Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #75
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: February 11, 1981
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country: United States/Canada
Budget: $CAD 2,300,000
Box Office: $5,672,031 (US)
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: George Mihalka
Producers: John Dunning, André Link, Stephen Miller
Screenplay: John Beaird
Story: Stephen Miller
Special Effects: Thomas R. Burman, Ken Diaz, Tom Hoerber
Cinematography: Rodney Gibbons
Score: Paul Zaza
Editing: Gérald Vansier, Rit Wallis
Studio: Secret Film Company
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Rob Stein, Tom Kovacs, Terry Waterland, Carl Marotte, Jim Murchison, Gina Dick, Peter Cowper, Don Francks, Patricia Hamilton, Larry Reynolds
Suggested Audio Candy
Paul Zaza “Soundtrack Suite/The Ballad of Harry Warden”
The censors really know how to mess with your shit. A snip here, a cut there – if you submit your film for classification when they have had a bad day at the office, then it is more than likely that they will make an example of you. Paramount were aware of this when presenting the MPAA George Mihalka’s underrated 1981 slasher (originally titled The Secret) and rumor has it that they demanded cuts to his film personally, still mindful of the backlash from Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th a year earlier. Regrettably, by the time the movie had been neutered of nine minutes of footage deemed excessive, it was more deserving of the mantle My Bloodless Valentine than anything else.
Additionally, its seasonal connotations made it even more of a prime target for hard-line treatment. Silent Night Deadly Night suffered similar indignity in 1984 when incensed bigots held it in contempt for apparently tarnishing the image of the season of goodwill. I’ve never been quite so sure what made national holidays so taboo but understanding censorship is something I have long since given up on attempting to fathom. It’s laughable now to think that My Bloody Valentine caused so much controversy as it is essentially a fairly harmless movie, even with any trimmed footage reinstated.
That’s not to say that it’s bereft of splatter. On the contrary, the blood runs freely from the sharp incisions of our pickax wielding psychopath. Indeed, Mihalka actually vomited during the shooting of one of Thomas R. Burman’s gore effects. But scandalous it most definitely is not. It’s an unapologetically fun popcorn movie, with genuinely amiable characters and not a whiff of anything approaching exploitative. Of course, with the nation still reeling from the assassination of musical pacifist John Lennon, paranoia was running high and historically the finger points in the direction of any so-called copycat-encouraging movies such as this. So Mihalka bagged himself a shit sandwich to chomp on, minus nine minutes of relish of course.
It’s a crying shame as My Bloody Valentine is certainly one of the better made slasher movies to have arrived in the wake of Cunningham’s archetypal backwoods bloodbath. It’s easily palatable, well written and performed and, in Harry Warden, has itself one of the most iconic figures in eighties popular culture. Evidently, Mihalka’s movie made back Paramount’s initial outlay with relative ease, enough to inspire a remake thirty years on as the inevitable new crop of anniversary reboots surfaced. I always held it in particularly lofty regard, despite the fact that it appeared relatively anemic on primary viewing.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2009, when Lionsgate finally restored three and a half minutes of stock footage for a deluxe DVD edition, that I was granted the chance of finally seeing what had been so well guarded for decades. Maybe The Secret was an appropriate title after all. While not quite restored to the standard of the rest of the film, the newly included footage adds a much darker tone, far more in keeping with the mean-spirited appearance of our murderous miner.
It’s hard to see now what all the commotion was over as audiences have been desensitized to far worse since before the turn of the century. That said, with the exception of Joseph Zito’s The Prowler and Tony Maylam’s The Burning (interestingly both featuring effects by Tom Savini), no other slasher from its era possesses it’s meanness of spirit. The fact that we found it so effortless relating to the likeable cast only heightens this further as we’re not cheering along with every dispatch, rather feeling the gut punch.
The story takes place in the small mining town of Valentine Bluffs as it prepares for its first Valentine’s Day dance since the tragic events of twenty years prior. Four miners died as a result of the negligence of their supervisors who left their post to join in similar festivities. The sole survivor was Harry Warden who, after exacting his revenge on the two men responsible, warned that the town should never hold another dance again or be prepared to feel his wrath once again. However, love historically finds a way and eventually it is deemed to safe to let the kids of Valentine Bluffs have their kicks.
This coincides with the return of the Mayor’s son, T.J. (Paul Kelman) and this ruffles one set of feathers in particular. Once his very best buddy, Axel (Neil Affleck) is incensed by his re-emergence as he kindly offered T.J.’s heartbroken girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier) support after his unforeseen departure and the pair are now very much an item. He sees the prodigal son as a direct threat and tensions are running high between the estranged friends. However, something far more grave is occurring as it appears that Harry Warden may have gotten wind of the upcoming dance and, needless to say, he ain’t a happy miner.
Of course, of the many things that hormonal teens are known for (promiscuous sex, smoking dope, skinny dipping), heeding sound advice is not one of them. With the dance now in full swing, our squabbling love triangle and a few fellow stragglers decide to continue their celebrations in the more snug confines of the town’s strictly off-limits mine shafts. Hardly the most romantic setting for an intimate after party at the best of times, it goes without saying that love isn’t the only thing in the air on their arrival. One by one, they meet the business end of our partisan’s pickax and Mihalka takes full advantage of the dimly lit setting.
Going off topic momentarily, there is one department whereby Mihalka’s movie is hands down victorious and that is for superior facial furnishings. Loveable chubbster Hollis (Keith Knight) sports a real beauty of a ‘tache, curled up at the ends like the distinguished gentleman who rides to town each day on a penny farthing and, indeed, almost enough to warrant its own credit. Hats off to you sir, you created a monster but more than that you’re probably the dude from any eighties slasher whom I’d most enjoy sharing a cold one with.
The whodunnit element is fairly prominent here, particularly when it is revealed that Harry Warden has been worm meal for the last five years as the finger seemingly points to either T.J. or Axel, leaving Sarah well and truly torn and likely wishing she had just stuck to her trusty vibrator instead. While the mystery is hardly enough to make Hercule Poirot’s brow sweat (or Hollis’s facial growler either come to mention it), the reveal at least provides motivation behind the savage slayings and keeps us even more on our toes through its suspenseful closing act.
If, like me, you have been unfortunate enough to watch this movie in its censored format, then I offer you my most sincere condolences. In addition I offer the following stern advice: track this baby down. Like yesterday! It has taken almost thirty years for Harry Warden to recover his misplaced mojo but, now that he has, there is really no excuse not to take to the shafts. The newly restored version only serves to cement my opinion that My Bloody Valentine nestles comfortably in the very uppermost tier of eighties slasher. Indeed, Quentin Tarantino has named this as his all-time stalk and slash darling. I guess that, at heart, he’s just another incurable romantic.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Rating: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: It fills me with unparalleled joy to see My Bloody Valentine finally provided the treatment it so richly deserved after all these years as it makes a monumental difference to the overall tone of Mihalka’s film. Bloody highlights are now in abundance and it is tough picking an outright victor from such a flavorsome bunch. Try this little lot on for size: pickax protruding from a freshly formed eye cavity, one hard-boiled face, a mutilated old hag left a little too long on her spin cycle, heart candies, low blows, chest pokes, decapitation, and one particularly grisly shower head impalement that jets forth enough deep red to run a blood bath for Big Momma.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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