JANUARY 7, 2009
One of horror’s great (well, actually kind of sad) ironies is that My Bloody Valentine is pretty bloodless. While some of the later Friday the 13th sequels may have gotten it worse, MBV is certainly the most MPAA-butchered slasher movie of the early 80s, and even more frustrating – the footage had never been properly restored. So when Lionsgate announced My Bloody Valentine 3D, I was pretty hopeful that even if the movie sucked it would have been worth the effort, because then the original’s missing footage would finally be restored (if there is one thing in the movie business that will never change, it’s the tradition of re-releasing the original on DVD whenever a remake comes along). And it was (buy it HERE), so hurrah! Plus, as a bonus, the remake is pretty good as well, so win-win.
(The review contains MINOR spoilers, but nothing that would give away any deaths or the ending)
One criticism aimed at the original is that the blood would have been the only good thing about it. I vehemently disagree, but those folks should be plenty satisfied with the 2009 version, since it has a fairly similar story (mine, accident, Valentine’s Day, TJ-Sarah-Axel love triangle, Harry Warden) but with the added bonus of the MPAA apparently just giving it an R for the hell of it. Maybe it was even more gruesome to begin with, but the kills here, particularly in the first 20-25 minutes, are among the bloodiest and prosthetic-y I’ve seen in an R rated mainstream movie in a long time. Eyeballs, the upper parts of heads, and lots of seemingly non digital blood fly around (in 3-D!) as Harry carries out his initial murder spree. Plus, we see the aftermath of two separate massacres (the opening scenes almost act as a speedy remake of the entire first film), with walls and floors covered in Valentine red. Yeah!
It’s a bummer though, that the film doesn’t sustain that initial level of old-school slasher fun and top notch kill/gore effects for its entire running time. While the remaining kill scenes are pretty great (if slightly repetitive – the miner uses his pickaxe a bit too much, rarely utilizing the environment or other implements), the movie as a whole isn’t as fun as the original, which is hard to ignore at times, especially during the Axel-Sarah-Tom love triangle type scenes (which echo the original’s, though most of the film plays out differently). While perfectly acceptable in its own right, it seems kind of weird to have this all 3-D set against a far more serious film. There’s no party, no generic fodder (there are only like 10 people in the movie, and the town itself seems unusually deserted), and other than a wonderfully trashy nude scene early on, the non-kill scenes play out like a drama more than the high-spirited fun of the original. Even the Valentine’s Day atmosphere is heavily diminished – it’s essentially limited to a few boxes of candy and a few signs advertising a party we never get to see. By my count, we see more fences and trees in 3D than we do of anything else, because a lot of scenes are just folks talking.
Another reason that the relative seriousness of the film surprised me, though more in a good way, is that it was directed by Patrick Lussier, who worked on the Scream films, and written by Todd Farmer, who wrote Jason X. I almost expected (feared) a really jokey, tongue-in-cheek, meta-heavy, “post-modern” slasher movie, which would have been really annoying. Yet it’s played straight up, even more than something like Hatchet. For example, the black guy in the movie never mentions his race - he’s just a guy who happens to be black. That was a relief, and a nice “shut the f- up” to all of those who claimed that it was impossible to do an old-school slasher movie after Scream did such a great job of deconstructing the genre. I just suspect that in their attempts to keep it from being “funny” that they might have inadvertently kept it from being as just plain “fun” as it could have been (really, if you take away the 3-D, everything after the first half hour plays out more like a psychological thriller with a few gory kills).
One other minor blemish is the Sarah character, played by Jamie King (why can’t she always go brunette in her movies?). King is fine in the role, and she goes through the motions with the best of them, but as the obvious Final Girl, the script really paints her as kind of a loser. She knows her husband is cheating on her, yet doesn’t do anything about it (she even calls his mistress “sweetie”, and not in a condescending way). There’s also a scene where Tom and Axel brawl and she completely disappears from the scene, and I spent the entire time wondering where she was and why she wasn’t helping (Lussier doesn’t even cut to her reacting to it all). Part of the fun of a slasher is seeing the heroine overcome both her personal problems AND her masked killer problems (simultaneously, such as in H20, is even more preferred), but Sarah never really gets that moment.
