extra little touches really make all the difference when watching a film meant to show off the gore. All I have to say is, awesome!
The censorship of this film was nothing more than pure unadulterated defamation to what could have been (and in 2009 hopefully did become) a staple of the genre for mainstream audiences. Luckily, the film gained a strong cult following during its initial release. Without the huge outcry of its fans we never would have the movie in its entirety like this. Also the fact that the remake came out that year helped a lot to push this re-release, but we will chat about that movie later. If you love a good slasher this is definitely a classic worth watching, but stick to the unrated version or else you are missing out. There are some pretty grizzly moments to be had here. Even I can get over my prejudices for the average slasher film while watching it, factoring in of course that My Bloody Valentine was one of the early ones, and therefore the learning curve the genre was going through make the flaws even more acceptable. So long as you keep this in mind, you are in for an awesome ride. So grab your box of chalk flavored sweet hearts, dim the lights and get your hands on a copy of My Bloody Valentine. You won’t be disappointed.
By the way, I know you people will hate me if I don’t compliment this guy’s mustache…It is a fine mustache indeed. And yes, he is the most sympathetic character in the movie.