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My Bloody Valentine

1981, Starring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight. Directed by George Mihalka.

Black Christmas may have been one of the first films to start the trend, but slasher films scripted around holidays became quite popular in the 1980s. These films relieve the tension of stressed-out moviegoers, giving them a chance to strike back at the festivities that have them feeling less than jolly. So what better holiday to show people getting killed than Valentine's Day? Probably the most depressing day of the year for those who have nobody to celebrate with (and let's face it, if you're a teenage slasher movie fan, you are most likely going to be alone this day), Valentine's Day seems made for horror. Picking up on this, director George Mihalka's second film, My Bloody Valentine, was made at the height of this holiday trend. Surprisingly, it is also noteworthy as one of the most distinctly Canadian horror films ever made.

The small mining town of Valentine Bluffs is all geared up for Valentine's day. There are paper hearts and streamers everywhere and the young miners are stoked when they hear that the town is having their first Valentine's Day dance in twenty years at the Union Hall. Our hero TJ is looking forward to meeting up with all his old mining buddies, having just returned to town after an extended absence. Even though his ex-girlfriend Sarah will be at the dance with some guy named "Axel," TJ isn't holding a grudge.

Not even odd names can put a damper on the festivities, though. The miners are still not put off when the crazy local bartender (and chief plot expositor) starts repeating the town legend at the watering hole that night. Twenty years ago, at Valentine Bluff's mines, part of a tunnel caved when the mine supervisors left early to go to the Valentine's Day dance. Five men were buried alive, and only one was eventually found alivea man named Harry Warden. Deeply troubled by the experience, he was committed to a nearby psychiatric hospital. On Valentine's Day the next year, Warden broke out, put on his full mining gear, and killed the supervisors with a pick-axe. Then, he ripped out their hearts, put them in heart-shaped candy boxes and delivered them to that year's partywith a warning to never have a dance again or he would return.

Not so coincidently, the town Sheriff also got a candy box earlier that day. When he opens it, he discovers a human heart and a card containing a warning about the upcoming dance. Remembering Harry Warden's threat, the Sheriff begins to wonder if the killer might be back in town. After going to Mabel's Laundrette, where he finds Mabel's bloody remains rolling around in the dryer, he is convinced. With the dance officially cancelled, the younger couples are so disappointed that they decide to throw a party themselves, at the mine's canteen.

Even though many innocent people may die, those crazy kids just can't resist their partyingthis is a rural Canadian town, after all. During the evening, TJ has to stop Axel from manhandling Sarah, and she reveals to everyone that she wants to get back with TJ. When Axel finds out, he gets violent and TJ has to throw him out of the party. But he probably wouldn't want to stick around much longer anyways, as two party-goers are found dead, murdered by the mysterious miner. Everyone decides to go home, but unfortunately, a half dozen of the partygoers (including Sarah) missed the excitement when they decided to go down in the mine. When these amateur explorers start getting separated from the group and killed one by one, it is up to TJ to get them.

My Bloody Valentine was filmed in Nova Scotia's Sydney Mines, and it often feels like you're watching an episode of The Beachcombers. The main street of the town is filled with small buildings with colourful wooden siding. In addition to gratuitous shots of Moosehead beer, you can even detect Maritime accents in some of the characters. What is even more surprising is that the whole set up for the plot is distinctly Canadian, and seems to give a nod to Goin' Down the Road. One of the characters reveals that TJ has returned to work in the mines after he failed to make his fortunes "out west." One of the partygoers has a similar story revealed, of being forced to return after experiencing life outside of Valentine's Bluffs. Like our hapless Maritimers Pete and Joey, the young adults in My Bloody Valentine are unable to support themselves outside of their small, mining community.

Like other Canadian-made slasher films, sex does not really come into play in My Bloody Valentine, and there is no real rhyme or reason to why specific people are killed at certain times. Harry Warden's initial killings are motivated by the revenge of the working man, and the real murderin' miner is not selecting victims on the basis of moral subtexts.

A common complaint about My Bloody Valentine is the fact that this valentine is not very bloody at all. Don't chalk it up to Canadian politeness, thoughthere is some controversy surrounding the lack of gore in this movie. Originally, the MPAA intended to give the film the dreaded "X," a rating popularly (but falsely) associated with adult films that would mean a quick death for a movie since it closed the traditional advertising channels. As a result, all of My Bloody Valentine's "offensive" footage was removed to secure an R, and ensure that the film could still open on Friday the 13th of February.

Today, Mihalka is best known for his decidedly more artistic and celebrated Canadian film, La Florida. However, My Bloody Valentine stands up with Black Christmas as the best Canada has to offer in the oft-slighted slasher horror subgenere. The unstoppable evil miner is very effective, his identity hidden by a gas mask and a construction helmet with headlight. I even found myself wondering why more low budget films like this didn't use mines as a setting--much more atmospheric than the ubiquitous abandoned warehouse. It also doesn't hurt that the films is competently made, well shot, and expertly paced.

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