Sunday, December 29, 2019

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

... aka: Aniversario de sangre (Bloody Anniversary)
... aka: Blutiger Valentinstag (Bloody Valentine's Day)
... aka: Carnaval Sangrento (Bloody Carnival)
... aka: Dia dos Namorados Macabro (Macabre Valentine's Day)
... aka: Il giorno di San Valentino (Valentine's Day)
... aka: Meurtres à la St-Valentin (Valentine's Day Murders)
... aka: Secret, The

Directed by:
George Mihalka

In the small town of Valentine Bluffs, locals have decided to reinstate the annual Valentine's Day dance, a century-old tradition until it was canceled twenty years earlier... and someone's not too happy about it! Whoever that is has sent a grim warning in the form of a poem (From the heart comes a warning with bloody good cheer. Remember what happened when the 14th draws near.) and a heart-shaped candy box with a bloody heart stuffed inside.

Flashbacks reveal what happened two decades ago to prompt the town to cancel the dance in the first place. Five workers were down in the mines when two careless supervisors left them there to attend the dance. They also didn't check the methane levels before taking off which lead to an explosion which lead to the five men being buried alive. There was only one survivor of the blast, a maddened Harry Warden (Peter Cowper), who managed to survive six long weeks underground by cannibalizing the others. After spending a year in a mental institution, Harry was released and returned to town on Valentine's Day to kill the two supervisors with his trusty pick axe. He removed their hearts, stuck them in candy boxes and left them on a table at the dance, along with a threat to never hold another Valentine's Day dance ever again. And, until now, they haven't.

Coinciding with the latest threat is the arrival of T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman), who's returned to town after a long absence. Unhappy with the mining profession and the limitations of small town life, T.J. moved out to the West Coast to try to make it on his own, failed and has now begrudgingly returned to Valentine Bluffs to work in the mines. While he was away, his former girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier) has gotten romantically involved with his former best friend Axel (Neil Affleck), which causes all kinds of resentment and tension between parties. T.J.'s father (Larry Reynolds), who does double duty as both owner of the mine and the mayor, also happens to be the recipient of the heart-in-a-box. He and Police Chief Jake Newby (Don Francks) take it to a hospital where an analysis reveals that the heart is indeed of the human variety. Soon after, decorating committee president Mabel (Patricia Hamilton) is found murdered and stuffed inside a dryer at her launderette. And that's plenty to get the mayor to officially cancel the dance.

Not happy with their planned festivities being scrapped, T.J. proposes the idea for a Valentine's night party at his father's mine instead. Even though the group try to keep their plans quiet and hide their cars behind the building so no one driving by will see them there, the psycho somehow finds out about it and shows up to teach them all a lesson. Dave (Carl Marotte) has his face boiled in a pot of hot dogs and then his corpse stuck in a refrigerator. Sylvia (Helene Udy) gets a kind of poking she wasn't expecting after her boyfriend leaves and the miner-clad psycho impales her head on a long metal water spigot. The two bodies are soon discovered and everyone in the know promptly get the hell out of there. But six stragglers, including Sarah, who's decided to take some rail cars deep into the mine with her friend Patty (Cynthia Dale), Patty's boyfriend Hollis (Keith Knight) and three of the others, remain in danger. As the group start being picked off one by one, T.J. and Axel must put their grievances aside in order to save them. Or at least that's what it seems...

As far as minimally-plotted 80s slasher / body count flicks are concerned, this is certainly one of the better ones. It's well made and shot with good production values, passable dialogue, decent acting and characters who aren't too horribly obnoxious and annoying. It also benefits a lot from being shot on location in the small town of Sydney Mines in Nova Scotia, which gives it a nice, authentic blue collar small town feel. A real local mine, which had been closed down for a number of years prior to filming, was also used for the mine scenes. In addition, we get a decent variety of murders. There are lots of axe killings plus death by nail gun, a double impalement with a large drill (which isn't shown), a hanging and more. Things do get a bit sloppy during the finale, plus there's a dumb twist at the very end, but this is still a cut above average as far as these things are concerned.

