February 11, 2016 My Bloody Valentine – Still Ripping Out Hearts After 35 Years
The year 2016 marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of arguably one of the greatest Slasher films ever made. That film was released on February 11th,1981 and it was called My Bloody Valentine. Just in time for the lover’s holiday of Valentine’s Day it starred Paul Kelman (Caged Men Plus One Woman 1971, Black Roses 1988), Lori Hallier (Trapper John M.D. TV Series 1983, Santa Barbara TV Series 1990), Neil Affleck (Director: Family Guy TV Series 1999, The Simpsons TV Series 1997-2000), Keith Knight (Meatballs 1979, Class of 1984 1982), Alf Humphreys (Funeral Home 1980, First Blood 1982), Don Francks (Voice: Star Wars Holiday Special 1978, Droids TV Series 1985), Jack Van Evera (Black Christmas 1974, Funeral Home 1980), written by John Beaird (Happy Birthday to Me – uncredited 1981, Baker County, U.S.A. 1982), and directed by George Mihalka (Pick Up Summer 1980, The Psychic 1991).
Once upon a time on a sad Valentine, in a place known as Hanniger Mine… on the night of the Valentine’s Day Dance, the town’s biggest event for hundred years, five Miners were working in the mine. The two Supervisors, eager to get to the dance, left early and failed to check the methane gas levels. There was a terrible explosion and it took the rest of the Miners weeks to dig out the trapped Miners. When they broke through to the trapped Miners, there was only one survivor: Harry Warden (Peter Cowper: Oh Heavenly Dog 1980), who only survived by eating the remains of his fellow Miners, and was now insane. One year later, on Valentine’s Day, he killed the two Supervisors and stuffed them in heart-shaped candy boxes with a note to never hold a Valentine’s Dance ever again.
One night, two Miners are walking through the mine, then stop. One starts taking off their clothes, revealing themselves to be an attractive woman. She attempts to take the other Miner’s mask off and he resists. He puts his pickaxe in the wall and when he notices the heart tattoo on the Woman’s chest, he goes nuts and pushes her onto the pickaxe. The next day, the viewer is introduced to some of the workers of the mine, TJ (Kelman), Axel (Affleck), Hollis (Knight), John (Rob Stein: Pick-up Summer 1980), Howard (Humphreys), and Mike (Tom Kovacs: Pick-Up Summer 1980, Virginia Obscura 2014). They are a jovial crew and seem to be good friends. In the locker room, it is revealed that TJ has just come back into town and Axel is dating TJ’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Hallier). The guys drive into town and meet the girls, who are decorating the union hall for the first Valentine’s Dance in twenty years. Harry Warden is dismissed by the guys and girls as a local legend. However, if Harry was just a legend, who is killing the innocent townsfolk dressed in miner’s gear?
The concept for My Bloody Valentine was not given to director George Mihalka until August 1980; no script, just an idea.The film was to be set on Valentine’s Day in order to cash in on a holiday Horror film such as classics Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978), and Friday the 13th (1980). In order to get the film into theaters before the holiday on February 14th, My Bloody Valentine was quickly written and shot from September 22nd, 1980 through November 9th, 1980 with a budget of roughly $2.3 million CAD. In addition, My Bloody Valentine was able to be shot on location at the Princess Colliery Mines in the working class town of Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia. Originally, there were two locations up for consideration with the other being Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Sydney mines was chosen for its dreary appearance and for the actual mines being seemingly isolated. The citizens of Sydney Mines were very excited to be having a feature film shot in their mine, so they all banded together to clean it up. Unfortunately, the good deed garnered the exact opposite reaction from the crew, who had to spend time and money to get the mine back to its original, filthy look.
A week before principle photography began, Mihalka asked the cast to come to Sydney Mines and immerse themselves in the culture of the town to add authenticity to their characters, and they lived in the town for the duration of the shoot. Paul Kelman (TJ) recalls, “We absorbed the experience there which informed our roles. We did spend time with miners in a working coal mine in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia not far from Sydney. We went to the “face” of the mine where they were drilling; a small area with a giant drill bit that took up most of the small tunnel, drilling deafeningly noisy into the face wall, mere inches from our bodies alongside the huge, whirling blades. It was very dangerous, loud, and dirty. When we came back up to the surface afterwards, we were covered in black Coal dust except for the part of our face that was covered by the goggles that protect your eyes. We looked just like real Miners do! I realized after that experience what Miners go through down there. It’s incredibly dangerous hard work and you are underground, down deep in the Earth most of your life. Fathers, sons, whole families follow the tradition. It’s crazy, but you have to respect them.”
A genre convention Mihalka wanted to break was the type of characters. Teens in films like Halloween were all interchangeable kids from the suburbs, so he opted to have a “working class” cast; people in their mid-twenties working real jobs and living as adults. As evidenced on the screen, the cast worked great together and made it easy for the viewer to believe these were working class young adults. These were normal people, not rich kids living in huge houses lamenting on how unfair the world can be. It was not hard to care about these characters because they were relatable. Obviously, not every viewer has the experience of working in a mine, but the cast encapsulated what it was like to be working, almost-not-so-young adults that still like to have fun at the local watering hole, but have real world responsibilities instead of remembering the right books for class the next day, or what they were wearing to the prom.
