History repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce. Back in 1981, the original My Bloody Valentine was a modestly effective Canadian slasher cashing in on Friday the 13th (1980). This 21st century update is a big-budget carnival ride of carnage, served up in gut-splattering 3-D. Terror strikes a small mining town after a collapsed tunnel traps a group of miners, with young Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) blamed for the accident until fellow survivor Harry Warden (Richard John Walters) is unmasked as a murderer. Comatose since their rescue, Harry escapes hospital, dons his pit-helmet and gasmask and hacks a bunch of nurses to gory bits. As grizzled Sheriff Burke, genre vet Tom Atkins surveys the bloody aftermath with a world-weary: “Happy fucking Valentine’s Day.”
Director and co-editor Patrick Lussier, the onetime Wes Craven collaborator who directed Dracula 2000 and its sequels, leaves the plot details to a snappy, pre-credits newspaper montage, then jumps headfirst into the 3-D enhanced teens-in-terror stuff. An anonymous dude gets a pickaxe through his eyeball and a blonde babe gets her face bisected, until the cops riddle Harry with bullets.
Ten years later, an interesting plot development has grumpy, ne’er-do-well Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith) now town sheriff and married to Tom’s onetime sweetheart, Sarah (Jaime King). He is also getting busy with gorgeous Megan (Megan Boone) on the side and less than happy when she tells him she is pregnant. A pill-popping Tom resurfaces in town and stirs anger by announcing that as sole stockholder, he plans to close down the mine, leaving half the locals unemployed. Even worse a certain gas-masked psycho-killer pops up again to resume spearing victims with his rusty pickaxe. Has Harry Warden cheated death and returned for revenge?
Being a horror fan who dislikes most (though not all) slasher movies might sound like a contradiction in terms, given how this sub-genre has consumed its parent and come to define “scary movies”. But it’s the way they’ve reduced horror to such a cynical, conservative and repetitive, mass marketable formula, that I despise. While no classic, the original MVB was distinguished by its killer being less puritanically driven to slash sex-happy teenagers than lashing out at a bleak, uncaring world - and often at grumpy old miners. The remake conforms to the slasher movie template with victims designated by nudity, skirt length or social status (e.g. the babysitting maid), alongside a couple of authority figures just to remind us the madman has a (pick)axe to grind.
Presented with a naked starlet in eyeball widening 3-D, a splattery death isn’t what one wants to see, but this is aimed at those who adhere to the formula and on that count delivers the goods. Lussier’s skilful editing lends punch and pace to the scare sequences and only one shot of a butchered foetus strewn across the floor errs into bad taste. Yet from the full-frontally nude Irene (Betsy Rue) being chased by the killer in a lengthy sequence that stands as a hilarious new benchmark in gratuitous, to the midget motel owner hoisted aloft on the pickaxe, and imperilled Megan flapping her arms and squealing “Stop yelling at me!” while she tries to unlock a door and escape the psycho, every set-piece invites us to laugh. Jensen Ackles, broodingly handsome star of TV’s Supernatural, usually has charisma to burn, but falls short here saddled with a character who is as much a gimmick as the 3-D and the whole Valentine’s Day angle, which doesn’t add up to much aside from a few torn hearts delivered to the sheriff’s office. Slasher movie plots are notorious for refusing to play fair, but the new script by Zane Smith and Todd Farmer makes ridiculous leaps in logic then ends on an outrageous cheat that contradicts everything that has gone before. “We’re being mocked”, says Axel of the killer’s modus operandi, which sums up the film’s attitude equally well.
The sub-plots are soap opera silly and dealt few favours by a soppy supporting cast, although Dawson’s Creek and Final Destination (2000) alumnus, Kerr Smith isn’t bad as the atypical Axel. Keeping in mind this review was drawn from a DVD viewing without the benefit of 3-D glasses, the effect didn’t add much for me save for that distracting red and green tinge and a headache.