Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Lionsgate’s remake of the 1981 Canadian slasher MY BLOODY VALENTINE stays surprisingly loyal to the original screenplay by John Beaird (who also did an uncredited polish on HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME), but with the added attraction of 3D in its initial theatrical release. Director Patrick Lussier, who learned how to make horror films from Wes Craven, for whom he edited the SCREAM pictures, has fun with the Real D 3D process, jamming shotguns, pickaxes, bullets, bloody hands, and anything else he can think of right in our faces. As an homage to the notorious stalk-and-slash pictures that were ubiquitous in the 1980s, Lussier’s film—from a screenplay by Todd Farmer (JASON X) and Zane Smith—works very well, delivering nifty gore murders, a genuine mystery that’s fun to figure out, and the most gloriously gratuitous nude scene Hollywood has served moviegoers in a long time.

Ten years after miner Harry Warden went nuts and was apparently killed by Sheriff Burke (genre favorite Tom Atkins from THE FOG and HALLOWEEN III) after he murdered a couple of dozen partying teenagers inside the Hanniger family mine, scion Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles of The CW’s SUPERNATURAL) returns to Harmony, Pennsylvania. Tom left Harmony immediately after the now-notorious killings, and only returns now, after his father’s death, to sell the mine, which may put most of the town out of work. His former girlfriend Sarah (Jaime King, SIN CITY) is now married to his rival, Axel Palmer (FINAL DESTINATION’s Kerr Smith), who replaced the retiring Burke as county sheriff.

Also making a comeback, coincidental with Tom’s return to Harmony, is apparently Harry Warden, whose body was never found after he was presumed dead in a mine cave-in during his killing spree. Dressed ominously in a full miner’s uniform and mask, wielding a heavy pickaxe, Warden rampages again, beginning with an eye-raising attack on Irene (Betsy Rue)—she, Tom, Axel, and Sarah were the lone survivors of Harry’s previous murders—Axel’s old girlfriend, now turning tricks with truckers at the local motel. Rue plays the entire scene fully nude, which should win her some sort of Good Sport award from horror fans.

A jealous Axel, though an unfaithful husband, wants to pin the new murders on Tom, whose plan to sell the mine to a conglomerate has earned him the enmity of nearly everyone in Harmony, except his late father’s business partner Ben Foley (the welcome Kevin Tighe, ROAD HOUSE). Farmer and Smith craft the story as a mystery—is Harry Warden really back after a decade, or is someone in Harmony posing as him? Almost everyone in the cast is a passable red herring at some point, and the script doesn’t always follow the accepted rules of horror storytelling, leading to a final twist that doesn’t completely work, though it was a surprise to me.

I doubt MY BLOODY VALENTINE plays as effectively in 2D, but it’s worth seeking out in 3D on the big screen. Lussier directs with glee, splashing your Real D glasses with grue as often as he can. Veterans Atkins and Tighe, who have plenty of screen time, provide the movie with necessary sand to balance the younger leads, who aren’t bad, but are never convincing as adults. While I’m trying to avoid a comparison of the two versions of MY BLOODY VALENTINE, this remake is much less effective at creating the believable blue-collar environment that was so crucial to director George Mihalka’s original. That one also had an authentic Canadian setting, which added appealing local color that the Pennsylvania-lensed remake doesn’t have—Lussier’s film could have been made anywhere.

Horror fans have been generally disappointed in Hollywood’s recent crop of slasher remakes—PROM NIGHT, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (sic), HALLOWEEN PART PI, ad nauseum—but I think Lionsgate got this one right. It has respect for the original MY BLOODY VALENTINE—to the point of re-creating some of its more famous moments—while giving the material enough of a contemporary spin to make it its own animal. It’s no horror classic, and I imagine, in 25 years, fans will probably still be watching the Mihalka film, instead of this one (particularly since Lionsgate has now released the 1981 film in its uncut glory, something of a Holy Grail of slasher aficionados). It’s still a worthwhile thrill ride, at least in its 3D cut. Check your brain at the door, of course. And try to stay in your seat when Harry Warden swings his sharp pickaxe at your face.

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