Filmed in the fall of 1980, this Paramount production was strategically wide released to theaters in the middle of February 1981 to coincide with the titular holiday. That ended up not helping the box office numbers much and this brought in an unexceptional 5.6 million on a 2.3 million budget domestically. Its failure to match the runaway success of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) or its first sequel (another 1981 release that grossed four times as much as Valentine on half the budget) shut the door on a potential cash cow franchise.

Of course, most critics at the time hated the film - not that most people cared as they'd just made the critically panned Friday a huge hit - but most of the damage was caused by the MPAA, who demanded cuts to every single murder scene. As a result, the impact of each of the killings was neutered and the additional blood and gore remained unseen for almost three decades. In 2009, most of that footage was restored for the Lionsgate / Paramount DVD release, which was used to help promote the (utterly pointless) 3D remake in 2009.

For completion sake, here's a brief rundown of just what's missing from the R rated version. And, yes, there are some spoilers here:

  1. During the very first murder scene when a woman in a white bra is impaled, a close-up shot of the metal rod poking out of her chest right at her heart tattoo as well as a longer shot of her body.
  2. A close-up of Mabel's charred face along with the body doing a few extra tumbles in the dryer.
  3. During the Crazy Ralph-esque bartender's death, the censored version immediately cuts away and doesn't show the pick going through his chin nor his eyeball pushed out.
  4. Three shots from inside the pot as Dave's face is melted by the boiling water.
  5. During Sylvia's death, a shot from behind where the spigot is pushed through her head, a shot of her dummy head spitting up blood, a shot of her feet dangling and a shot of blood leaking onto the killer's boot. Also, a close-up shot of water pouring out of the corpse's mouth when her boyfriend discovers her.
  6. In the cut version, Hollis is quickly shot twice with the nail gun and stumbles away. In the uncut version, the murder is longer, features several additional shots of Hollis' bloody face and some blurry shots from his POV looking at the killer.
  7. When Howard's (Alf Humphreys) hung body falls down the air shaft, a shot of the impact ripping the head right off was removed.
  8. Patty's murder (axe to the stomach) is about the same but has longer reaction shots from the actress as she's sliding down the wall dying.
  9. Slight snip of blood squirting in a child's face during a twenty-years-earlier flashback.
  10. The killer cutting his arm, which is crushed under some rocks, off with a knife to escape, plus Sarah pulling the severed arm out of the rubble.
Note: Every release issued prior to the 2009 "special edition" is the heavily cut version. That includes all of the VHS tapes and laserdiscs distributed by Paramount through the 80s and 90s, the first DVD release in 2002 and the 2008 double feature DVD that paired this up with APRIL FOOL'S DAY (1986). Scream Factory announced they'll be issuing an uncut 2-disc Blu-ray in 2020.

A few things have considerably helped boost My Bloody Valentine's cult following over the years. First, the title was used by an experimental rock band out of Dublin whose 1991 album Loveless is one of the most critically acclaimed of the entire decade. Second, while he was doing the rounds promoting Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino singled this out as his favorite slasher flick of all time in a 2006 interview with Entertainment Weekly.


Chopping Mall (1986)

... aka: Killbots
... aka: R.O.B.O.T.
... aka: Robots
... aka: Robots asesinos (Killer Robots)
... aka: Roboty smierci (Death Robots)

Directed by:
Jim Wynorski

Sick of paying human security guards and want to do your part in contributing to unemployment? Well, Secure-Tronics Unlimited has you covered! Their new Protector One Series robots can do the job and they won't be glued to their iPhones or sneaking off to take a nap. Equipped with all manner of handy weapons, the short, squatty 'bots may look non-threatening but they're equipped with lasers, powerful pinchers and sleep darts that can neutralize intruders in under 30 seconds. To prevent them from ever harming innocents, they've been programmed to tell the difference between workers and intruders. Just show them your security badge and you'll be on your way. Not to mention, they're awfully polite ("Thank you. Have a nice day"). Despite some skepticism, the six story Park Plaza Mall is about to employ these guys to do the late night rounds. Secure-Tronics head of development Dr. Stan Simon (Paul Coufos) has even given a reassuring endorsement: "Trust me, absolutely nothing can go wrong!" And if we've learned nothing in the past few years, it's that if someone starts out a sentence with "Trust me..." we all should, right?. In addition to the bots, Secure-Tronics has also installed time locked steel security doors that are locked from midnight until dawn. It's virtually impossible to break into the place... or to get out. What could possibly go wrong?

