My Bloody Valentine (1981) is everything you’d expect and want in a slasher. There’s blood, nudity, a younger generation who don’t take a threat seriously, a transgression, a love triangle, a mask, a weapon, and of course, a (sort of) final girl. So why remake it if it’s everything all little slashers grow up wanting to become? Well, because now, almost forty years later, it’s not scary.
My generation (millennial) is crazy desensitized to on-screen blood and violence. I remember playing a Jurassic Park video game when I was maybe nine that had the power button combo to make the Tyrannosaurus grab the humans, rip their stomachs open, toss the unfortunate person’s flailing body into the air, and then gulp them down whole. It was so gory and full of blood curling, perfect screams. And those dings from the extra points collecting in upper right-hand corner of the screens? Just straight up addictive, really. Pass the Cactus Cooler and the Ritalin, please.
So, in watching these old slasher movies, it hurts to say it, but they are almost laughable. The obviously fake blood. The long, drawn out screams. How the final girls always, always fall when they are running away from the killer? It’s tough to say what came first. Are we desensitized because we were exposed to gory, violent films and video games from the get-go, or did better technology come out, and we’d have been exposed to real world on-screen violence splashed across the national news and desensitized regardless?
This desensitization, this death of fear, is what brought on the remakes. The generations who loved these movies saw us watching Prom Night, Friday the 13,th My Bloody Valentine and wanted so badly to share that same feeling of dread, gore, and fun. Then, they became so disappointed when our faces lit up in laughter, and not in fear.
Well, that just wouldn’t do, would it? No. The stories would have to be revamped. The gore should be turned up several notches, and the final girl would need to be given a make-over and some sensible shoes.
So, how does the remake hold up to the original? Did the wonderful, iconic scenes get to stay? Was anything changed?
In case you need a reminder: My Bloody Valentine is about a little mining town who all apparently really love the Valentine’s Day holiday. They love it so much in fact, that a couple of mine’s superintendents decide to not check said mine’s methane level, and head off to the Valentine’s Day dance instead. Because the supers didn’t check the gas levels, there’s an explosion which traps several men in the darkness of the mine. One man survives by eating (or killing, in the 2009 version) his fellow miners and goes insane from this action. This man is Harry Warden, the killer who hunts down those responsible and swears that anytime the town has fun on Valentine’s Day, he’ll come and cut out some hearts. Needless to say, years later, some of the town’s younger occupants don’t take that warning seriously and slasher fun ensues.
As promised, we’ll discuss what worked in the original and made it into the remake, and what the remake successfully did differently.
Let’s start with the mine. The mine was a consistent and integral part of both movies, which is perfect. The mine worked so well. It provided a dark place that people aren’t supposed to go—underground. That concept within itself is already spooky. Underground isn’t good. Underground is where creatures live. Where worms live. Where we bury our dead. To have a horror movie take place here was a stroke of genius, and one I’m thankful the remake used. Great, solid, wonderful setting. It’s also an Unknown with a capital U. Unless you are from a mining town, chances are pretty slim you’ve ever been in one, which makes them all the more creepy, all the more new and scary.
Having the killer, Harry Warden, get stuck in the mine was something else that worked in the 1981 film and showed up in the 2009 remake. It’s a good thing it stayed. It’s the perfect recipe to make a killer and to make that killer relatable. We’ve already established that a mine is a scary place. So, if you were trapped there with other miners? It begs the question: how far would you go to survive in such a scary place? The likeness between the two movies stops there, though. In the original, Harry eats the other miners. That’s one of the parts that’s just hysterical now. As a viewer, it was obvious it was supposed to be scary. There were limbs just sort of chilling around Harry while he gnawed on some poor dead dude’s arm. The face was just crazy enough, and the way the actor was able to make his eyes really bug out like that? Yeah, I could see it. But my knee-jerk reaction was to laugh at the Crayola crayon bright red (and so thick!) blood. I wasn’t so much interested in Harry as I was picturing the crew members going on set with buckets of bright red paint that shared more in common with Elmers’ glue than real blood. The effects were, very simply, too outdated.
In the remake, this was improved upon. Instead of getting trapped and going all Donner Party on his fellow miners, Harry Warden shows his true killer tendencies instantly. When new and improved Harry Warden is trapped, he kills the other miners to preserve air. Now, what he did for water is anybody’s guess. Did he drink the other miner’s blood? His own urine? Would that even work? So, while I can see why fans of the 1981 version would prefer Harry to go Jeff Dahmer, this remake fix nicely displays how Harry had that killer instinct inside of him already and would use it, if pushed.
Let’s talk about what totally sucked in the original—was never believable—and thankfully didn’t show up in the remake and I was so, so glad for it.
