Being horror fans, we can come up with a pretty decent list of places that one really, really wouldn’t wanna spend their free time. The Bates Motel, near Fairvale…Camp Crystal Lake, close to the Hope Township…The Myers’ place in Haddonfield…112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville…Elm Street in Springfield…the Hanniger Mine, Valentine Bluffs…
What’s that? Some of you are unfamiliar with the little mining town of Valentine Bluffs and it’s central industry, the Hanniger Mine? Some you know that I’m referring to the setting of George Mihalka’s 1981 slasher, My Bloody Valentine. Some of you, having seen only the so-so 2009 remake, may be scratching your heads wondering why I didn’t mention the town of Harmony in this context…well, for those out there that missed out on the much less-heralded (but in my opinion, far superior) original, read on…for those that didn’t miss it and, like me, count it amongst your favorites, well, you feel free to read on as well. 🙂
Twenty years ago, a methane explosion caused a miner named Harry Warden to be trapped in a cave-in at the Hanniger Mine, along with four of his fellow miners. These four either perished in the explosion, or from later injuries; no one knows for sure. The cause of the accident was neglect and dereliction of duty; seems that it was Valentine’s Day, and the two supervisors that were supposed to be monitoring the methane levels in the mine decided to knock off early to get to the town’s big celebratory dance. It took days for the workers to dig poor Harry out, during which time he had been forced to survive by eating the bodies of the other men that had died in the catastrophe.
Upon his rescue, he was understandably a little messed up in the head, and took his vengeance on the two deadbeat supervisors by hacking their hearts out; before he was institutionalized after this massacre, he warned the townsfolk that they’d best not ever have another Valentine’s dance. Two decades later, the story is only remembered by the town’s old timers, and the young people of Valentine’s Bluff decide that it’s time to forget the silly old legends and get back to having a good time on February 14th (which happens to be a Saturday, which makes the preceding Friday…ah well, you can figure that out!). This idea is very well-received, except for a few of the town’s elder residents who think it may not be such a good idea to tempt fate; still, the plans for the party go on. Such a romantically-themed bash may be a rough catalyst for T.J. however, a young man who’d left both Valentine Bluffs and his girlfriend Sarah some time ago for an undisclosed reason, only to return home to find her in the arms of his old friend Axel. T.J. wants Sarah back, and Axel doesn’t want to give her up…but by the time this love triangle comes to a head at the Valentine dance, a black-clad miner wielding a pick-ax seems to step out of the past to enforce the warning decreed all those years ago…
Canadian director Mihalka set out to make a “scary movie” as were becoming all the rage in the States, and I believe he did a fantastic job. The dark and dirty setting in the mine is claustrophobic (and at times almost medieval) as we witness the stoic miner stalking his victims; also of note is that, being shot in an actual mine, the choices that are made for the lighting and blocking of scenes is skillful, and goes a long way toward building the atmosphere and suspense of the film. All of the actors, while not names that became well-known, are still credible in their performances, and in the case of the love triangle of the three main characters, it’s actually a subplot with some substance; it means more to the viewer than just an engine to move on to the carnage. Speaking of carnage, the special effects are very impressive for a movie of that era that didn’t have a name like Tom Savini or Rick Baker attached to it; the make-up and effects team accomplish some very gory and inventive kills that I myself find most satisfying.
Author’s note: the original U.S. theatrical cut of this film was butchered beyond belief, with all of the really good stuff left lying on the cutting room floor; this reduced most of the kills to largely off-screen crap. Although I still enjoyed the flick, it needed more “oomph”. Fortunately, a few years ago an uncut version was released…granted, the footage they’ve added back in doesn’t hold up quite as well to the digital remastering, but it’s still great to see the film as it was intended in the beginning; THIS is the version I’m describing, and certainly the one you need to see.
I find this film to be seldom-seen and highly underrated; personally, I put it up there with the very best of the rash of slashers that filled multiplexes in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th. It has everything you need for a great hack ‘n’ slash; an iconic killer, believeable characters, nice kills (again, if we’re talking the uncut version), and one of the most ghoulish and unsettling origins for the antagonist that I can recall. Hell, I’m even a fan of the song that plays over the closing credits, “The Ballad of Harry Warden”; you’ll be hard pressed to find such a creepy yet catchy little ditty elsewhere.
Maybe it’s because it didn’t produce a long train of hit-and-miss sequels, but this one got lost in the shuffle as Michael, Jason, and Freddy soaked up the limelight. Still, with this flick as my submitted evidence (and postulation on what could have been), I kinda feel like ol’ Harry’s name might ought to be up there with those guys; watch the flick, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
If you’re a slasher fan, and you haven’t had the pleasure, you should really check this one out…
…just remember to steer clear of Valentine Bluffs in mid-February.
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