Filmed in the formerly abandoned Princess Colliery Mine in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia and infamous for having 9 minutes of the movie cut by the MPAA for violence and gore, My Bloody Valentine is a holiday slasher film, much like Black Christmas or Halloween, directed by George Mihalka and released during the height of the genre’s popularity in 1981. In this particular instance, the story focuses on the supposed return of a vengeful miner, Harry Warden, terrorizing a coal mining town in the aptly named Valentine Bluffs around Valentine’s Day. 20 Years prior to the film he and 4 others were trapped in the coal mine on Valentine’s Day due to a negligence in safety that caused a methane gas explosion in the mine, trapping the miners underground. The only survivor, Harry turned to cannibalism to survive and would later be committed to an insane asylum after killing the two supervisors responsible for the disaster. One of the main dilemmas of the film is whether or not the town should hold a Valentine’s Day dance, the first in 20 years after Harry Warden threatened the town to never hold one again, after the first new murder is discovered. For public safety the Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds) and Chief Newby (Don Franks) cancel it, but the youth of the town decide otherwise and hold it in the rec room of the mine. Murder and mayhem in a claustrophobic coal mine of course ensue.
The film could be left at that, an underrated, somewhat campy, ‘80s horror film, with the tropes and characters one would expect from such a movie. However, looking closer at the film, there is something more going on besides the special effects in all of their cheesy ‘80s glory and the slowly whittling cast as they fall prey to various mining implements. My Bloody Valentine can be seen as a tale about tradition, inheritance, the abandonment/breaking of said themes, the desire for a life beyond the confinements of the small town of your childhood, and the alienation and hostility one can face upon trying to do so.
Much of these underlying themes come from the protagonist, T.J.Hanniger (Paul Kelman), who had at one point left Valentine Bluffs to seek better things elsewhere, leaving his world behind and cutting off the ties he had there. Only recently has he returned to town and has taken up working alongside his friends in the coal mine that the life in town is centered around. The main takeaway from T.J.’s departure and return is that he failed to make it on his own while away, and it is only discussed in depth briefly to increase romantic tension with T.J.’s former girlfriend Sarah (Lori Hallier), and to reminisce with T.J.’s former best friend Axel (Neil Affleck) a somewhat hot headed chiseled chin alpha-male that offsets T.J.’s more somber demeanor that is now dating Sarah. T.J.’s departure and return has rubbed Axel the wrong way and lingering feelings between Sarah and T.J. provokes hostility between Axel and T.J. that ultimately leads them to blows on more than one occasion.
Throughout the film it is mentioned how the coal mine belongs to T.J.’s father, and how the mine has been in operation since the 1800s. Based off this information we can concur that this mine has probably been in control of the Hanniger family for several generations, and that T.J. himself will most likely come into inheritance of the mine at some point. Added to the fact that T.J.’s father is also the mayor of the town, T.J. rejected the cushy life he would have lived in his unexpected departure from the town due to him wanting to see the world and go about things his own way. Upon returning, and immediately given a job in the mine by his father, T.J. quickly reconnects with his friends, having fallen into the routine of the blue collar mining town: work, bar, work, bar, repeat. It’s a quiet stable life that completely works for many of his friends, aside from the ever present dangers of working in a coal mine, but not one that is particularly fulfilling for him.
Whereas T.J. rejected the confinement and drudgery of the blue collar life, others have become ingrained by it, and the mines dark history has grasped onto the life of Axel, who is revealed in the finale within the mine to be the killer. Despite the limitations and the dangers it placed on the film crew while shooting the sequences, being filmed in an actual mine as opposed to a series of sets provides a natural claustrophobic feeling to the finale which really adds to the emotional thrill as the film reaches its climax. The revelation that Axel witnessed his father murdered by Harry 20 years ago comes off as a conveniently forgotten detail until the end, and it is not until there are only a few surviving cast members that the audience can guess the identity of the killer. There are not many clues leading up to the revelation other than a drunken Axel crying in anguish after a very public confrontation between him and T.J. that suggests mentally Axel isn’t as stable as he seems. In typical slasher fashion however, the killer lives to kill again, despite a sequel to the film never being made.
Watching My Bloody Valentine on or around Valentine’s Day is a tradition of mine that I’ve done every year since I first saw the film, and one I hope to continue. While the movie itself doesn’t have anything groundbreaking, or particularly iconic about it, which could account for its lackluster performance in theaters (but not a 2009 remake), it is a solid movie with some good scares, a few laughs and some interesting themes to consider in the 85 minute slasher story. Sometimes that’s all you really need. Happy Valentine’s Day.
1. Quentin Tarantino’s believes the movie to be criminally underrated and is his personal favorite of the genre.