ABCs of Horror 2: "M" Is for My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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ABCs of Horror 2: "M" Is for <i>My Bloody Valentine</i> (1981)

Paste’s ABCs of Horror 2 is a 26-day project that highlights some of our favorite horror films from each letter of the alphabet. The only criteria: The films chosen can’t have been used in 2019’s Century of Terror, a 100-day project to choose the best horror film of every year from 1920-2019, nor last year’s first ABCs of Horror project. With many heavy hitters out of the way, which movies will we choose?

At the heart of the vast majority of classic slasher films—and 1981’s My Bloody Valentine is about as classical as they come—is the simple mandate that every transgression must be punished. Nobody gets away with doing what they shouldn’t, and all who break the rules must face the deadly repercussions sooner or later. In 1980’s Prom Night, that means the group of kids who inadvertently caused the death of a young schoolmate eventually have to face the specter of vengeance. In Friday the 13th, the horny camp counselors find themselves on the receiving end of sharpened implements for the fact that their kind once allowed a young Jason Voorhees to drown in Crystal Lake. And in My Bloody Valentine, the unfortunate young people commit that greatest of all sins: They have the temerity to throw a Valentine’s Day dance.

Oh, I suppose there’s a little bit more to it than that, but at the same time there really isn’t. Slashers of this era come prepackaged with villain backstories and motivations that are elemental in their simplicity and purity. In this case, a deranged miner in a sleepy industrial town swore revenge after an accident resulted in him being trapped in the mine, where he was forced to eat his compatriots. Long since insane from his ordeal, the miner hunted down and killed those who had caused the accident, who had abandoned their posts to attend the annual Valentine’s Day dance. Then, with the rehearsed dramatic flair of a thespian doomcryer, he swore he would return if the town ever forgot what had happened and dared to host the dance again. Such economical storytelling is a hallmark of this particular era in horror.

Flash forward 20 years, and the new generation of disrespectful young people—strapping miner boys and their attendee girlfriends—have sworn off the old ghost stories about the mad miner, convincing the town in the process to resurrect the Valentine’s Day party. What’s left but for this avenging spirit out of the past to be resurrected with it, running amok with a pickaxe in hand?

The stage is thus set for one of the era’s most generally entertaining all-around slasher films, buoyed by surprisingly relatable interpersonal dynamics, interspersed with moments of shocking violence. It helps that the residents of this town have a bit more to their characters than meets the eye, being hard-toiling twentysomethings who dream of a life beyond their town, rather than the more typical collection of airheaded teens. Ultimately even the foundational legend of the killer himself is called into question—just who, or what, really wants to see all of these kids dead?

The most enduring and fascinating issues related to My Bloody Valentine, however, all occurred behind the camera, and in the editing bays. Facing increasing criticism and social pressure after the flood of slashers that hit the market since Halloween in 1978, censors turned their wrath on My Bloody Valentine for whatever reason, resulting in a theatrical cut of the film that producers referred to as having been “cut to ribbons.” Director George Mihalka has at various points referred to as much as 8 or 9 minutes of footage being cut in order to achieve an “R” rating, although it seems likely that not all of this material was in any way directly related to screen violence. Still, the original theatrical cut effectively neutered many of the film’s most gruesome kills, such as the frankly incredible sequence in which one of the characters is killed by having a shower spout jammed through their head, which continues to spray afterward with grisly effect.

For decades, this lost cut of the film was effectively slasher movie legend, as unedited photos published in horror magazines of the day effectively tantalized fans with what they were missing. To date, no “completely uncut” version of the film has ever been released, but the vast majority of all the juiciest and goriest footage has indeed found its way back in subsequent releases, first in the 2009 DVD and Blu-ray releases from Lionsgate, and then in the newer, 2020 Blu-ray from Scream Factory. These releases have helped to return My Bloody Valentine to the bloody glory with which it was originally meant to be viewed, which has subsequently helped to boost the film’s reputation in slasher geek circles. This is all to say, if you’re hunting down My Bloody Valentine today, you’d do best to make sure that you have one of the cuts of the film wherein the full kills have been restored, if you truly want the full experience.

Even without the new infusion of gore, however, My Bloody Valentine still stands out as a beautifully atmospheric exercise in classic 1980s horror trappings, taking full advantage of its mine-bound settings to create a unique slasher landscape that has never truly been replicated. For fans of the axe-wielding maniac genre, it’s an esteemed member of the founding pantheon.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.