Kelman sheds some light on the casting process of My Bloody Valentine, “I crashed the audition. Keith Knight, with whom I was working with in another film called GAS (1981), with Howie Mandel and Donald Sutherland, had the audition. He asked me if I wanted to come along. I auditioned and got the part. Also, the actor who played Howard, who was always pulling pranks in the movie, was Alf Humphreys. He too was in the comedy GAS; the three of us already had an acting relationship in place after two months of shooting together. We were already a team when we did My Bloody Valentine and I think it showed in the film.” Kelman also reflects on his good friend Keith Knight, “We fooled around a lot together, on set and off, and had a lot of laughs. Keith was a master at doing The Three Stooges, Moe, Larry and Curly! He could even do the sound effects when they poked each other or when Moe did his hand wave up the face before he hit one of the other Stooges. Keith was a riot! A funny guy, great to work with, and generous to a fault. A good friend. I was devastated when he died at age fifty. I really miss him.”
He also reflects on My Bloody Valentine being the first time he played a leading man, “(Laughing) I’d never played the leading role in a film before, so that was particularly a big learning curve. When you are the lead actor, you are somewhat responsible for the whole film and the energy and spirit of the whole cast. Along with the director, you set the tone of the film shoot, and I don’t think I was fully prepared for that responsibility. Luckily the cast was so completely into it, that they gave it their all. Many of them had little or no experience, but, together, they made the magic happen. An ensemble. A rare occurrence in this business. There were also five seasoned professionals and somewhat famous actors in the older aged roles which had a major influence. The casting altogether was excellent.”
Something else that was different, even in the halcyon days of the Slasher boom, was that there was no clear cut “Slasher Fodder,” like the Slut, the Party Animal, the Virgin, etc, or if there were, they were heavily downplayed. For instance, Dave (Carl Marotte: Pick-up Summer 1980, Gas 1981), had patchy facial hair, wore a leather jacket, and seemed to be somewhat on Sheriff Newby’s shit list. This could be construed as him being a street punk or loner, but he certainly did not act that way, as he got along with everyone. Howard was probably the closest one to being a formulaic Slasher character being the loud-mouthed prankster. If one thinks about it, My Bloody Valentine turned another genre convention on its head in the case of the “Virgin,” Harriet (Terry Waterland). As revealed by the song the guys sing at the bar, was an actually virgin and she was killed off by a double penetration with a drill bit. She was last seen making out with her boyfriend, Mike, in the engine room. When they were found dead by Hollis, they were still fully clothed, so it is reasonable to believe that she died a “Virgin,” which really separates My Bloody Valentine from other conventional Slasher trappings. If the viewer thinks Sarah and TJ, or Sarah and Axel did not get down at some point in the past, that is just naive.
Shooting in an actual mine presented its own set of difficulties. The mine was six hundred feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean floor and the only way down was a twenty minute ride in an elevator basket. There was also the risk of methane gas building up. Because of this, special lights had to be used to avoid explosions. The mine carts were also a unique challenge, “The wooden Mine-cars on tracks were attached to a major tunnel-long cable and could really speed along. Twenty to thirty mph going downhill in an open cart is a wild ride. Fighting a pick-axe wielding Harry Warden on a moving mine-car was quite real. That was one sharp point on that pick-axe! We did a lot of stunts ourselves and with stunt men. We had one big accident in the Mine with a runaway set of mine-car.”
The special effects done by Thomas R. Berman (The Goonies 1985, The Godfather: Part III 1990), Ken Diaz (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 2006) and Tom Hoerber (The Natural 1984, Breakdown 1997) were top notch for the time. Some notable effects were from the very beginning of the film where the woman (Pat Hemingway: The Hollywood Knights 1980) was pushed onto the pickaxe and the viewer sees the tip of the axe break through the skin. Another great effect was when Sylvia (Helene Udy: The Dead Zone 1983, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman TV Series 1993) got her head impaled on a water pipe, then when the water gets turned on, she is like a macabre, Gothic fountain. One of the most gruesome effects, though, was the burned body of Mabel stuffed in the dryer.
It was because of all of these great gore scenes that My Bloody Valentine was cut to shreds by the censors, who excised over nine minutes of footage. There are a couple theories as to why the drastic cuts had to be made. One theory is that Paramount Pictures was keen to remove the offending footage due to the backlash they had received from releasing Friday the 13th (1980) the previous year – as a side note, Paramount’s Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), which premiered a couple of months after My Bloody Valentine, also suffered extensive cutting, which has never been released. The other was the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and the backlash that cinematic violence received. In 2009, Lion’s Gate released the “Uncut” version of My Bloody Valentine with around 2-3 minutes of footage restored. Because the footage was so old and not stored properly, or due to a limited budget for restoring said footage, there are many scratches and other artifacts along with the color being off, but it still looks great!
My Bloody Valentine grossed approximatley $6,000,000 at the United States box office upon its theatrical release on February 11, 1981, and has a large cult following, with many fans considering it a classic. Critically, My Bloody Valentine received mixed reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it stands with a 40% critics’ rating with an average rating of 4.7/10. In a March 30, 2007 issue of Entertainment Weekly, the film was ranked 17 in a list of guilty pleasures, listed among such films as Dawn of the Dead and Escape from New York, and called “the most criminally underappreciated of the Slasher genre.”
My Bloody Valentine was remade in 2009 with new 3D camera technology, entitled My Bloody Valentine 3D, but with the exception of the Mine set and the presence of Tom Atkins (Halloween III 1982, Maniac Cop 1988). The remake was a miserable fail in the eyes of most fans. The characters themselves were nothing more than animals for the slaughter, without a shred of substance. However, with the gimmick of the new 3D technology, the remake did very well financially. When asked his thoughts on the film, Kelman comments: “I bought the DVD of the 3D remake with the actor from the TV Series Supernatural, playing my role, but I haven’t seen it yet! Just never got around to it.” Even after thirty-five years, My Bloody Valentine remains one of the best Slashers ever made. It is frightening, original, and full of heart.
Purchase My Bloody Valentine on Blu-Ray/DVD on Amazon