In the 1981 slasher film, My Bloody Valentine, Mabel (played by Patricia Hamilton) is the sweet old woman who has convinced the mayor of Valentine Bluffs to reinstate the annual Valentine’s Day dance. The dance had been a tradition, up until the great mine explosion of 1960. Harry Warden was the only miner to survive the explosion, which everyone agreed wouldn’t have happened if the two mine supervisors hadn’t left their post to attend the dance. (Why two middle-aged men were so eager to attend a teenage dance party is a question that is never really explored.) Harry went mad in the mine and resorted to eating the other miners to survive. AGCK! The next year, Harry killed the two supervisors and was promptly sent off to mental asylum. Meanwhile, the annual dance was canceled because I guess it was easier to blame the dance than the mining company or the corrupt union bosses.
Mabel, however, has brought the dance back and it’s probably not a minute too soon because the town of Valentine Bluffs is one of the most depressing towns I’ve ever seen. The sky is permanenlyt overcast. Everyone spends all day down in the mine, getting covered in soot and trying not to die. At night, they go to the bar and get drunk and argue with each other. If the men need to talk about their feelings, they have a drink at the local junkyard. Among the slashers films that came out in the early 80s, My Bloody Valentine is unique for taking place in an authentically blue collar milieu. These aren’t upper class teenagers who are about to be targeted by a demented killer. These are tough men who work hard all day and who are apparently really into Valentine’s Day dances.
Unfortunately, we all know that it’s impossible to move on from a decades-old murder. No sooner has the Valentine’s Day Dance been announced than some old drunk starts telling everyone that they’re doomed. People start to get strange and bloody packages in the mail. A man dressed up like a miner kills Mabel and stuffs her into a washing machine, which seems like an overreaction on the part of The Miner. It does, however, make one thing very clear. If even sweet old Mabel can die, then anyone can die.
After Mabel’s death, the mayor and the sheriff announce that the dance is off but those miners are really into Valentine’s Day so they decide to throw a party anyway. A few of them go down into the mine, which is not necessarily what I would want to do at a party but whatever. I just don’t like soot. Unfortunately, our brave heroes go down into the mine at the same time that the Miner shows up at the party and starts killing people.
The assumption, of course, is that the Miner is Harry Warden but most member of the audiences will have seen enough slasher movies to know better. There’s two obvious suspects. There’s Axel (Neil Affleck), who has a temper and knows how to use a pickax. And then there’s TJ (Paul Kelman), who also has a temper and knows how to use a pickax. Axel and TJ are both in love with Sarah (Lori Hallier) but only one will get to ask her to be his “bloody valentine.”
Among horror fans, My Bloody Valentine is notorious for having been heavily edited to get an R-rating. Supposedly, cuts were made to every single death scene and, even with the cuts, this is still a notably gruesome film. The scene involving the showerhead impalement is especially macabre, even if it has obviously been edited. The Miner is not one of those talkative, quippy, fun-loving murderers that eventually became a staple of the genre. Instead, he’s notably cruel. The murders he commits feel personal and calculated. He’s not one of those movie slashers who just kills anyone unlucky enough to discover Camp Crystal Lake. Instead, he has a plan. In the end, the Miner is one of the more frightening of the killers to come out of the early 80s slasher boom.
My Bloody Valentine works far better than it has any right to. The mine is a notably creepy location and the film does a good job of creating an atmosphere where you really do believe that anyone could die at any minute. The film plays out like a nightmarish urban legend come to life and it provides an example of the giallo-inspired thrillers that slasher films used to be. Despite being a Valentine’s Day film, it’s one that your really should watch for Halloween.
When you’re watching either this film or the 2009 remake, be sure to offer up a prayer to Mabel. With her love of Valentine’s Day, she made it all possible.