|Director: Patrick Lussier
|Screenplay: Todd Farmer and Zane Smith (based on the 1981 screenplay by John Beaird and Stephen Miller)
|Stars: Jensen Ackles (Tom Hanniger), Jaime King (Sarah Palmer), Kerr Smith (Axel Palmer), Betsy Rue (Irene), Edi Gathegi (Deputy Martin), Tom Atkins (Burke), Kevin Tighe (Ben Foley), Megan Boone (Megan), Karen Baum (Deputy Ferris), Joy de la Paz (Rosa), Marc Macaulay (Riggs), Todd Farmer (Frank the Trucker)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 2009
|Jason Voorhees … Michael Myers … Freddy Krueger … Harry Warden? While most of those names, having been forever embedded in the pop culture consciousness as icons of ’80s slasher films, immediately ring a bell, the last one doesn’t quite fit. Despite having an immediately recognizable visual presence (a hulking man in black mining overalls and a decidedly creepy mining gas mask), an intriguing back-story (he was the sole survivor of a mine collapse only because he killed and ate six of his coworkers, an act that drove him insane), a signature weapon (a pickaxe), and a lust for vengeance, Harry Warden never quite caught on, which is perhaps why the low-budget Canadian slasher My Bloody Valentine (1981) remains one of the few movies of its ilk never to get a sequel (even 1980’s Prom Night got the belated and ludicrously titled 1987 sequel Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II).
However, despite never getting a sequel, My Bloody Valentine has now joined the ranks of ’70s and ’80s horror titles to get the big(ger)-budget remake treatment. Perhaps because the original is one of the lesser known holiday-themed slasher movies, the filmmakers have gone the extra mile of remaking it in 3-D, which, given the surprisingly large crowd at the theater where I screened it, will likely kick off a new boom in 3-D horror. Most of the three-dimensional effects are precisely what you would expect, with everything from pickaxes to tree limbs to various body parts coming out of the screen. It’s undeniably hokey, but also giddily effective, turning what might otherwise be a routine slash-and-hack job into a ridiculously gory theme park ride (the fact that “3-D” is part of the film’s official title is a clue as to how important it is to its effectiveness). Director Patrick Lussier plays everything to the hilt, taking additional license with the third dimension to goose the audience with both old-school make-up special effects and digital trickery that, in the movie’s first true shock moment, puts an eyeball right in your lap. It’s silly and gross, but also inanely fun, especially after the humorlessness of last week’s The Unborn.
However, even with its relentless focus on gotcha moments and visceral gore (torn open bodies are particularly grisly with the illusion of depth), My Bloody Valentine also packs in a decent story that keeps the movie intriguing right to the very end. Like the original Friday the 13th (1980), it is essentially a mystery thriller, with the killer’s identity kept constantly in question. The story opens 10 years in the past in a small, west Pennsylvania mining town ironically named Harmony. The screen fills with screeching headlines about Harry Warden’s murder of his colleagues in the collapsed mine, which is followed by his awakening from a coma in the hospital and subsequent slaughtering of every living being there, after which he moves on to a teen Valentine’s Day party being held in one of the town’s mines. The body count rises, although several of the kids survive, including Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith), his girlfriend Irene (Betsy Rue), Sarah (Jaime King), and her boyfriend Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), whose father owns the mine. Local police appear to kill the axe-wielding psychopath, although his body is never found.
We then cut to the present day, where Axel is now the Harmony police chief and has married Sarah since Tom disappeared after his night of terror. However, Tom returns to town after his 10-year absence in order to sell the mine, which does not endear him to the rest of the town given that the mine is the center of their economy and sense of identity. He is also not exactly welcomed by Axel, who is jealous of the fact that Sarah has never gotten over him, although that doesn’t stop Axel from carrying on an affair with Megan (Megan Boone), a flighty younger woman who works with his wife.
Things start getting ugly when someone dressed like Harry Warden starts to off members of the local populace, which drags up old memories and points new fingers at various suspects. The retired police chief (Tom Atkins) and mine operator (Kevin Tighe) swear that Harry Warden is dead, but an empty grave suggest that either maybe he never died or maybe he has been dug up and reanimated. Or perhaps someone else has taken on Harry’s identity and decided to continue his work? Axel certainly has an axe to grind (pardon the pun), and while Tom seems like a nice, although slightly distant, guy, he has been gone for a decade, so who knows what he’s been up to?
This is-he-or-isn’t-he mystery works surprisingly well, right up to a climax that finds Sarah pointing a gun at two men, either of whom could be the new killer. Screenwriters Todd Farmer (Jason X) and Zane Smith have played fast and loose with the original film, keeping much of its spirit, but reworking the characters and situations to create something more intriguing and engaging. They have also done us the favor of reworking the basic chronology so that the majority of the characters are edging 30, rather than 18. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its share of juvenilia, especially a protracted sequence that Betsy Rue plays without a stitch of clothing, far outstripping the usual slasher movie nudity mandate. It’s somehow fitting, though, for a movie that takes everything just a little bit farther than you think it could (or maybe should) go.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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