The horror genre is nothing if not cyclical. Horror films are frequently picked apart and reassembled again in new packaging for new audiences. Sometimes this results in modern classics. Other times it results in a blasphemous product that defaces the legacy of the original. Remake Fever is a series that compares and contrasts an original horror film and its remake to investigate how the new film is reimagined, as well as what works and what doesn’t.
Spoilers for both 1981 and 2009’s My Bloody Valentine follow:
In 1981, a quintessential Canadian horror film was unleashed in theatres. My Bloody Valentine was made to capitalize on the booming slasher trend of the early 80s and, of course, took advantage of a vacant holiday slot on Valentine’s Day as a logical marketing tie-in. The film was shot on location in the abandoned Sydney Mines of Nova Scotia, lending the finished film an extremely authentic looking set for its mining massacre premise. The actual narrative – about a miner who returns on a tragic anniversary to execute revenge on townsfolk intent on celebrating the holiday – isn’t exceptionally unique, but several of the deaths are. Those include the opening sequence featuring a striptease that ends badly, a boiling water death that anticipates 1983’s Sleepaway Camp and poor Sylvia (Helene Udy) who, in the film’s best sequence, is caught amidst falling laundry and has her head impaled on a pipe.
Throughout the mid-to-late 00s, slasher revivals became all of the rage and My Bloody Valentine 3D was optioned during a run on 3D horror flicks. Starring Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles, miscast former Dawson’s Creek cast member Kerr Smith, bland Jaime King, a pre-The Blacklist Megan Boone, and everyone’s favourite slasher daddy, Tom Atkins (and his mustache), MBV 3D proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable remake in a sea of not-so-great attempts. Read Bloody’s original review here.
So why does the 2009 version work where others fail?
One element that the remake has working in its favour is a capital h Hard R rating.
The Patrick Lussier film establishes its take no-prisoners tone in a bravado extended 14 ½ minute opening sequence. Following an exposition-laden credit sequence of newspaper headlines introducing homicidal miner Harry Warden, the masked killer brutally slaughters an entire hospital and a group of teens partying at the Hanniger Mines in spectacularly gory fashion.
The sequence channels the best of Scream’s opening scene legacy by operating as a kind of standalone short. Not only are the main characters, Warden’s MO and the central conflict all introduced, but Lussier and screenwriters Todd Farmer and Zane Smith use this extended opening to clearly announce their intention to make a gory adult horror film. Bodies are cut in half, viscera is splattered everywhere and the film establishes its penchant for stabbing people through the eye get a pickaxe (all in glorious 3D, of course, which the film makes great, repeated use of).
Overall the film doesn’t lack for memorable set-pieces, particularly the late-night supermarket chase when the killer attacks Sarah (King) and her adulterous young co-worker, Megan (Boone). Later there’s an icky, gooey visual of Burke (Atkins) losing the bottom half of his jaw on the Palmer porch that evokes a classic kill in the original AND capitalizes on the remake’s 3D technology to excellent effect.
These gentle calling cards to the 1981 original, which include the delivery of literal hearts in candy boxes, a body in the dryer, discussion of the economic struggles of a poverty-stricken mining town and a (too brief) homage to the original’s laundry scene, are present but not excessive. My Bloody Valentine 3D is reverent to its source material, but the narrative and kills don’t placate fans or exclude new audiences.
What Doesn’t Work
There are several criticisms of the film that prevent it from being a classic slasher (or the best remake).
First and foremost, the romantic love triangle between Tom, Sarah and Axel – which is the emotional heart of the original film – is impossible to invest in because none of the three leads have any sexual chemistry. Due to the twist that Tom is actually the killer, Ackles never truly gets to do anything and he disappears from the screen for roughly half of the film.
This, unfortunately, pushes King’s bland Sarah and Smith’s very, very angry Sheriff Axel to the forefront. Smith, in particular, feels incredibly miscast. Not only does he lack any air of authority, his vengeful womanizing character is exceedingly unlikable (a love triangle only works when you like the people and Axel clearly deserves a terrible fate right from the start). Pro tip for Smith: lines like “The woman who I share a bed with and have sex with!” shouldn’t inspire unintentional laughter.
King, who must have royally pissed off the film’s hair stylist, is more adept at the Final Girl material than she is the emotional beats. When Sarah has to fight for her life, the character works but whenever she has dialogue about the town, her son (who is absent the whole film) or her love life, the performance completely flatlines. This is a character who works better when she’s wielding a gun (or a piece of meat from the frozen food aisle) than when she’s being a real human being.
In essence, this film lacks a Hollis character and suffers greatly for it.
Another (and to me, lesser) issue is the mystery of the killer and the twist. Far too much energy is spent trying to make Axel a plausible red herring, while for some audiences revealing that the defacto protagonist is also the killer is too polarizing a creative decision. It definitely doesn’t work for everyone and, naturally, the logistics also don’t completely add up (exhibit A: the scene when Tom locks himself in the cage in the mine). For my money, however, the elliptical visual flashes of Harry that occur each time Tom smashes a lightbulb in the mine in the climax alone make the twist worth it.
Finally, one element of the R rating that hasn’t aged well is the film’s second set piece featuring a fully nude woman running around a motel parking lot in high heels (whether or not this ever worked is debatable). The film literally pauses several times to oogle Betsy Rue’s body and while the accompanying score suggests the scene is meant to be comedic, in 2019 the scene feels particularly gratuitous.
Gore and the unbridled profanity (the film boasts “Fucks” abound) is welcome, but the nudity…? It’s egregious and contributes nothing to the story.
My Bloody Valentine 3D is an enjoyable slasher romp that holds up surprisingly well. Although none of the central performances are particularly strong, the gore and the premise are every bit as enjoyable a decade later. The fact act that the film was generally well-received by horror fans and made money – $51M domestically and $100M+ worldwide on a budget of $15M – but never received a sequel is puzzling (Lussier himself was frustrated that a second entry stalled out).
With new reboots of Pet Sematary and Child’s Play en route this year and a potential slasher franchise on the line with Blumhouse’s forthcoming Happy Death Day 2U, perhaps there’s a chance we’ll see Harry Warden (or Tom Hanniger) back on the big screen sometime in the future. Is that something you’d like to see?