Some early twenty-somethings, who behave exactly like your average immature sex-obsessed horror movie teens, plot to stay overnight in the mall to drink beer and have sex in, uh, the same room (!) Apprehensive new girl Alison Parks (Kelli Maroney), who works at a mall restaurant, is invited by coworker Suzie (Barbara Crampton) to go on a blind date with nerdy worrywart Ferdy (Tony O'Dell), who helps run his uncle's furniture store. The group is rounded out by obnoxious gum chomper Mike (John Terlesky), his spoiled, big-breasted girlfriend Leslie (Suzee Slater), Suzie's boyfriend Greg (Nick Segal) and couple Rick (Russell Todd) and Linda (Karrie Emerson), who've just gotten married and opened their own auto repair business. Late at night, lightning strikes the building, messes with the master computer and turns all three of the malfunctioning robots into killing machines who can't tell the difference between employee and criminal.

After laying waste to a few technicians and a janitor, they go after the younger cast, who both try to survive the night and find a way to escape. There's a gun shop in the building, which leads to lots of gun vs. laser fights, plus a decent amount of explosions and death by claw, strangulation, electrocution, getting set on fire, being thrown over a balcony and more. The best kill, and the only moment of actual gore, is a pretty good exploding head.

As per the director's usual, the in-jokes and nods to other B movies are virtually nonstop. There's a plug for the Wynorski-edited book They Came from Outer Space, cameos from lots of Corman movie alum, posters for other Corman productions (and Wynorski's first film, THE LOST EMPIRE) on the wall of a restaurant, clips from Attack of the Crab Monsters on a TV set, a store called "Roger's Little Shop of Pets" and characters carried over from other Corman productions and popular cult films, including Dick Miller playing an ill-fated janitor named Walter Paisley and Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel in their Eating Raoul personas. There are also cameos from "Lawrence Guy" / Angus Scrimm (who can barely even be seen and has just one line of dialogue), Gerrit Graham (as one of the murdered techs) and Mel Welles (as a slovenly cook).

Though this starts out fun and is technically well-made, it eventually gets bogged down in the formulaic second half after the better known actors have put in their cameos, this suddenly starts taking itself completely seriously and the remaining characters have little else to do other than bicker, scream, do dumb things to get themselves killed and run around in circles firing guns. Even Crampton, the most talented of the younger stars, doesn't help matters because her panicky character becomes so annoying you'll be cheering when she's finally torched. I'd imagine this would have been a lot more fun and memorable had Miller, Woronov, Bartel, Graham, etc. been featured more prominently than the dull, generic "teens" we spend most of the time with. There's also the nagging feeling they could have been more imaginative with the killing methods. You can only see so many people getting shot with a laser or strangled with a flimsy robotic hand before yawn-inducing repetition sets in.

Though I'm not entirely sure why, this is the most popular of all of Wynorski's 100+ films. It could be that it's been embraced as a nice alternative to the usual slasher flick by fans. Or that it has that snappy and fun-to-say title, which was actually chosen after the original release title Killbots failed to attract many movie goers. Or that it has a fantastic poster and tagline ("Where shopping costs you an arm and a leg!"). Or even that other people simply find it more fun than I do. While I didn't completely dislike this, I found the dialogue less witty than usual for a Wynorski flick and that it lacked the cheerfully cheesy personality of some of the director's better efforts.

Arthur Roberts, Ace Mask and Lenny Juliano, all three of whom appeared in Jim's remake of Not of This Earth (1988), have small roles, as do Angela Aames and Toni Naples. Producer Julie Corman, David Del Valle and Rodney Eastman can briefly be seen as shoppers. The budget was 800,000 dollars (which isn't all that low for an 80s B movie) and filmed at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, which was also used for PHANTOM OF THE MALL (1989) and (more famously) Fast Times and Ridgemont High (1982), Commando (1985) and Terminator 2 (1991).

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