The quiet mining town of Valentine’s Bluff is trying to live down its tragic past. Twenty years ago on the night of their annual Valentine’s dance an accident occurred in the mines. Two neglectful supervisors decided to start partying early and forgot to check the methane gas levels. Six men were trapped in the resulting cave in. The only survivor was one Harry Warden who resorted to cannibalism to survive and went mad in the process. The next year Harry returned to exact revenge on those responsible, and to warn the town to never throw a dance again unless they wanted more bloodshed. Legend has it that every year he comes home to make sure his threat is heeded.
After 19 years the town decides enough is enough and starts decorating the streets and hanging up flyers promising a dance. That’s when the Valentine boxes begin to arrive with bloody human hearts nestled inside, and good old Mabel who’s helped with the decorations is found burned to a crisp at the laundromat. Again the festivities are cancelled but a group of young folks make the unfortunate decision to throw their own party in the very place where Harry’s troubles began, in the mines. One by one the revelers are dispatched in horrifically clever, gruesome ways. Has Harry returned or does someone else have a pickaxe to grind?
You could not find a better example of an early eighties slasher film if you tried. MBV follows the previous year’s Friday The 13th’s format closely. In fact, the dance actually takes place on Saturday the 14th! But it’s savvy enough to add its own spin to the proceedings. The local boogey man legend, the doom saying old timers, and the post coital murders are all present but so is a rather original setting (the mines), a compelling love triangle and a somewhat earnest take on a working class dead end town. Harry Warden himself is an inspired creation, the flashback scenes of his figure roaming about in the fog clad in mining gear complete with head lantern and pick axe, create an image that is a perfect marriage of classic and modern horror.
Unfortunately for Harry there is a group that enjoys slashing things to ribbons even more than he does and that is the MPAA. MBV was originally granted an X rating. Paramount (who were set to distribute) originally gave the go ahead to lay the blood on thick but they swiftly reneged due to a slasher backlash that was brewing. At least nine minutes of gore were excised to insure an R rating. It must be said that the film does suffer from these edits. Some scenes verge on incomprehensible due to the choppy cuts and surely its box office was effected as well. You can’t blame horror fans for being a bit disappointed as several stills of wildly impressive mayhem had already been showcased in Fangoria and Famous Monsters but were nowhere to be found in the film. For many fans those lost scenes have become the holy grail of horror.
The biggest victim (besides the viewer) is Tom Burman whose virtuoso artistry was all but completely erased. Sadly his work on Cat People and Beast Within suffered the same fate. Anyone who has seen images of the cut footage can attest to the fact that it was equal to Tom Savini’s brilliant work the year before. In fact, the still of one victim being impaled on a showerhead, mouth opened in a Edvard Munch like scream is at least as iconoclastic as the famous Friday The 13th axe in the face, and it wasn’t even in the movie! I'm convinced if Burman's work of this era had gone unedited, fans would be speaking his name in the same breath as Savini and Bottin. The good news is that the elusive 9 minutes still exist so there is always hope of an uncut version. If we’ve learned anything from eighties slasher movies, It's that nothing stays buried forever. In the meantime, it speaks volumes that even a toothless edit of this film remains a slasher classic. We can only pray that someday soon Paramount wises up to the sleeping giant in their midst.