Cupid. Hearts. Coal-mining-pick-axe-wielding-serial-killers. Chocolates.
One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.
Because if you’ve ever enjoyed the sheer deliciousness of this week’s feature, you’ll know not since the odd coupling of chocolate and peanut butter have two great tastes tasted so great together.
That’s right kids: today, we tear into the heart-shaped horror of My Bloody Valentine.
It’s got something for everyone: romance, intrigue, pageantry, enough beer to drown a giraffe, impalement, dueling harmonicas. And if we dig deep enough, there may even be a few lessons from the Good Book in there somewhere.
What’s not to love?
The collective whole of the horror movie industry should send a thank-you note to whoever determines holidays. Because of that shadowy celebratory committee (Editor’s note: the usual shadowy committee, Congress, is only responsible for naming Federal holidays, it turns out), there is certain to never be a shortage of source material for slasher flicks.
Following the meteoric success of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween in 1978, large and small studios alike tried to cash in on the holiday (in the broadest sense of the term) revenge-killer theme. Some enjoyed a decades-spanning longevity (Friday the 13th) while others only achieved one-hit-wonder (again, a broad term) status (April Fool’s Day). From Christmas (Black Christmas) to Mother’s Day (in the even more unoriginally named, Mother’s Day), no holiday seemed sacred to producers.
The vacances du jour for 1981 was Valentine’s Day. But in a non-sequitur curveball, Canadian offering, My Bloody Valentine, featured not a sadistic bow-hunting Cupid, but a…pick-wielding coal miner?
The story opens on February 12 as the sleepy little mining town of Valentine Bluffs is preparing for its first public Valentine Dance in twenty years. That’s because two decades prior, a pair of murders derailed the dance following a horrific mining accident. Two foremen had left the mine early to attend the dance, forgetting the group of miners still working down below. An explosion claimed the lives of all the men in the mine, except one—Harry Warden—who survived by cannibalizing his co-workers before spending a year afterward in a psych ward. Harry came back a year later, and took his revenge by murdering the foremen, leaving their hearts in Valentine’s candy boxes at the dance. Harry warned the town never again to hold a Valentine’s Dance, but once the memory of the killings began to lose their edge, local laundromat owner Mabel Osborne (Patricia Hamilton) re-organizes the once-proud tradition to help the town move on.
As the current group of young folk (all the boys, miners themselves) prepares to enjoy the first swell dance of their lives, things start getting sinister. When Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds) and Police Chief Jake Newby (Don Francks) stop by the dance hall to see how the decorations are coming along, one of the kids hands the mayor a box of Valentine candy that had been left on a table for him. Attached is an anonymous note. As he rides away with the sheriff, the mayor opens the note, finding a chilling rhyme alluding to the decades’-old murders. When he opens the box, instead of chocolate hearts, he finds a human one, dismembered and bloody. When Mabel is found butchered and steamy-fresh in her shop later that evening (thanks to a gas-masked, pick-axe-wielding miner who looks like West Virginia’s answer to Darth Vader) the mayor calls off the dance. It appears Harry Warden has returned to Valentine Bluffs.
Meanwhile, tensions heat in a sordid love triangle. After an unexpected year-long hiatus, the mayor’s son, T.J. (Paul Kelman), has just returned to town and has gone back to his job in the mines. T.J. is more than just a little put-off by the fact that his former girlfriend, Sarah (Laurie Hallier), is now dating fellow miner Axl Palmer (Neil Affleck). Sarah can’t decide which dust-faced lothario she prefers as both men vie for her affections.
Undeterred by the mayor’s kibosh, the meddling kids decide to host their own Valentine’s party. And what better place to kindle romance, they reason, than down at the mine (does anyone else see how this will end?). While planning the soiree at the local watering hole, Happy (Jack Van Evera), the crotchety old barkeep, warns them to cancel the party and avoid the mine. But the headstrong younguns will have none of it, mocking poor Happy as they continue to booze it up and plot holiday shenanigans.
Like the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, Happy’s words are rejected by his intended audience. Undeterred, he devises a plan to convince them to heed his words. Hoping to scare some sense into the brazen kids, Happy rigs up a fake Harry Warden out back of the bar once they leave. But when the “real” Harry shows up, he’s not exactly flattered by the likeness. Poor Happy dies as he lived—with an ironic scowl—when he gets some unscheduled pick-axed oral surgery.
At the big party the following night, T.J. and Axel come to blows over Sarah. Meanwhile, “Harry” starts picking off the other revelers one by one, though no one else seems to notice. They’re oblivious to the tangy face-flavor of the hot dogs, after Harry gives a bit character an Oscar Meyer Swirly in the boiling cook pot prior to chilling his corpse in the fridge. They even miss him there when they reach in for beer. (Sidebar: if you’re said actor, do you include that stellar role of insignificance on your résumé?)
When the party starts getting dull, one group of revelers decide to take a quick jaunt down into the heart of the mine for coal car rides (because entertainment in Valentine Bluff is apparently quite lacking). Meanwhile, someone finally notices poor What’s-His-Name in the freezer and assumes the role of town crier. T.J., Axel and Sarah head into the mine to get their friends to safety, figuring Harry has returned. They get their confirmation when Harry shows up and starts swinging his pick like he was back on second shift.
A messy game of cat and tunnel rat ensues as our heroes try to climb out of the veritable hell they’ve wandered into. It’s the age-old formulaic morality lesson of slasher films: engage in a little debauchery, suffer violent justice at the hands of a murderous, avenging angel. Usually the most righteous character is delivered unto salvation by being the sole survivor, but not before they serve a little penance for their immoral complicity.
Sarah is the prime example in My Bloody Valentine (spoiler alert, she makes it out—as if there haven’t been enough revelations thus far). Even though she seems to have the best head on her shoulders of anyone in the group; even though she seems to know better, she goes along with them and with all the drinking and unmarried sex that invariably crops up in any horror movie worth its weight in…well, drinking and unmarried sex.
As believers, too often we fall into the same trap—ending up in a cold, dark hell by going along with the crowd instead of standing up or speaking out. Scripture warns us of the dangers of conformity in 1 John:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2: 15-17).
And the danger of tolerance not only threatens us as individuals, but, (as in Sarah’s case in MBV) the larger group as a whole (i.e. society). In the book of Judges, the Israelites’ tolerance and subsequent conformity to the culture of the Canaanites brings down God’s wrath and stifling oppression from other nations. It is only when they heed the Judges’ God-given orders, reject the wicked Canaanite practices and turn back to God that they find peace.
Though likely hard-pressed to be considered a classic of the genre, My Bloody Valentine was beloved enough to be remade in 2009. The original is light on the scares, and the gore is not overpowering (thanks to censors, who forced producers to cut eight minutes of footage to avoid an X-rating). The faith overtones don’t hit you over the head like a pick-axe, but you can find a few nuggets if you dig deep enough. And did I mention a guy gets murdered with a pot of hot dogs?
Oh, you bloody Valentine.
Be mine, indeed.