1981’s My Bloody Valentine is a good movie. 2009’s My Bloody Valentine 3D stinks out loud. How is that possible? The first was a cheaply made Canadian horror flick made at that moment when the 70s were exhausted but the 80s had yet to fully form and with a villain possessed of quite possibly the most laugh-out-loud preoccupation in the genre’s history. The second was created almost 3 decades later, with all those years of improvements in filmmaking technology and technique to utilize and the successful pattern of its predecessor to follow. How do you so royally screw that up? Imagine if the U.S. government asked a defense contractor to build a new and better version of a P-51 Mustang and what they get is a kite made out of lead. At what point in the process could things go so terribly wrong?
Set in the small and rundown hamlet of Valentine’s Bluff, the 1981 version of this tale begins in midstream with a group of hometown 20somethings wasting the best years of their lives. The boys all work at the local mine. The girls? Well, they don’t do much but wait around for the boys to get done working at the mine. Betty Friedan’s paradise this is not. The group is already dealing with some romantic turmoil. TJ (Paul Kelman), the son of the mine’s owner, has returned a failure after trying to make his way in the big city out west. He’s back to find his old girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier) has taken up with his old buddy Axel (Neil Affleck). TJ wants her back. Axel doesn’t want to give her up. Sarah doesn’t know what she wants.
What everyone is excited about is the first Valentine’s Day dance in town in 20 years. Why so long? Well, 20 years ago a cave-in at the mine trapped 5 men deep underground. Only one, a man named Harry Warden, survived and he did so by eating the others until rescuers finally dug their way to him. The cave-in was due to two mine supervisors who left their posts because they were just so darn anxious to get to the Valentine’s dance. A year after the accident, Harry returned to town in full miner’s gear and murdered the two men. He ripped their hearts out of their chests and put them in heart-shaped candy boxes with a warning for the town to never again hold a Valentine’s Day dance.
20 years later, though, another dance is going to be held and, wouldn’t you know it, a guy in full miner’s gear shows up and starts killing people. Is it really Harry Warden? And can TJ and Axel put aside their differences to save Sarah and others when a party at the old mine gets an uninvited and murderous visitor? I’ll let you watch it to find out. My Bloody Valentine (1981) doesn’t have the iconic power or style of the horror classics of its day. It is a well done film, however, that is smart enough and fast enough and suspenseful enough to entertain normal viewers and not just torture-porn fetishists. The romantic triangle of TJ, Sarah and Axel, while shallow, is written and performed with enough grace that it could have fit right into a post-coming of age drama where the only thing that gets hurt is someone’s feelings. The kill scenes are done with a certain inventiveness and came before special effects allowed horror flicks to overwhelm audiences with gore. Even the mystery of Harry Warden, while you can’t deny its Scooby Doo familiarity, plays out in a reasonably intelligent way on screen.
When measured against the greats like The Last House on the Left, Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine (1981) is clearly a notch below. That still leaves it 5 or 6 notches above most of the slasher movie dreck from its own era all the way up to today.
That dreck includes My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009). Before I get into anything else, let me note that this movie looks cheap and tacky next to the 1981 original and that’s saying a lot when the original has not been digitally remastered and retains the dated and faded patina of a refugee from a drive-in theater. What it does have is warmth and depth and roughness that reminds you of real life. The 2009 version is crisp and clear and looks like it could have been created by the kind of people who make training videos for the telemarketing industry. I don’t know if it was the 3D equipment they had to use in 2009 but the visuals are dry and dull, with too many poorly framed scenes and a sterility to it all, even the hack/slash/stab moments. I don’t think it was the equipment because this is a common complaint I have with cinema now. Modern directors can do everything with a camera and it’s as if that freedom keeps them from learning how to do anything with it.
