MOD Valentine

The Film: My Bloody Valentine 

The Principles: Starring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight and Peter Cowper as Harry Warden. Directed by George Mihalka.

The Premise: A big Valentine’s Day dance is planned in the small coal-mining town of Valentine Bluffs, which will be their first in over two decades. Twenty years prior a horrible accident trapped a group of miners and only one made it out alive. His name was Harry Warden and he was committed to a mental institution because he lost his mind after being forced to feed on the dead bodies of his coworkers while they dug him out. One year later he escaped and murdered several people whom he deemed responsible for the accident and warned the town never to hold a Valentine’s dance ever again. Well they do it anyway and guess who comes back and starts ripping out the hearts of the townsfolk?


Is it any good?: This is one of my all time favorite slasher movies (next to the original Halloween) released during the first wave of that golden age of late seventies/early eighties horror and it has since gone on to become a non-franchise splatter classic. The plot is nothing original, the acting is far from remarkable and it was heavily censored for violence upon its release, forcing the filmmakers to edit out a lot of good kills. I remember reading about it in the pages of Fangoria magazine before it came out and the pictures they included in the article made me expect a real gore-fest. But despite the cuts, this film has still somehow endured simply because it’s very well written and directed.

The setup is simple. T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman) has returned to his hometown of Valentines Bluff to go back to work in his father’s coal mine after failing to make it on the west coast. He finds that his ex-sweetheart Sarah (Lori Hallier) has taken up with his best friend Axel (Neil Affleck), but she still carries a torch for her old flame. This creates a pretty tense love triangle subplot that is carried out while a gasmask wearing maniac starts killing the townsfolk off with a pickaxe, removing their hearts and placing them in candy boxes with crazy little notes that rhyme, like “It happened once. It happened twice. Cancel the dance or it will happen thrice!” After an old lady is murdered and found stuffed in a clothes drier, the sheriff decides to cancel the big dance… but that doesn’t stop those wild, horny kids. They decide to throw a party at the mine and Harry Warden shows up and literally picks them all off one-by-one.


So what is it about this film that many others and I find so endearing? I believe it has a lot to do with the look and tone. There’s a grimy, bleak blue-collar visual aesthetic here that is sublime. The Canadian town it was shot in provides a lot of great atmosphere and the actual coal mine that is featured in the incredibly suspenseful conclusion couldn’t look more claustrophobic and otherworldly with its white walls and dank tunnels.

But there’s a pervasive anger in this movie that comes directly from the subplot that I feel really fuels the fire. When T.J. returns home he immediately goes after his old girlfriend Sarah despite the fact that he left her flat and she has hooked up with his buddy Axle. Sarah is conflicted at first, but then decides to return to T.J., creating a huge rift between the two young men. I’ve always felt that the love triangle and the small coal mining town location reminded me a lot of Michael Cimino’s Vietnam epic The Deer Hunter. Sarah, T.J. and Axle’s predicament is similar to the one DeNiro, Walken and Streep had, but it’s condensed and ‘Nam has been replaced by a pickaxe wielding psycho. To my delight this theory I have was proven correct when I attended a screening of this film at The Cinefamily and director George Mihalka was there for a Q & A. I asked him if The Deer Hunter was any kind of an influence and he confirmed that it was a major one. Check them both out and see.

Is it worth a look?: This is an awesome example of holiday themed slashers that totally stands the test of time. I saw it in the theatres with my parents when I was a kid and I’ve watched it countlessly on late night cable and home video over the years, which is why it’s amazing that the ending continues to freak me out and still give me goose bumps. There’s a major plot twist and a final shot that is downright bone chilling. The only time I’ve ever seen a slasher that looks as gritty as this one was when I saw Eli Roth’s fantastic Thanksgiving faux trailer for Grindhouse. When I was at The Cinefamily’s My Blood Valentine screening I bumped into Eli Roth and we were both wearing Thanksgiving t-shirts. He looked at me, walked right over and said, “Wasn’t my trailer just like My Bloody Valentine? That was the model.” I agreed.


Random anecdotes: Following the release of Friday the 13th and all of the negative press they got from the amount of violence the film had at the time, Paramount edited the living shit out of this movie and removed some pretty incredible gore footage. A DVD was released by Lion’s Gate a few years back when that awful 3D remake came out and it features a cut that puts all the trimmed parts back in. It makes a great film even greater, especially the ending, which was already creepy and somehow becomes creepier!

It was shot in a real mine shaft with a special grade of film stock that was used by the great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond on of all films, The Deer Hunter.

During The Cinefamily’s Q & A, Eli Roth told George Mihalka that the amazing end credits song, “The Ballad of Harry Warden” by Paul Zaza is one of he and Quentin Tarantino’s favorite songs and that Tarantino was so obsessed with it, he played it constantly while they were filming Inglourious Basterds. He added that he and QT mentioned the song to horror filmmaker Alexander Aja while they were all hanging out together and he too was a huge fan. They all started singing the song together and I leave you with the lyrics of “The Ballad of Harry Warden”:

Once upon a time, on a sad Valentine,
in a place known as Henniger Mine.
A legend began, every woman and man,
would always remember the time.
And those who remain, were never the same,
you could see, the fear in their eyes.
Once every year, as the fourteenth draws near,
there’s a hush all over the town.

For the legend they say, on a Valentine’s Day,
is a curse, that’ll live on and on.
And no will know, as the years come and go,
of the horror from long time ago.

Twenty years came and went, and everyone spent,
the fourteenth, in quiet regret.
And those still alive, know the secret survives,
in the darkness, that looms in the night.

For the legend they say, on a Valentine’s Day,
is a curse, that’ll live on and on.
And no one will know, as the years come and go,
of the horror, from long time ago.

In this little town, when the fourteenth comes ’round,
there’s a silence, and fear in the air.
Remember the morn, that the legend was born,
all the shock, and the horror was there.

For the legend they say, on a Valentine’s Day,
is a curse, that’ll live on and on.
And no one will know, as the years come and go,
of the horror, from long time ago.

And no one will know, as the years come and go,
of the horror, from long time ago.

Cinematic soul mates: The Deer Hunter, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Graduation Day, April Fool’s Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving Trailer and My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009).