My Bloody Valentine (1981) was a favourite of mine in my teens. It’s one of the many examples of the ‘holiday-themed slasher’ craze that took off in the early ’80s after the Halloween and Friday the 13th series started to get big. It’s also much, much better than Valentine from twenty years later, although I do have a soft spot for that one as well.
This film’s Canadian – most people will probably be able to tell that from the accents, but I’m terrible at discerning between American and Canadian accents (you’d think I’d be better at that now that I have a Canadian sister-in-law, but no!), so it’s other little details that give the film its Canadian charm for me.
We start off with a couple of miners exploring a mine. Oh, hang on, they turn out not to be miners but a couple looking for a secluded location for getting it on. The lady seems to have a miner mask fetish, and also has a tacky heart tattoo above her left breast (I love this detail ’cause you hardly ever see women with tattoos in ’80s media!). The dude turns out to be the killer and she gets pickaxed fairly quickly.
A caption reads ‘Thursday, February 12th’ (placing the film in its year of release, 1981), and we see a group of miners finishing work and getting showered – the focus is on a guy called TJ, who has apparently only recently returned to town, and whose ex-girlfriend Sarah is now going out with another guy called Axel. We get some redneck banjo music as they all drive off, similar to the music that annoyed me in Friday the 13th when Jack, Marcie, and Ned were driving to camp. The small town where the film is set is called Valentine Bluffs (‘The Little Town With The Big Heart!’), and a Valentine’s Day dance is being advertised everywhere.
The miners go in to meet the town girls who are setting up the hall for the dance. An older lady, Mabel, is in charge of decorating, and is very excited about the ‘first Valentine dance in twenty years’. The town mayor, Hanniger, asks her not to emphasise the fact. ‘Let’s put all that other business to rest,’ he says, although the younger residents are clearly not on the same page – Howard, this film’s prankster and hence someone who probably won’t survive very long, scares Mabel in the usual fake-blood-and-screaming way that people prank each other in horror films.
Mayor Hanniger is soon joined by the police chief, Jake Newby. They seem a bit cautious about the dance, presumably due to whatever happened before. TJ leaves grumpily after getting fed up at the sight of Sarah with Axel, and Mayor Hanniger dumps some backstory about TJ, who’s his son. TJ apparently failed to make a life for himself ‘out west’, which is why he’s come home. Mayor Hanniger owns the mine, in addition to being mayor, and so has sent TJ back down the mine, which is where seemingly every other young guy in town also works.
A box of Valentine chocolates arrives for Mayor Hanniger, which he’s very happy about – apparently Mrs Hanniger has him on a diet – but when he opens it in Chief Newby’s car, it turns out to be a human heart in the box. Horrified, he realises that what happened twenty years ago is happening again.
At the Cage, which is a daft redneck bar where all the young people in town go (the younger characters in this film are constantly referred to as ‘kids’ by the older characters, but the dialogue puts them at about twenty-five and some of them look closer to forty, so I’m not going to use that term!), Axel and Hollis (who’s overweight and has a giant moustache but is somehow dating Patty, the hottest girl in town) are playing five-finger fillet, and the barman is doommongering. ‘This town is accursed!’ I love a doommongering old man character.
Thanks to the barman, we get a narrated flashback to what happened before, complete with really well-done 1960-1961 fashions! In 1960, two mine supervisors were impatient to get to the Valentine dance and so failed to check that all men were safely out of the mine. Five men were buried alive as a result. After six weeks, the townspeople were only able to rescue one of them, Harry Warden, who had gone mad by that point. The barman was the one who found Harry. Harry spent a year in a mental insitution, then escaped and returned to get his revenge by murdering the two supervisors on Valentine’s Day 1961, twenty years before the events of the film. There’s not been a Valentine dance since, because of the fear that Harry might return.
The young people laugh at the barman’s story (a good sign that they won’t survive!) and get on with singing a bawdy song about Harriet, the barmaid. TJ is clearly not over Sarah no matter what he says, and is grumpily playing pool shots by himself.
Chief Newby calls the head nurse at Eastfield sanatorium, where Harry was committed, but she doesn’t know offhand whether Harry is there. The coroner tells him that the heart in the chocolate box is that of a thirty-year-old woman (presumably the woman in the intro sequence, although she looked a lot older than thirty!) and that it’s been cut out of the body without any skill. ‘Looks like Harry Warden’s back in town.’
At the launderette where she works, Mabel is sorting stuff out for the dance. (There’s a Moosehead beer crate on the table, which is a Canadian touch I really appreciate!) She comes out of the back room to find a chocolate box with an ominous rhyme inside:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
One is dead
And so are you
As promised, the killer soon takes care of Mabel.
