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Original vs. Remake: My Bloody Valentine
“Roses are red, violets are blue, one is dead, and so are you…”
Heart-shaped chocolates, fuzzy teddy bears, and crimson roses all encapsulate that over-bearing gushy feeling that sets hearts racing across the world all in ode to Valentine’s Day. Whilst I can’t say that I’m not a fan of hopelessly romantic films such as The Notebook (2004), there really is something special about Valentines-set horror’s that ooze bloody appeal. Without a doubt, one of the most reputable Valentine’s thrillers has to be My Bloody Valentine (1981), and as with any rocking slasher, this movie has been remade, leaving just one question- which one is better?
Let’s find out in the latest edition of Dead Northern’s Original vs. Remake…
The scene is 1981, within the last few years rising classics have dominated the horror market, including Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). The genre is very much alive, gaining interest amongst younger viewers rapidly. During this time we’ve had decent Christmas horror’s (Black Christmas ) and of course a plethora of summer flicks, including Tourist Trap (1979). It became clear that seasonal horror was indefinitely a growing trend, leading to studios to pick up newbie-director George Mihalka to create the future classic that is My Bloody Valentine.
Amongst the cheery atmosphere of Valentine Bluffs, a Canadian mining town, a dark history is fostered. Twenty years previous two supervisors in the mines abandoned the rest of the miners to attend the annual Valentine’s Day dance. In their haste they forgot to check the methane gas levels, resulting in a tragic explosion where the only survivor, Harry Warden, was left to rot, falling back on cannibalism to survive. The year after the incident Warden went on to hunt down the two supervisors, gutting out their hearts and placing them in Valentine’s gift boxes warning the town to never hold another Valentine’s dance ever again or else. Considering decades have passed many of the townspeople have buried his threat and decide to hold another dance, but whilst the residents are hanging up paper mache hearts and red balloons, the mayor and the police chief receive that same old heart shaped box containing a bloody human heart.
Launching My Bloody Valentine’s celebrated reputation is the full bodied plot basis that refuses to succumb to customary genre archetypes. Screenplay writer John Beaird and writer Stephen Miller established a story rooted in the mythos of tall-tales and the recklessness of jovial youths. The film is far from being a formulaic story, there is no summer camp monster, nor are the characters ridden with stupidity, making all the wrong turns at a risky time. The killer’s ethos may still be entrenched with a revenge based quality, yet the apt pacing and added love triangle element fuse together to concoct a balanced parable.
Further forgoing simplicity in favour of rich storytelling is the established production values that unfortunately are rather rare in 1980s slashers. The town of Valentine’s Bluff couldn’t get any more theatrical and audacious if it tried. Theming the town to be like the inside of a soppy Valentine’s card works wonders for the subject matter, it’s even somewhat gutsy. As overused as ‘juxtaposition’ is within horror analysis, in the case of My Bloody Valentine it’s entirely fitting. Seasonal horror universally benefits due to its own eccentric use of timely gimmicks. Without jack-o-lanterns and trick or treaters, many horrors set on All Hallows Eve wouldn’t have that same sentimental texture that drawers viewers in; just as My Bloody Valentine wields cupid tokens and sugar-coated characters to sweep the audience of their feet. The overt heart decorations and cozy atmosphere force an endearing streak of emotiveness, meaning that when someone meets their demise a grievous blow is delivered straight to the viewer.
It’s not just Warden that slashes the town to shreds, the vicious censorship that the film suffered also rips away at Mihalka’s work. When the film hit censors, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) was less than bemused over the gratuitous brutality. A total of nine minutes were cut and it wasn’t until 2009 when Lionsgate released the film that only an extra three out of those nine were restored. My Bloody Valentine is pretty gruesome with the kills being unmatched amongst many films at the time, but the graphicness that was removed from the film could have made Warden more of a threatening force to be feared, lining him up with genre greats.
Well, this is where the remake drastically differs. A feast of gratuitous nudity, explicit kills, and powerful stylisation all are put under the spotlight in Patrick Lussier’s 2009 retelling of a small town killer.
Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), son of the Hanniger Mine’s owner accidentally causes an explosion, caving in multiple miners, except for Harry Warden who whilst waiting to be discovered killed his fellow workers to conserve oxygen. One year later Warden awakens from his coma, murdering anyone he can at the hospital. Whilst Warden is preoccupied, Tom and his girlfriend Sarah (Jaime King), and their friends Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith) and Irene (Betsy Rue) attend a party in the mines as if a tragedy never occurred, but it’s not long until Warden makes his way to the mine vowing revenge. Sarah, Axel, and Irene escape but Tom is left to battle it out. Luckily for Tom, Sheriff Burke (Tom Atkins) shoots Warden before he can kill again.
Ten years have passed since the incident, and all seems forgotten; that is until Tom returns to the town of Harmony where he intends to sell the mines. Unfortunately, losing the tunnels is not the town’s only demise as it seems that a pickaxe wielding killer is on the loose yet again.
Having a 3D film basically does the marketing itself. Audiences crave immersion, the feeling of being one with the screen, the ability to be fully engrossed within the beauty of cinema. 3D cinema is exciting, especially when you add gory hits and blood spurts into the mix, then you’re in for a real treat, and the results really do show. Within the opening weekend alone over $24 million was grossed. Across the years the film has both raked in over $100 million at the box office and has received a cult status amongst horror fans.
The film is certainly not perfect, but the acclaim is truly deserved.
Kicking off the positives is the ruthless homage to crazy 1980s horror that doesn’t hold back on anything, almost like a rendition to B-movie aesthetics without the cynicism. There’s more than enough gore, crude language, and bare flesh to go round for everyone, with the film’s most redeeming quality rooted within the immodest finish that Lussier brazenly brings to the screen. With this being said, the violence was not overtly slapstick and gross, it was instead genuinely horrifying, it made Harry Warden a more iconic figure to be feared. The kills within the original were terrific, but his nature of being this damaged soul forced into revenge is slightly shallow within the execution. Although this is not necessarily Mihalka’s fault, alternatively the blame falls on those pesky censors. Rather than play tennis over which film is more graphic (bear in mind that the time the remake was made the threshold for violence was much higher) it’s vital to focus on how the remake’s gritty aesthetic is thoroughly entertaining and beyond rewatchable, which is aided by the film’s R-rating typicalities.
The remorseless brutality meant that not a single soul felt safe. Similarly, the way the slate was wiped clean after the exposition based opening meant that throughout the rest of the film every person was a suspect. Whilst Valentine Bluffs is cheery and wholesome, brimming with bubbly charisma, the remake’s town named ‘Harmony’ sweeps away the original’s dreamy atmosphere in favour of bestowing aloof locals who seem stuck in the dead-end town, and that’s just the background folk. The main characters are far from innocent, having affairs and backstabbing one another. To make matters even more complex, the whole whodunnit aspect is dialed up to 100 as the cryptic killer seems to not have a directly clear motive.
Speaking of the town’s unruly natives, the intertwining character dynamics coupled with the stellar performances propel the film into unfamiliar territory for mainstream slashers. I am a major raver for slashers, the good, the bad, and the ugly all reign supremely in my books, but that’s not to say that over the years the poor acting within a few select films tarnishes the overall effect. Within My Bloody Valentine the performances from Ackles, King, and Atkins definitely make the film a standout feature that begs to not be swept under the remake rug.
The entire premise of an unknown assailant cutting their way through a small town is the primary likening between both the original and remake. The plots are not separate. Lussier adapts the remake to be more of a companion piece, allowing for a sense of freedom. One of the most noticeable differences actually lies within the set design. Whilst Valentine Bluffs drenched itself in lovey-dovey iconography, in the town of Harmony the killings just so happen to take place around Valentine’s day, rather than the events being a direct correlation to the festivities. In fact, if you took away the odd notion towards the holiday the film could take place at any other point in the year. Although this aspect allows for a lot of flexibility regarding the viewer, for me it took away a certain level of charm that Mihalka honed in on.
To align both films together is a losing battle as they are entirely individualistic- a quality that is so precious to a successful remake. And whilst the kills in the remake are righteously barbaric, it is vital to remember those epic scenes found in the 1981 version, including the one and only laundromat kill, who doesn’t want to see a charred body lifelessly spinning in a bloody tumble dryer?
In other words, comparing two slashers that were made decades apart is trivial. Audiences have matured, many fans have seen it all, becoming desensitized to good old-fashioned carnage. The callousness that Lussier exhibits is only natural for a modern-day slasher, but then at the same time the original still holds up with every single watch, never becoming diluted or worn.
When it comes to this battle of ‘Originals vs. Remakes’ it’s certainly a tie.
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