The dance. Let’s all together agree that it was stupid for the town to have a dance? Adults are so excited they line up outside the main hall with their decorations? Are racing home from work? (Literally. The miners Grease Lightning their way from work to the town hall where the women are setting up Valentine’s Day dance decorations.) This would have worked better had the adults been teenagers, heading off to their prom, but no, this was a Valentines’ Day dance. For adults. And the dance itself serves no real purpose. The Harry Warden lore just forbids people from having any kind of Valentines’ Day party. The lore states that if anyone has any fun on Valentine’s Day, he’s going to come and cut their hearts out. The dance itself was never necessary, therefore, never truly believable. This odd decision was thankfully left out of the remake.
Considering we’re talking slasher here, that means we need to discuss the Final Girl. I’ve never been a fan of the final girl trope. Mostly because the final girl is someone who was meek, and is forced through circumstance to rise from the ashes to become what she was always meant to be. She must destroy evil by embracing her own dark side; inside her soul lies something strong and ferocious. That side of her is unique and it alone has the ability to kill the killer. Makes her sound way cool, right?
Not only do they tend to lose their clothing, but they all seem to have a really hard time running. It’s difficult to ally myself with the final girl when she runs with her hands in the air. It’s not even remotely aerodynamic. At that point, the killer can have her. Please.
Also, any way you spin it, an evil man makes them blossom into the dangerous, fearless flower they were always meant to be.
To be fair to the final girl, I’ve always been more of a Ripley fan. More of a GI Jane fan. Those women were never meek. They were always tough, had always been tough and when they run, it’s with a healthy arm swing. But, they have a hero’s journey. Not a final girl journey. So, it’s a different build and one I shouldn’t mess with or question. Just, I have a hard time wondering if these women, these final girls, would ever have been this stronger, smarter, faster version of themselves if they hadn’t been pushed by a killer? Would they have (gasp) never been strong if it hadn’t been for the evil man? If nothing else, it’s an interesting symbiotic relationship.
What I am pleased to say, is in the remake, nearly forty years later, Sarah, the final girl of My Bloody Valentine not only falls less, but she also gets her own backstory, which makes me happy. Feels like as a society we’re making progress and it’s a great way too for the remake to show a different sort of maturity. In the remake we know more about Sarah. She’s got a child, she manages the town grocery store, and she’s brave. She is a developed, relatable character. In the original version Sarah was what one of my professors back in graduate school would have referred to as a ‘sexy lamp.’ She’s pretty, but doesn’t do much.
Of the things from the original that were improved upon, I think my favorite is how the character of TJ (Jason, in the new one) was handled. In the original, TJ left town, and as viewers, we get the impression he’s only just returned. This past, apparently unexpected absence/return serves zero purpose—except to make a semi complicated love triangle, full of unbuttoned shirts, a laughable fist fight, and a showing off of chest hair. Side note: why in God’s name does TJ need an unbuttoned shirt and a bandana? Anyway, this leave of absence perhaps gives TJ some character, makes him all emo, sullen, and more relatable because who doesn’t want to leave their home town, right? Who wouldn’t be angry that they had to come back home and work for their father, right? But, as far as the story goes—that was about it. Aside from padding the character a little, TJ’s macro trip does nothing for the plot. Regardless of if TJ had been around or not, Axel would still have been traumatized by Harry Warden, and he still would have gone on a killing spree.
In the remake, Jason’s (TJ in the old one) leave of absence is used to further the plot and give the die-hard My Bloody Valentine fans a treat. See, us as the viewers, we’re all expecting Axel to be the killer, right? He was in the 1981 movie, so that makes sense. But no! Jason’s leave of absence was because he was in a mental institution. After he’d almost been killed by the real Harry Warden, he’s traumatized and develops a split personality. His leave of absence is not only used wisely, but aids the story’s plot. It gives Jason that necessary time to be away to grow this other person; to become the killer who had terrorized him and left a bloody, bloody mark. This twist gives the original audience a bit of a thrill, too, because they get the surprise of finding out who the killer is all over again.
I’d say both the original and the remake are worth the watch. The original has some fun stuff, some good scenes, and overall I think it’s easy to love. The jacket sequence got to stay, a scene I absolutely adore. This is when the miner jumpsuits rain down on the poor, unsuspecting Sylvia. She’s disoriented, starts fighting her way through all of these falling, dirty uniforms until she grabs a dead dude who’d been hung by one of those very cords that keeps the jumpsuits suspended. Another scene that got to stay was the awkward and emotional “why did you leave me?” scene between TJ (Jason) and Sarah. Although it’s sappy, the scene is effective. There is a sense that these two characters will always love each other. What I’m saying is: it’s got the feels, and I’m glad this particular scene exists in both the 1981 and the 2009. This little bit of romance seems to pop up in slashers and I’m always thankful for it. Gives us a break from the tension, that moment to enjoy something light and pretty.
As funny and outdated as the original is, I can say truly that I don’t regret my time. What’s the phrase? Paid for a drama, but stayed for a comedy? Maybe it’s the other way around. I would definitely catch the remake of My Bloody Valentine, it will make your heart skip a beat and give you that adrenaline kick all of us horror junkies crave.