The miners have moved out to the bar’s car park – some to get late-night food, some to brood about stuff. Axel is playing harmonica. TJ wants a word with him and so joins in with the harmonica playing (I guess everyone has one in their pocket in Valentine Bluffs). They soon get into an argument about Sarah – Axel feels that she was fair game given that TJ left town – and Axel storms off. Hollis comes over to calm TJ down, and TJ says he doesn’t blame Axel – he just doesn’t know what to do. This whole love triangle subplot is kind of uncomfortable, because neither of them ever seem to care about Sarah’s wishes at all.
The next day, Chief Newby is still finding it difficult to get answers from Eastfield sanatorium. The nurse tells him that they’ve got no file on Harry, so he must have either transferred, been released, or died, but the records don’t go back that far – she’d have to check the microfiche, and that will take days. Chief Newby tells her to get on it fast.
Sarah and Patty are shopping in town. Sarah feels down about the TJ/Axel situation and doesn’t want to go to the dance, but Patty insists she comes and has a good time. ‘Besides, you gotta see the dress I got – cut down to here, slit up to there, I may not make it out alive!’ she says, with a nice frisson of foreboding for the audience. Meanwhile, in the launderette, Chief Newby finds that all the heart decorations have been turned upside down, and that Mabel’s dead body is in one of the driers.
The miners are down the mine again for the day’s work, and Axel is giving TJ a hard time because of the Sarah situation. Their supervisor breaks the fight up and sends TJ for an early shower.
Chief Newby and Mayor Hanniger decide to cover up the fact that Mabel was murdered, ’cause they don’t want to cause panic. They put out the word that she died of a heart attack instead. Is this actually legal? Mabel’s heart is found inside another chocolate box with another cheery rhyme:
It happened once
It happened twice
Cancel the dance
Or it’ll happen thrice
Mayor Hanniger tells Chief Newby to cancel the dance and lock up Union Hall, where the dance was due to take place, much to the disappointment of the girls who have come to make final preparations. Meanwhile, TJ, taking advantage of his early shower to avoid another fight with Axel, leaves work, picks up Sarah, and takes her for a drive to their previous favourite romantic spot in order to apologise. She kisses him, but is clearly still torn between the two boys. As such, while TJ joins the others at the Cage, Sarah walks home alone, ruminating.
She then bumps into Chief Newby in a total copy of the Sheriff Brackett ‘I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare’ scene from Halloween, complete with similar dialogue and everything!
At the Cage, the barman suspects what really happened to Mabel, and is telling everyone she was murdered. The young people aren’t listening, and TJ suggests using the recreation room of the mine for a Valentine party – because it’s his dad’s mine, he has access to the keys.
The barman is fed up of nobody listening to him, and breaks into the mine to prepare a fake scare with a pickaxe for the partygoers, so that when they open the door to the recreation room, they’ll think Harry Warden is attacking them. He’s far more amused than he should be by his own prank, so he keeps opening the door to give himself a laugh. Of course, the fourth time, it’s a real killer with a real pickaxe, who quickly finishes him off!
The next day, Chief Newby is pensively standing at the door of the police station, with ominous Valentine streamers blowing everywhere. Meanwhile, the young people go into the recreation room to start setting up for the party. One of the partygoers, Dave, goes to get sausages from the kitchen and immediately gets murdered-by-boiling-water.
Chief Newby receives a chocolate box, and steels himself to find another heart, but it turns out to be an actual chocolate box, sent by Mabel before she died. He has a bad feeling about the mine, though, and decides to go and check it out. On the pavement outside, some stray dogs are nibbling at another heart in a chocolate box. You didn’t stop the party! says the note, and frankly, I’m a bit disappointed in the killer for giving up on his poetry attempts.
After Patty building up the sexiness of her dress earlier, it isn’t that exciting. It’s a perfectly nice timeless red shift, though, and I’d probably buy it if I saw it at a vintage fair. There’s another showdown between TJ and Axel, but Hollis breaks up the fight and sends Axel outside.
Meanwhile, a couple from the party, John and Sylvia, have gone off to make out in the changing room. I love Sylvia’s outfit – her boots and jumper are soooo 1981! Before they get down to business, she decides they need beer, so John heads to the kitchen to collect some. As he passes a couple of girls who are helping themselves to sausages, one of them shrieks slightly – she’s found Dave’s cooked heart in the pot, but doesn’t know what it is. Because of this distraction, John doesn’t notice Dave’s body in the fridge as he takes out the beer.
In the changing room, Sylvia hears strange noises, and notices the showers being turned on. Escaping from a maze of mining clothes falling on top of her, she meets up with the killer. John returns, and gets excited when he thinks Sylvia’s in the shower room. She is, but she’s dead.
