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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Bloody Valentine (1981) review


Paul Kelman (T.J.), Lori Hallier (Sarah), Neil Affleck (Axel), Don Francks (Chief Newby)

Directed by George Mihalka

***WARNING! This review contains pics of graphic violence and gore***

"From the heart comes a warning filled with bloody good cheer, remember what happened as the 14th draws near."

A group of young miners in the quaint town of Valentine Bluffs celebrate their first Valentine's Day dance in twenty years after a horrifying incident resulted in the annual event being halted. Two decades before, a group of miners were trapped below ground from a methane gas explosion while partygoers enjoyed themselves at the dance. One man, Harry Warden, survives and is placed into a mental institution after having turned to cannibalism to survive the tragedy. Returning to the sleepy town one year later, he murders the two men that caused the terrible catastrophe. Now, twenty years later, with the impending Valentine's Day dance, the murders begin anew.

One of the best and goriest of the slasher films that stalked movie houses in the early 80's. Sadly, those that have caught the film either in theaters, television, on video, or even Paramounts initial DVD release of the movie have had to deal with a severely compromised version...until now. With seemingly no interest in releasing an uncut version, Paramount licensed the film out to Lionsgate in what has become one of the most eagerly awaited horror releases of all time. At first, director George Mihalka had the idea of doing a sequel whereby he would somehow incorporate the cut footage into the new film since fan interest in seeing this elusive footage was very high.

With this new special edition DVD from Lionsgate, the unseen gore footage has been reinserted into the film for the first time ever. In the beginning, there were early rumblings that the cut scenes were only going to be accessible as a special feature on the disc. Apparently due to an immense amount of angry fans outraged at the thought of the footage not being a part of the film after so many years, it was soon decided that all the shots would be integrated into the film as it should be.

During the films original release, there was a general outcry among a concerned public over the increasing amount of gruesome violence prevalent in mainstream motion pictures of the time. Since Paramount was the distributing studio for FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), (the one that started it all) they decided to make an example of this Canadian horror film by enforcing the removal of nearly all the scenes of gory violence wrecking havoc with the flow of the film.

Also on this new DVD edition, you have the choice of either watching the "theatrical" version, or watching the directors cut with the lost footage included in the feature. What is most curious, though, is that this supposed "theatrical" cut features some alternate shots not present in the original 'R' rated cut released to theaters, or on all subsequent video, laserdisc (includes the Japanese LD, too) and Paramount's DVD of the film.

The alternate shots consist of the flashback scene where the rescuers uncover the only survivor, Harry Warden. There is a shot of him feasting on an arm, the camera capturing the shot from the front of the actor. On all prior releases, the camera is above him looking down, yet there is no eating of the arm seen, just the actor holding the arm up to his mouth and coughing.

Another shot that is not in any prior release at all, but is seen in this DVD's theatrical version, is also from the flashback. The shot consists of Warden removing the heart from one of the men responsible for the cave in. It will be interesting to see if there is a big stink over the inclusion of this extra shot in what is supposed to be the original 'R' version of the film.

The film itself is (obviously) far more violent with these extra gore shots put back in place. Many of them are unusually lengthy such as the discovery of Mabel's corpse, the crazy bartender's death, the shower head victim and the nail gun death scene. Tom Burman (in addition to effects designer Ken Diaz) was one of the make up effects artists on the film and also had a hand in effects sequences for films such as THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), PROPHECY (1979), THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981), HALLOWEEN 3 (1983) and the 3-D sci-fi movie, SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983).

There are a good number of notable attributes regarding Mihalka's movie. One of the most interesting is the total lack of teen characters present. The characters here are all young adults and the love triangle is captured rather dramatically by the director and is handled very well compared with the cookie cutter cut out characters often associated with slasher pictures.

Rodney Gibbons' cinematography is commendable; all the more so considering the crew shot a good portion of the movie inside a real mine 900 feet underground. Considering that so many similar horror films were in production utilizing titles that recognized a holiday of some sort, this production was initially called 'The Secret', so that no one would know what the real name of the picture was.The stunt work is also good and all the actors and crew should be applauded for essentially risking their lives in a real mine to get the film in the can.

The score by Paul Zaza is suitably spooktacular when it needs to be if only occasionally ominous. The cues are subtle much of the time but the viewer gets a good stinger when one of the hapless characters is about to be offed in some gruesomely spectacular fashion. The dark natured ballad that plays over the end credits detailing the actions seen in the film has a Gordon Lightfoot sound to it and was sung by Scottish-Canadian John McDermott. He was hired by the films composer, Paul Zaza. The tune is very folksy and a good piece of music.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) is a bloody good time that is just as much fun now as it was back during its original release. The restored gore scenes are easily the only reason to double dip for those who have bought the previous edition from Paramount. But then, taking into consideration the alternate shot during the flashback sequence, fans may want to hold onto the previous DVD edition. One of the best slashers ever finally gets its due on DVD.

This review is representative of the Lionsgate DVD.


Sean M said...

I've never seen this Brian but am now very curious.I haven't yet read Mark Whitehead's review in his Pocket Essentails Guide To Slasher Films other than noticing his less than generous 2/5 rating and the obviously cut running time of 91 minutes.

How long is the new uncut version?

venoms5 said...

The uncut version adds a brutality that wasn't there before. The often lingering death scenes recall the vicious gore murders seen in THE PROWLER (1980) which had effects work from the great and revered Tom Savini. MY BLOODY VALENTINE is widely considered one of the best slashers ever.

TheReverendDoom said...

I plan on upgrading my copy to the new release. My Blood Valentine is one of my favorites.

venoms5 said...

It's one of mine, too, Rev. You'll enjoy the upgrade no doubt.

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