Hello wonderful, awesome people of Kindertrauma!
I’m Matt. Like many people here, I grew up on scary movie video rentals, along with USA’s Up All Night and Saturday Nightmares, and have a special place in my heart for those films to this day. In the hopes that my other 728 favorite horror films will forgive me for not picking them, 1981’s underrated slasher classic My Bloody Valentine deserves some love. It never reached the mass audience or popularity that the movies of my pals Jason, Freddy, Michael, and Leatherface did, but it’s a terrific, fun, creepy film that’s worth your time. Why should we believe you, internet stranger? you may ask. Well, I rocked hats and vests every day in high school like my teen hero Debbie Gibson. If that doesn’t prove that I’m trustworthy, nothing does. Major plot and characters spoilers ahead!
1: The setting. The movie takes place in a small-town mining community. Director George Mihalka does an excellent job of showing the geography of the town. Everyone knows everybody. The people who live there have lived there forever.
But the real star is the dark, spooky, claustrophobic mine where the horror takes place. It’s gloomy, sparsely lit, and easy to get lost in. The walls feel as if they could close in on you at any second. You never know who it is coming down the tracks at any moment, hidden amongst the shadows. You’re trapped beneath the earth above you, with no cell phone or fancy electronics to call for help. (Ah, the 80s, when scary movies were much scarier because no characters had to pointedly say that there is no cell phone reception where they are.)
In the film’s creepiest scene, Harry Warden methodically smashes the mine’s only sources of light, far enough away from our protagonists so as not to be seen, but close enough for them to hear the shattering glass and realize something is off. The only person scarier to be stuck in a mine with would be Jon Gosselin or the Jersey Shore kids (shudder).
2: Harry Warden. Like a way crazier, scarier, more violent version of Scooby-Doo, Where are You!’s Miner 49er, Harry Warden is a rage-filled, intimidating psychopathic killer dressed in mining gear, complete with a gas mask and pick-axe. Harry warned the townspeople not to hold another Valentine’s Day dance after what happened last time, but apparently everyone in Valentine Bluffs just loves Valentine’s Day so much that they had to have one.
It’s not that Harry hates disco music or Moosehead Beer. (It was filmed in Canada after all.) Twenty years ago, on the night of the Valentine’s dance, there was a methane gas explosion in the mines that trapped several miners beneath the ground. By the time the rescue squad came to save the miners, only Harry was left – and he survived by eating his coworkers then killed the supervisors who were responsible for the accident.
It’s easy to see why he went crazy. I was stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes once and I started sizing up who I would eat first if no help came. I get you, Harry, even though you’re terrifying and I hope we never meet.
3: The characters (and actors). The characters feel like friends who have known each other forever. They’re likable and relatable. They care about each other even before the blood starts flowing and have to save themselves.
The performances all feel genuine and authentic. Sarah, T.J., Axel, Hollis, Howard, Patty, John, Sylvia, Mike, Harriet, queen laundress Mabel, the whole gang – I love them all. They’re real people with their own backstories, quirks, and feelings. Hollis looks like he’d be a great hugger. T.J. unironically sports an amazing bandana and makes it look good, something today’s manly men should try more often.
In a move that 90210’s Kelly Taylor would make famous years later, Sarah chooses herself over her love triangle with T.J. and Axel. Kelly owes a debt to Sarah’s second-wave feminism. Sarah isn’t afraid to fight back either; in the grand tradition of slasher movie final girls, she isn’t going to put up with Harry’s deadly shenanigans. Kelly had a scary psycho that she had to confront as well, the waify loony Tara. Is there some cosmic link between Kelly Taylor and Sarah Mercer? You heard it here first.
Side note: Years ago, I contacted Paul Kelman (T.J.) and Thomas Kovacs (Mike) on Facebook, and they could not have been nicer or more willing to discuss the movie.
4: The nine minutes of cut gore. This movie’s gorier scenes had been excised prior to release by the Puritans over at the MPAA. Thanks to the modern era of restoration and appreciation for this movie, nine minutes of grisly footage was added back into the film. The practical special effects for this film are nothing short of amazing and a testament to the hard work by the make-up effects artists, who made FX magic for little money before movie bloodshed was created by computers.
The death set-pieces are scary and inventive. The murders are graphic, unsettling, and nothing is played for laughs. I’ve seen Showgirls and Howard the Duck multiple times; I know terror.
5: The end credits song. “The Ballad of Harry Warden” is a sad, spine-chilling folk song that plays over the ending credits of the movie. Harry Warden has his own song! How many movie villains get their own ditty? Bughuul doesn’t have one. Neither does The Babadook. Nor Ted Cruz. Paul Zaza’s score and the song he wrote for Harry are memorable and haunting. The song caps off the movie perfectly.
Are you still with me? There are many more things I could say about this fantastic flick. Kindertrauma, I visit your site daily and always look forward to whatever magical words you will write about so many of my favorite movies. Thank you for reading!