Chief Newby arrives at the mine, but before he can go in, he immediately has to turn around due to getting a report from the station about Eastfield sanatorium calling back. Patty wants to cheer Sarah up, so she persuades Hollis to take some of the partygoers down into the mine. TJ’s not happy about it, but Hollis says they’ll be quick, and gets the lift down with Patty, Sarah, Howard, Mike, and Harriet.
They end up staying in the mine for longer than Hollis intended, mainly because Patty and Harriet want to explore the abandoned part of the mine. Howard hears a noise, but it’s dismissed as rats, and Mike and Harriet decide to split off from the party so they can have some alone time (which is always such a great idea!).
Upstairs, the partygoers have realised that Dave and Sylvia are dead. TJ takes charge, and sends the others off to call the police. He and Axel bury their differences and go down to rescue the mine party. Howard is still pulling pranks, dropping down from the roof to scare the girls when Hollis tells them the story about Harry Warden.
At the police station, the fleeing partygoers tell Chief Newby about what’s happening at the mine. He immediately heads over, calling the reinforcements in as he drives.
TJ finds the group in the mine and tells them what’s going on, and he and Hollis go off to find Mike and Harriet, leaving Howard to look after the girls. Hollis finds Mike and Harriet dead, and is fatally wounded himself, but makes it back before succumbing to his injuries. Patty becomes hysterical as a result, meaning she won’t leave Hollis’ body, and Howard runs off without waiting for the girls (cowardly behaviour, which is another sure indication of a character not surviving!).
Axel finds the girls instead, and takes them towards the lift, where they meet up with TJ. The control panel for the lift has been sabotaged, so they have to climb up the ladder instead, including the girls in their heels (love those 1981 heels! they’re actually quite practical for ladder-climbing, not like today’s five-inch stilettos). Sarah yells for Axel not to go too fast, as Patty is a slow climber due to fear of heights (or something – she’s turned into a total useless muppet after witnessing Hollis’ death!).
Unfortunately, Howard’s corpse drops past them, spattering everyone with blood, and they realise the killer must be at the top of the ladder. They climb back down and head to the railcarts instead. In order to start the carts, Axel tells TJ to take the girls over and yell when they’re across. However, they soon hear the sound of a groan and a splash, so they assume Axel’s been killed and thrown into the water.
TJ sends the girls ahead along the tunnel while he goes to start the cart. There’s a loud crash from his direction, however, and so the girls run back. This was not a good idea, as the killer suddenly swings around the corner and kills Patty.
Meanwhile, the police reinforcements are arriving, and Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby lead them down the mine tunnel. TJ finds Sarah, but the killer arrives just as he starts the cart. There’s then a great chase sequence along the cart, followed by a fight between TJ and the killer next to the track.
Backing the killer into a side room, Sarah pulls his mask off, revealing Axel’s face. ‘Axel! Why?’ gasps TJ. The question is answered by a daft flashback to Axel as a small boy witnessing the murder of his father, who was one of the negligent mine supervisors. Surely this is the kind of thing that should have been seeded already – why would the other young people in the town act so cavalier and jokey about the Harry Warden story if they knew that their friend had witnessed the brutal murder of his father at the hands of Warden? (In fact, thinking about it, it’s kind of odd that the young people dismiss the whole thing as a ‘legend’ before it starts happening again. They’re all in their early-to-mid-twenties, so the Warden murders happened within their lifetime – and in a small town like that, the events should have cast a huge shadow when they were growing up, with everyone knowing exactly what happened.)
The police arrive as the room collapses, TJ and Sarah only barely escaping the collapse, and Chief Newby explains that he took the call from Eastfield – they confirmed that Harry Warden died five years ago. TJ tells him that it was Axel, and Chief Newby and Mayor Hanniger are both like ‘of course! the witnessing-his-father’s-murder thing!’ like they should have known it all along.
‘He’s alive!’ yells someone, and Sarah runs back to the collapsed room, followed by TJ. Axel is crawling away through the wreckage, having gone totally mad, and is spouting mad pronouncements. Among them is the best attempt at Valentine poetry he’s made throughout the whole film:
Harry, Harry, I’m coming!
This whole f***ing town is going to die!
We’re coming back, you bastards!
Sarah, be my bloody Valentine.
(The word ‘bloody’ is probably not used in the mild British expletive sense, but I’m going to pretend that it is, because it makes the poem EVEN BETTER.)
There’s then a very silly folk-rock song over the end credits, which I’d totally forgotten about!
I really enjoy this film. Won’t wait so long before watching it again!
A real classic for the final entry of the month tomorrow.