My Bloody Valentine 3D starts off with a news montage of a mine collapse in the town of Harmony. In this one, a Harry Warden also survives but the cause of this deadly disaster was the mine owner’s son Tom (Jensen Ackles) screwing up on the job. A year later, Tom and his girlfriend Sarah (Jamie King) join their friends Axel and Irene (Kerr Smith and Betsy Rue) at a late night party at the very mine that collapsed. Harry rouses himself from a year-long coma, slaughters a bunch of people at the hospital and then butchers even more at the mine until only our starring foursome survive. Axel leads the girls away and leaves Tom to Harry’s tender mercies, but Harry is shot by the local sheriff and wanders away. 10 years later, Axel is the town sheriff and he’s married to Sarah. Tom returns after having been away with no word for a decade to sell his now-deceased father’s mine. There’s no Valentine’s dance but a guy in a miner’s gear turns up and people start dying, with their hearts turning up in heart-shaped candy boxes. Is Harry Warden back? Is it Axel? Is it Tom? Do I give a crap? The answer to that last one is “no”.
My Bloody Valentine is so dumb that if it were a Celine Dion song, it would be “My Dumb Will Go On”. If it were a sandwich, it would be a bacon, lettuce and turpentine. If it were a film critic, it would consider Dumb and Dumber a documentary. This movie is like an argument against evolution because that’s the only explanation for how filmmakers a generation later could be this much worse.
Let me hit the biggest and most fundamental flaw in this remake. Its main characters are a trio of thoroughly unlikable douche nozzles. In the original, you had a dreamer who had his dreams crushed, slinking back home and desperately wanting his old life back. You had a small town kid with the girl of his dreams seeing it all slip away from him. And you had a young woman who knew whom she truly loved but couldn’t bring herself to forgive him or forget the man who stood by her when she was abandoned. It ain’t Shakespeare but it works. In the remake, you’ve got a guy directly responsible for an accident where people died who vanished and hasn’t spoken to his girlfriend or anyone in town in almost a decade and is now coming back to sell off the mine and imperil the town’s economy. You’ve got another guy who, almost as soon as we are introduced to him, is shown cheating on his wife with a girl who can’t be much more than a teenager. And you’ve got a woman, not a girl who has been missing her old boyfriend for a year, but a woman who’s been married for 10 years and has a kid and practically starts drooling over the old beau who abandoned her the first time she sees him. With those latter three characters, why should anyone care whether they live or die in the most awful way possible? They’re all contemptible jerks. At the end, when Sarah has a gun on both Tom and Axel, I just wanted her to shoot them both and then put a bullet in her own head.
And despite being 11 minutes longer, My Bloody Valentine 3D has nothing but plot devices, tokens and wastes of space in its supporting characters. The 1981 original has its three stars and then not one, not two but at least SIX fleshed out and believable characters expanding and enriching the story. In 2009, Tom, Axel and Sarah are the only ones who do anything of any value. In 1981, the whole Harry Warden aspect of the plot is carried along by the town sheriff and the mayor with TJ, Axel and Sarah having nothing to do with it until the last half hour or so. Heck, the bartender in 1981 who recounts the legend of Harry Warden is more memorable than anyone in 2009.
I’m not even sure the violence in the remake is better, which is astonishing when you think of the advances in special effects. Some of that is because My Bloody Valentine 3D crudely uses 3D in that tired, old, things-jump-at-you-off-the-screen tradition that goes back to the first 3D flicks of the 1950s. Forget about improving on the 1981 movie. These guys couldn’t even outdo Gorilla at Large or Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. A lot of the weakness in the kills is they got all wrapped up in how CGI would allow them to seemingly impale people with the miner’s pickax. In 1981, believably skewering folks on camera was mostly beyond the financial reach of My Bloody Valentine, so they had to do something else and they come up with stuff that’s even rather freaky by today’s standards.
In this throwdown, My Bloody Valentine (1981) has it all over its 3D remake. And while it’s not a landmark of the horror genre, MBV may have another claim to fame. One of its supporting characters, a guy named Hollis who is played by Keith Knight, looks like an ambulatory walrus. But Hollis’ girlfriend, played by Cynthia Dale, is arguably the prettiest woman in the whole cast. So, My Bloody Valentine may have caused the revival of the “fat guy with hot wife” dynamic that started with The Honeymooners, went away and then returned to just about take over TV sitcoms. That’s not much of a claim to fame, but it’s something.
I do have to praise the people behind the My Bloody Valentine remake for one thing. If they hadn’t made their 3D descent into irritating stupidity, the studio would probably have never put out a special edition DVD of the original film with deleted scenes added in. Without that, I may never have seen My Bloody Valentine (1981). So…thanks, I guess. Your sucking was genuinely productive.