On the plus side, the movie offers two genre vets that more than make up for its shortcomings. One is Kevin Tighe, as the town’s mayor (I think – they never really make his job very clear), adding some class to the film in his 5 or 6 scenes. He also gets to have one of the film’s best “COMIN’ AT YA!” 3-D moments, as he points a shotgun right in our faces. The other is the real draw though: TOM ATKINS! It’s been ages since he appeared in a horror movie, and the moment he first appeared on screen drew a large cheer from myself and the other horror guys in the crowd (whilst the clueless douchebag behind us, likely there out of obligation, told us to shut up). He plays, what else, the sheriff, and lights up every scene he is in; singlehandedly delivering the “old school” feel that the film strives for but sometimes lacks. I can almost imagine that the script called for a “Tom Atkins type”, and then someone smart enough just said “Why don’t we get the actual Tom Atkins?”
Another good thing is how they more or less made their own movie while nicely working in some of the original’s more memorable moments. None of the characters are the same (the central trio’s relationship to one another is the same, but their actual characters, particularly Axel, are different), and the locations, except for the mine, are all new too. But even though there’s no Laundromat, there’s still a laundry based kill. And the Miner does his whole smashing the lights bit, but it’s tied into a sort of silly/sort of awesome editing trick (explaining more would spoil things). I would have liked to have had the theme song used or at least referenced, but can’t win ‘em all I guess.* Other movies get shout-outs too: one kill is stolen almost directly from the original Wrong Turn (itself a straight up throwback to a past-its-prime sub-genre), and another scene mimics the most memorable moment from Exorcist III. The 3-D horror legacy itself is even acknowledged; one character suffers a very Friday The 13th 3D-esque eyeball squeeze.
One less successful call-back to the original is a sneaky way of throwing suspicion off of the actual killer. In the original, Axel is seemingly killed when he disappears as he crosses a bridge, and his friends presume he has drowned. It’s not exactly genius, but it was enough to fool me. Plus, back then, I really thought it was Harry Warden anyway, so I wasn’t really expecting a twist. However, now we all know that it won’t be Harry under the mask, so the audience plays detective the whole time trying to figure it out. But what they do here (again, I can’t really go into details without spoiling) is basically a full blown cheat, which is not only a bit of a dick move, but also a problem more in general because of the film’s curious under-population – you are left with zero suspects after an hour. Plus, the few attempts at red herrings are pretty clumsy (a character shows up with some information that he should have had no way of knowing, and then gets killed moments later). That said, I must admit that even without the cheat, I wouldn’t have guessed who the killer was, and even though it’s a bit goofily executed, it’s certainly the most original whodunit reveal in quite a long time.
So it’s not without fault, but it’s a step in the right direction in terms of bringing back the slasher genre. Let’s be honest, it’s not like many of the original era slashers are perfect, and the sheer amount of them have limited what modern filmmakers can do without being labeled a ripoff of an older film, remake or not. The novelty may never be fully restored, but making a valiant effort is the next best thing, so kudos to all involved for doing just that. The 3D stuff is wonderful (especially, of all things, the opening titles, which take us inside a newspaper clipping montage) and largely gimmick free – this movie won’t be as annoying to watch in 2D as Friday 3D is. It also didn’t give me a headache, like Spy Kids 3D did, so bonus points for that. The acting is solid all around, and it delivers – albeit a bit unevenly – everything the best of the genre should: blood, tits, and Tom Atkins. In my book, that’s a win.
What say you?
P.S. You may have noticed that despite this review’s length, there are no F bombs or profanity of any kind. That is because just before I posted this review, I had an interview with Tom Atkins, and when I reminded him about my hosting the Halloween III panel this past fall, he said “Oh yeah, you’re the guy who was swearing the whole time.” So in honor of Tom, I have made this review family friendly.
*At the premiere after-party, Lussier told me that he tried valiantly to get the song in the film, but Paramount wanted too much money. I’d argue that no price would be too high, but at least he was trying. Also worth noting – at the party I was able to walk right up and talk to Paris Hilton, but Tom Atkins was being mobbed the entire time. Horror fans are awesome.