Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review of My Bloody Valentine 3D

My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)
Directed by: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Tom Atkins, Betsy Rue
7 out of 10 Stars

     My initial reaction to a remake of the 1981 Canadian slasher film, My Bloody Valentine, was not a positive one. Like every other horror fan I was convinced that the project was yet another unnecessary entry in the Horror Film Trend of the Decade- The Remake. Just like the slasher film craze of the 1980’s, to which My Bloody Valentine was a part of, there’s a formula: take a perfectly great (or marginally good, yet loved) horror film and turn it into slick, hip product. In this era, studios are relying on the general public’s recognition of horror’s most iconic films and characters for the singular purpose of grabbing all that cash. Almost none of these re-imaginings are any attempt whatsoever to improve on ideas laid down by the original versions. A lot of the filmmakers who take on these projects claim they want to bring something “fresh” to these movies, but instead the resulting remakes are arbitrarily cluttered with trendy visual styles, storytelling, music, and actors; stuff the suits think the kids want to see, regardless of whether or not they make for an effective horror film. In place of filmmaking, there’s now frantic music video editing. Wherever there was suspense and atmosphere, now there are action film set-pieces. Instead of real characters, we get hot celebrities reacting rather than acting.

     My Bloody Valentine was an extra-sensitive case for me; the original film was one of the first scary movies I saw as a kid. Obviously the image of “Harry Warden” in a miner’s mask and uniform made an impression on me, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate its merits of the film itself. Of all the imitators that came in the wake of perennial favorites, Halloween and Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine proved to be one that could stand up with the pictures that inspired it, and in turn it ended up as one of the most memorable of the early 80’s slasher boom. The 1981 flick (directed by George Mihalka) was not a happy joyride like Friday the 13th or its countless wannabes; it’s a pretty dark and bitter shocker. Or at least it was before the Motion Picture Association of America took a pick-axe to it- sorry, I had to- but more on that later. Valentine was also remembered for its gloomy, atmospheric locales and a bevy of characters who were adults with compelling drama, as opposed to teenagers who are just looking to get laid.

     Of course I’m not suggesting that Valentine is some great piece of cinema, but given the way studios and producers approach doing a remake of an old-school horror film, I thought the idea of Lionsgate wanting to utilize Mihalka’s film as a springboard to make a real scary movie was equally insane.

     Directed by Patrick Lussier and scripted by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith, My Bloody Valentine 3D, however, proved me dead wrong and pulled off one hell of a miracle by knowing exactly what kind of movie it wants to be: an extremely gory and genuinely scary flick. And it delivers!

     In the fictional town of Harmony, whipper-snapper Tom Hanniger (Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles) ignores experienced miner, Harry Warden, and decides to be a hot shot, inadvertently causing his family’s mine to collapse on a number of workers. Warden is the only one found alive, and he’s rushed unconscious to the hospital. He wakes up on Valentine’s Day really pissed off and slaughters everyone (and I mean everyone!), leaving the bodies with open chest cavities in full view of the audience! He then dons his old uniform and mask to extract his revenge on Hanniger, who’s partying with girlfriend Sarah (Jamie King) and friends down in the mine. More gory chaos ensues as Warden buries his trusty pick-axe into hapless partygoers before Sheriff Burke (Tom Atkins) and other cops arrive to put Harry down…supposedly. That’s just the first ten minutes! We then flash forward ten years later. Hanniger comes back to town on the anniversary of the Valentine’s Day Massacre to sell off the mine, much to the dismay of the town. He also finds his old girlfriend married to buddy Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith), who’s now sheriff. People find it strange that Tom comes back at this particular moment, especially when the bodies, as well as the hearts in heart-shaped boxes, start turning up. Yet some folks seem to think Harry Warden is still alive and isn’t done extracting his revenge. What follows are a lot more bloodshed and the possibility that someone else could be picking up where Harry left off.

     My Bloody Valentine 3D retains the gloomy, overcast settings, the claustrophobia, and the gore of the original film, but it is different in tone. It’s obvious that the filmmakers, in addition to paying their respects to the original, really wanted to recapture the no-holds-barred, grisly, seedy, and a bit sleazy spirit of the early ‘80’s slasher heyday and instead of replicating the bitterness of the ’81 film, MBV3D is unapologetically fun. It does have its humorous moments, but it never forgets that it's a horror film, so there's none of the ironic humor that permeates a lot of genre pictures in the post-Scream era. It’s a lot closer in tone to first couple of Friday the 13th sequels.

     Also, rather than just rehashing the plot of the original film, Lussier and the writers pay homage to the ’81 plot with the opening bloodbath, leaving the rest of the film to function as a would-be whodunit. It does retain the love triangle of the original- as Tom tries to convince Sarah to leave Axel (who’s clearly a borderline abusive jerk who got his mistress knocked up) - to this time serve the mystery aspect rather than make compelling drama. Even if you’ve seen the original film, the 2009 redux does do a good job of keeping the audience guessing until the end.

     Of course, audiences aren’t concerned with that as much as...the gore! The film’s violence is more unrelenting than in most mainstream horror flicks I’ve seen in this decade. However, unlike the brutality of Saw knock-offs, whose pseudo-documentary style reduces viewers to zoned-out voyeurs, Lussier (who worked as an editor on Wes Craven’s Scream) relies on building suspense to make the kills truly shocking as well as making the audience jump out of their seats. It’s true the build-ups were inspired by other scary movies (The Shining, Zombie, and the original My Bloody Valentine come to mind), but my God do the scares still work! Even the fake scares work! How many times have we seen in other movies where some idiot pops up out of nowhere to try to frighten the other characters? We roll our eyes, don’t we? Not so with this movie.

     The script doesn’t leave any room for the actors to really do anything but to merely function in the roles given to them. Ackles plays his part as sort of a slightly demented clone of his Dean Winchester character from Supernatural. Jamie King is a standard Scream Queen, but unlike in The Tripper, she participates. Kerr Smith handles his role okay, but still looks too young as a sheriff. He resembles too much like Dewey in Scream to be taken absolutely seriously. However, Julliard training isn’t required for a film like this, and at least the cast actually tries to resemble grown-up characters, which is more than I can say for most actors in movies like this. It was a great joy, for me at least, to see the return (to the genre) of Tom Atkins, best known for supporting roles in John Carpenter’s The Fog and Escape from New York, as well as playing the no-fun dad in Creepshow.

     There’s so much to love about My Bloody Valentine 3D, one can’t help but be disappointed by the film’s climax, which, after so much tension, leaves the viewer a bit cheated. I guess the ending the writers came up with not only prevented them rehashing the plot of the ’81 movie, but also served Lionsgate’s need for a sequel set-up.

     I know I haven’t spoken much about the 3D aspect of the remake, but it’s because I have no base of comparison. This was the first time I went to a 3D movie ever in my life, so how can I really judge that? It was fun to experience the film that way, but I’m still convinced the movie works without the gimmick. The reliance on creepy atmosphere as well as gross-out effects is what made this remake work as an effective scary movie. My Bloody Valentine 3D isn’t meant to replace the 1981 classic. It’s worthy enough to exist alongside it the same way John Carpenter’s The Thing does with the 1951 film, because unlike most horror remakes these days, and unlike Harry Warden’s victims, My Bloody Valentine 3D has heart.

I couldn't post the trailer from YouTube, so here's a link to it:

~Doctor Splatter

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