The basic stalk-and-stab slasher movie gets no respect—and probably doesn’t deserve much, come to that, even if it looks positively creative and relatively harmless when put up against today’s torture porn. In reality, the slasher movie—which dates back to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)—isn’t a lot more than a variant on the “creative death” school of horror that originated, more or less, with Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976). The raison d’être of the school was ultimately figuring out ever-more grisly and convoluted manners in which victims could come to their various sticky ends. Combine that approach with the basic local-legend concept of the escaped lunatic murdering teens trysting on lovers lane (a primitive abstinence-only scare tactic) and you have the formula for the slasher film, which reached its essence with the no-frills body-count method of Sean S. Cunnigham’s Friday the 13th in 1980.
In its wake, we were treated to knockoffs of all sorts, including George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine (1981), a somewhat above-average slasher opus that—like Friday the 13th—followed a tepid whodunit approach. (Critics of the time always seemed to miss this aspect in their rush to make a case for the moral turpitude evidenced by the use of point-of-view shots where the viewer was supposedly meant to identify with the killer—neatly disregarding the fact that such shots were utilitarian in nature because they kept you from identifying the killer.) Mihalka’s Valentine came and went. It was reviled and censored. It spawned no franchise. But now it’s back in remake form with a brand new coat of 3-D (in select theaters) to make it shimmer and gleam anew.
And that brand-new coat of 3-D is about all you get that’s of any actual merit—except in that special realm of “so bad it’s good” moviegoing. As a movie in its own right, My Bloody Valentine 3-D is nothing more than a fairly efficient reworking of its parent, though it’s probably a little dumber and its revelation of the killer considerably less persuasive. What you have are a bunch of “TV pretty” 30-somethings (who are neither distinctive, nor talented enough to hold the big screen) giving wooden performances and delivering some of the worst dialogue in living memory. The images may boast an extra dimension, but the characters do not. This doesn’t keep it from being fun, but let’s face it, a lot of the fun stems from the mind-boggling awfulness of people saying lines like, “She’s my wife—we have sex!”
The story is functional at best. A highly motivated homicidal miner awakes from a year-long coma in the hospital and goes on a spectacularly gory killing spree, before suiting up in mining togs and offing a bunch of partying teens at the mine, during which he ostensibly perishes. Flash forward 10 years. Time has clearly passed since survivor Axel Palmer (TV actor Kerr Smith) is now the sheriff and sports a scraggly beard. Axel is married to fellow survivor Sarah (Jaime King, The Spirit)—on whom he cheats outrageously with Sarah’s grocery-store employee Megan (Megan Boone), who has inconveniently become pregnant. (Yeah, this is pretty soapy.) Another survivor Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles, TV’s Supernatural)—Sarah’s former swain who has been missing for years—returns to town to sell the old family mine, whereupon the murders start up anew. Only Sarah believes Tom’s not responsible. Is her faith misplaced? Is the original killer still alive? Mayhem—the actual point of the movie—follows.
The mayhem is OK without being especially distinctive. Pickax murders leave little room for variation—though I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed midget-cide by pickax before. We get a 3-D sex scene, some extended 3-D nudity, 3-D cardiectomies and the sure-to-be-famous 3-D flying jaw. The old movie’s corpse-in-a-clothes-dryer scene gets a gorier update, which will please fans. And there’s lots of blood—all of it leading to a lame revelation of an ending that would be better suited to a Fritz Lang movie from his German expressionist period. It does work in its simple “3-D ride to hell” way, which is about all you should expect anyway.
However—and this is a big however—director Patrick Lussier and cinematographer Brian Pearson, with some serious help from production designer Zack Grobler, have managed to make the most effective 3-D movie I’ve ever seen. The film makes good—and even intelligent—use of 3-D from the onset with only a few missteps along the way. The usual eye-crossing murkiness (see Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D) is nowhere to be found, which is especially noteworthy in a film this dark. The key is in the lighting design, choice of camera angles and production design. The mine tunnels themselves are perfect for the format, but the film makes them that much better by shooting wide and including the ceilings in many shots, greatly enhancing the perspective. Regardless, objects that move too fast still don’t really register. (I know it’s a flying jaw because I know that’s what it is, not because I could identify it in the shot itself.) Overall, this is no great shakes of a movie (I’m being kind here), but it’s a pretty substantial improvement in the use of 3-D. Be sure to see it in that form, not the 2-D version. Rated R for graphic brutal violence and grisly images throughout, some strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language.