Outside the obvious franchises (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc.), perhaps the most beloved slasher of the early eighties was the Canadian thriller My Bloody Valentine, a claustrophobic gorefest that, despite being heavily censored by the MPAA, still became a huge hit with the splatter fans. Boasting the key elements that would make an effective slasher – a masked killer, horny victims and an isolated environment – My Bloody Valentine would fail to spawn a succession of sequels like many of its contemporaries but still struck a chord with audiences. The film would mix horror with a tale of a love triangle between a woman, her new boyfriend and her ex, who had simply vanished some time earlier. But once the violence kicked in, the kills come thick and fast and, prior to the censors severely trimming the final product (by an astounding nine minutes), the special effects were brutal and plentiful.
Deep in the darkness of Hanniger Mine two figures move cautiously through the tunnels. Eventually they find a place to stop and one of them begins to strip off, revealing itself to be a sexy young woman (Pat Hemingway). Still wearing its mask, the other figure begins to fondle her breast as his breathing grows louder and more tense through the miner’s mask. Digging a pickaxe into the wall beside them, the miner pulls her closer and begins to fondle her, before suddenly grabbing hold of her tightly and forcing her back onto the spike, which rips through her chest, killing her instantly. The town of Valentine Bluffs is a quiet Canadian town which relies on the production of the mines. Most of the young men work down inside them, two thousand feet below the surface. It has been twenty years since the town last celebrated Valentine’s Day and Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds) has decided that it is time to once again.
The miners and their lovers are preparing for a party, but there is tension in the air. T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman) has returned home after mysteriously disappearing and has started working back at the time. But his ex girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier), whom he had left behind, is now dating his old friend, Axel (Neil Affleck). Believing that he can win her back, T.J.’s presence has angered her new boyfriend, who constantly locks horns with him. Meanwhile, hoping that the town’s dark past is behind them, the mayor receives a Valentine’s gift in a heart-shaped box, but when he opens it he discovers the heart of the girl the miner had killed earlier, with a note reminding him why the celebration had been outlawed originally. Chief Newby (Don Francks) fears that the Harry Worden (Peter Cowper) has returned to continue what he had started two decades earlier.
With Newby eventually forced to once again cancel the dance, the miners meet in their local bar to plan something new. Whilst there, the creepy bartender Happy (Jack Van Evera) recounts the events which had caused the town to live in constant fear. When negligence caused an explosion in the mines, five workers had been trapped underneath rubble for several weeks, with only Harry being found alive. Having been forced to feed off of his companions in order to stay alive, he had eventually turned insane. One year later, he would exact revenge on those responsible before warning the town that if they ever celebrated Valentine’s Day again he would return. Soon afterwards, Hollis (Keith Knight) decides to take his girlfriend Patty (Cynthia Dale), Sarah, the cowardly Howard (Alf Humphreys) and horny couple Mike (Tom Kovacs) and Harriet (Terry Waterland) down into the mine, but Harry is not far behind them.
Whereas most slashers revolve around a group of high school teenagers, My Bloody Valentine thankfully took a different approach by having their protagonists as a group of twenty and thirty-somethings, who worked such an unglamorous job. The love triangle between T.G., Sarah and Axel may be pure soap opera but it adds a depth to the movie not found in many slashers. The isolated setting is perfect, with the mines extremely claustrophobic (the production had shot on location at the Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia), almost becoming a character in its own right. The image of the killer is also an inspired move, with the creepy heavy breathing and deadly weapon making him both sinister and iconic. Without the severe MPAA cuts, there was enough gore to satisfy the bloodthirsty fans, but even without them the film offers enough tension to remain unsettling.
There are a few minor flaws with the movie. The subplot involving T.G. and his rivalry becomes a little monotonous after a while and some of the other characters lack anything unique about them. Also, once the face of the killer is revealed it seems somewhat of an anticlimax, as his features being hidden behind the mask was what made him so threatening. It’s a shame that the film was butchered by the censors as the gore was plentiful and effective. Despite Lionsgate inserting three minutes of previously unseen footage into their recent DVD release, there is still a further six minutes which has since perished. But the flaws that do exist do little to dilute the overall effect of the film. All in all, My Bloody Valentine was an effective thriller from the makers of the equally stylish happy Birthday to Me and is one slasher that all fans should check out.