With such a glut of slasher movies released in the early eighties in the wake of Friday the 13th‘s unexpected success it seems that money-hungry studios and producers have an endless supply of material to work from. With the promise of new variations of The House on Sorority Row and A Nightmare on Elm Street in the near future, 2009 became the year of the slasher remake, kicking off in January with Lionsgate‘s 3D reboot of My Bloody Valentine, a Canadian thriller originally released in 1981 at the height of the boom. With the slasher genre only offering one previous 3D effort, 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3, MBV was a welcome addition to the current cycle and became one of the most anticipated horror movies of the year. Drafting in the talents of Patrick Lussier, a frequent collaborator of Wes Craven and Dimension Films (cutting such flicks as Scream, Mimic and Halloween H20), and Jason X scribe Todd Farmer, Lionsgate launched an impressive advertising campaign that focused solely on the promotional gimmick of the 3D gore.
But, as any horror fan can tell you, there is more to a good movie than just graphic violence. There are several requirements that make an effective film, such as a strong script, likeable characters and plausibility, and if any of these are absent then the overall product can suffer. Slashers are often generic so the story is not always original or even intelligent, but events have to unfold at an adequate pace and the occasional twist can help keep the audience interested. Characterisation is more important than with most genres as the viewer’s sympathies must lie with the victim/protagonist, otherwise there is little suspense when they are placed in danger. The characters must also be believable and, where possible, reflect the film’s target audience, as a story is at its most effective when the viewer/reader can relate to the hero or heroine. It is this aspect that a bad slasher most often fails on, as boring characters can make for an uneventful story.
The film opens with a tragedy in which a mine had collapsed and trapped five workers, with only one of them rescued six weeks later. In a coma and traumatised by the events, Harry Worden (Richard John Walters) eventually escapes one year later and seeks vengeance against Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), who was accused of causing the accident after failing to follow all safety measures which had caused an explosion. Whilst partying in the mines late one night with a group of friends – including sweetheart Sarah (Jaime King) and lovers Axel (Kerr Smith) and Irene (Betsy Rue) – Tom comes face-to-face with the psychotic Harry but is saved at the last moment by the police, but not before his attacker flees back into the darkness of the mine.
A decade later and Tom returns to his hometown in order to sell the mine that his father had left him when he had died. Having left everyone behind shortly after the accident, he soon finds that he is greeted with hostility, especially as the town relies on the work brought in by the mine and him selling it on could cause much of the population to lose their jobs. Axel, meanwhile, has since become the sheriff and is married to Sarah, though he is also having an affair with Megan (Megan Boone), who helps out Sarah at her store. Whilst she is unsure how to feel about the return of Tom, Axel feels threatened by his wife’s ex being back on the scene, and events take an even more bizarre turn when Irene (Betsy Rue) and her trucker lover Frank (Farmer in his traditional cameo) are brutally murdered at the same motel that Tom has checked into.
The authorities become even more suspicious of him when a miner is slaughtered whilst Tom is present, despite him being found trapped in a cage. It is soon revealed that soon after Harry’s bloody rampage ten years earlier he had been tracked down by Ben Foley (Kevin Tighe), a respected member of the community and Burke (Tom Atkins), the cop who had originally investigated the case. They head out into the woods to unearth his corpse in an effort to prove that Tom is the guilty party, only to discover that it is missing. Tom later tries to convince Sarah that Axel is the real killer, after finding evidence that he had been sleeping with Megan, who has also been killed. Unsure of whether to trust her husband or childhood sweetheart, Sarah is trapped by them both, knowing that one of them is the real killer, but which one?
As with Scream, My Bloody Valentine utilises the whodunit strategy that was common with the works of Agatha Christie, a major influence on the slasher genre. Whilst it is obvious almost immediately from the beginning that the killer must either be Axel or Tom, Farmer and Lussier attempt to fool and misdirect the audience for as long as possible, though sadly the final reveal seems like an anticlimax. Had the writers (the original draft had been penned by first-timer Zane Smith) thrown in a major twist by having Burke or even Sarah as the murderer then this could have proved effective, but revealing the prime suspect as the killer is too predictable. MBV also suffers from the same flaw as most slashers, with every character except the principals (in this case Tom, Sarah and Axel) being underdeveloped and used purely as pickaxe fodder.
But Farmer has a fun sense of humour (as was evident with Jason X, a movie which divided the fan base more than any other sequel, with perhaps the exception of A New Beginning) and knows how to write humorous dialogue. Another key element to his style is the inventive kills that he creates, from the liquid nitrogen shattered head death in Jason X to a sequence in MBV when, soon after Farmer’s sleazy trucker is offered, Irene is chased back into her motel room (fans of the flesh will be pleased to see a full frontal of the actress) where she is pinned against the wall using the bed as a shield. As the killer swings his pickaxe, she uses the body of the bed to protect herself from the spike, although it is only a matter of time before he finally manages a lucky shot.
One aspect that MBV succeeds in leaps and bounds is the 3D, by far the greatest example of how to use the effects and far superior to not only the old red and green glasses that many of us grew up on but also more recent efforts such as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and The Nightmare Before Christmas. In one sequence, which was included in the theatrical trailer, the killer throws his pickaxe out at the audience, which is shown to leave literally the screen. This was not far from the truth as the shot does cause the viewer to flinch. Without the 3D effects, MBV is a by-the-numbers postmodern slasher – it does this job it is supposed to do but little else – but in 3D the movie is an exhilarating and enjoyable experience which is highly recommended for fans of blood and laughs.