Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

by Jimmy "The Anti-Cupid" Callaway

On Thursday, February 14th, 1929, soldiers of Al Capone’s, disguised as police officers, marched seven of Bugs Moran’s gang into a garage on Clark Street, lined them up against the wall and gunned them down. That’s the ten-cent version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, probably the most famous organized crime story in our country’s history. Nowhere in my reading on the subject have I come across any reason why Capone picked that particular day to up the ante in his turf war with Moran, and I have the feeling that if Bugs Moran had tried to muscle in on the action at one of Big Al’s dog-tracks later on in the year, we’d probably be still hearing about the Arbor Day Massacre. Or more likely, if it hadn’t happened on an ironic holiday, we wouldn’t be hearing about it at all.

That’s real life, though. Real life is pretty dull, so we’re forced to make tenuous connections between celebrations of romance and a mass murder of men who referred to others in the plural as “youse.” Y’know, just to liven things up a bit. Art, however, allows us to make these connections freely without having to completely ground things in reality. Therefore, we can have a story about, say, alien visitors coming to Earth, but have it really be about apartheid. Or a story about the dead rising from the grave to feast on the living, but it's really about race relations in America. Real life has no sub-text, and it can be really difficult to work it into any kind of literature as well, but it’s much more rewarding to stretch the imagination rather than credibility.

Or you can just try to cash in on the trend of naming slasher movies after holidays.

Again, I hate to impinge on the motives of any filmmaker (in print, anyways), and so I say this as objectively as possible: if you’re gonna have a slasher movie that takes place on Valentine’s Day yet has fuck-all to do with Valentine’s Day, then you’re a big hacky jerk with whom I will never be best friends.

Yes, yes, yes, the town is called Valentine Bluffs. Yes, the killer sends his victims’ hearts to the police chief in heart-shaped candy boxes. Yes, the first victim in the movie has a heart tattoo above her boobs (the only boobs in the whole movie, as I recall. Also, the only victim to not even get an actual character name. Draw from that what you will). But these are all entirely superficial to the story, complacent nods to the title.

Look, I’ll give you the synopsis really quick before we get back to this: the mining town of Valentine Bluffs finds itself under siege by an unknown killer. It’s believed to be Harry Warden, perpetrator of a string of murders twenty years prior. It seems way back when, a bunch of miners were left in a cave-in because their bonehead foremen were eager to get to the Valentine’s Day dance before all the punch was gone. Harry survived, though, and wreaked his revenge, thereby passing into urban legend status as some sort of boogeyman who’ll kill anybody celebrating Valentine’s Day.

I mean, it’s not a bad premise, but what does it really have to do with Valentine’s Day? Change the name of the town to Lincoln Heights and you could call the movie Presidents Day. If the foremen had been on their way to a 4th of July barbecue, I’d be writing about We, the People...Will Be Slaughtered! right now. Put it in an office setting and we can make it into Bring-Your-Daughter-to-Die Day.

On a similar note, once it’s revealed who the killer is, the reasons as to how this person became a homicidal maniac are even more boring than the movie itself. One of the things that draw us (or draws me, anyways) to these movies is the tendency on the killer’s part to totally confuse sex and violence to the point where they’re inseparable as concepts. A kid goes through an especially traumatic experience—like, I dunno, he sees his parents boning and then get killed at the same time—the kid is completely warped by this, he is in no way able to handle all the grief the world can give him nor can he appreciate the beauty in the world, and then he snaps. That’s a story I never get sick of, but My Bloody Valentine couldn’t be bothered apparently.

Another thing about the big reveal is that anyone even halfway paying attention will notice that not only was the killer without motive in several killings (not anything new there, but still), but also could not possibly have killed at least two of his victims, unless the laws of time and space have been suspended.

But this movie does have a couple things going for it. For one, it was filmed in Canada, so everybody talks like Bob and Doug McKenzie, and that’s always fun. For another, most of the characters are pretty likeable. All the twenty-something miner dudes and their chicks seem like they’d be fun to hang out with. I wouldn’t mind shotgunning a Coors Light with Hollis and then arm-wrestling. Howard pre-dates Chris Parnell by about fifteen years. So that’s all right.

The other thing is something that I’m sure is painfully obvious by now, but it still interests me, and that is the red herring. For those of you not in the know, a red herring is a literary device with which the author tries to throw you off the scent of the real killer. So in this movie, it’d be Harry Warden. As I was watching this, it occurred to me how completely pointless is the use of the red herring in these movies since, without fail, the guy any of the characters think is the killer never is the killer. Not only are the filmmakers not fooling anybody, but they actually reinforce who it must be by effectively eliminating a suspect from the list. I find this pretty funny, I guess, or at least noteworthy: by utilizing the same tool again and again, these guys have all but dulled it into uselessness. Way to go, exploitation film producers. Thanks for churning out another boring-ass movie.

As if I don’t have reason enough to hate Valentine’s Day.