My Bloody Valentine has been a personal favorite for as long as I can remember, but while it’s always been highly regarded by horror fans, the lack of top-notch kill scenes seems to have kept it from achieving true greatness. As it turns out, those non-existent kill scenes had, in fact, existed all along but were cut from the movie due to constraints from an overzealous Motion Picture Association of America (the organization responsible for assigning ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R, etc.) to movies released in the U.S.). Thankfully, in 2009 those scenes were rightfully returned to a Special Edition DVD that was issued to coincide with the then-upcoming My Bloody Valentine 3D remake. Fans could finally see the 1981 classic in all its gory glory.
Everyone in the mining town of Valentine Bluffs is getting ready to celebrate its namesake holiday at the big Valentine’s dance Saturday night – decorations have been put up, dresses have been bought, and dates have been secured. The last Valentine’s dance the town held was twenty years prior when, in a rush to get to the dance, two mine supervisors left their posts early, causing a mine collapse that killed four miners and left one, Harry Warden, trapped for weeks. A year later Warden (Peter Cowper), seeking revenge, returned to the town, killed the two supervisors with a pickaxe, wrapped their hearts in Valentine’s boxes, and gave a warning that he’d return if the town ever held another Valentine’s dance. With the passing of two decades, the story of Harry Warden is a faded legend and, other than a couple of good-natured pranks by some of the young locals, it looks like this year’s dance will go off without a hitch. That is until the mayor (Larry Reynolds, Day of Resurrection, Killer Workout) receives a menacing poem and what appears to be a human heart inside a Valentine’s box. Is this just another prank by the town n’er-do-wells or could Harry Warden really be making good on his warning after all these years? (Spoiler: It’s not just a prank)
Upon being submitted to the MPAA for a rating, My Bloody Valentine received an X (similar to an NC-17 rating today) due to graphic violence. Accepting an X rating would mean most theaters wouldn’t show the movie, in essence killing its chances to make money, so the filmmakers chose to cut a few seconds from the goriest scenes and resubmit in hopes of getting the rating downgraded to an R. The MPAA told them more cuts would be needed and this back and forth continued until the kill scenes were, for all intents and purposes, completely eliminated. My Bloody Valentine became a slasher movie without any slashing. So why were the powers-that-be so hard on this particular movie? Head of the MPAA Jack Valenti did not hide his disdain of slasher movies and producer John Dunning (Happy Birthday to Me) has said he believes the severe censorship of Paramount-distributed My Bloody Valentine was Valenti’s way of punishing Paramount for having released Friday the 13th a few months earlier. Director George Mihalka believes John Lennon’s murder in December of 1980 was a factor in the MPAA’s overzealousness, and while probably not a direct cause, it seems plausible the widespread anti-violence sentiment that resulted from Lennon’s tragic death could have given Valenti the ammunition to do what he wanted to do anyway. Whatever the case, it seems that My Bloody Valentine was the wrong type of movie from the wrong company at the wrong time and took more of a hit than many other similar films would just a few months later. (And lest you think these statements about Valenti and the MPAA rating system belong with the tin-foil-hat conspiracy groups, seek out the excellent documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated to see just how subjective and sometimes arbitrary the process can be.)
Even with all the cuts that were made, My Bloody Valentine has regularly been regarded as one of the better slasher movies of all time, which speaks highly of its other attributes. The characters are, by slasher-movie standards, well-developed and likeable due to good direction and a solid cast throughout. Paul Kelman (Black Roses), Lori Hallier, and Neil Affleck (Scanners, Visiting Hours) are especially good in the lead roles, making it easy to become invested in the story which manages to stay fun thanks to plenty of comic relief from Howard, played by Alf Humphreys (Day of Resurrection, Funeral Home) who has been called the Canadian Donny Most (probably). One of my favorite things about the movie is that it is proudly and endearingly Canadian. Most of the early 80’s Canadian horror films sort of ambiguously pretend to be set in the U.S. presumably to be more relatable to their largest audience, and while not being overtly set in Canada, the copious amounts of Moosehead beer and northern accents are a dead giveaway (Hearing Paul Kelman say “sorry” leaves no doubt where this movie was shot). Hell, there’s even a folk ballad about Harry Warden during the end credits that would make Gordon Lightfoot envious. The movie is well-done in every way and with the reinsertion of the long-missing kill scenes, (Featuring a pickaxe, nail gun, shower head, and clothes dryer – I won’t give too many details because you really just need to watch them, but they’re some of the coolest I’ve ever seen) you’d be hard-pressed to find a better slasher film.
So do yourself a favor and get ahold of the Special Edition DVD or, better yet, Blu-ray of My Bloody Valentine, select the uncut version, and see this classic as it should have been seen in the first place. You’ll get three minutes more than with the theatrical release, but oh what a difference those three minutes make (The cut scenes weren’t able to be fully restored and appear a little darker than the rest of the film, making it easy to spot exactly which parts were removed). In fact, with the kill scenes back in the movie, I think a strong case could be made for My Bloody Valentine being the best slasher flick of the decade. Strong words, I know, but I wouldn’t argue against it.
“Cut down to there, slit up to here…I may not get out alive.”