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Thursday, February 18, 2021

‘My Bloody Valentine 3D’ and Its Reinvigorated Take on a Slasher Classic [Revenge of the Remakes]

Welcome to ‘Revenge of the Remakes,‘ where columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.

In 2009, when Patrick Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine 3D satisfied Lionsgate’s three-dimensional temptations, I’m not sure “High School Donato” even knew the 1981 Canuxploitation slasher was its source. Maybe I’m shorting myself credit since all signs point towards readership allegiance to Bloody Disgusting by then. Still, that information didn’t prevent multiple rewatches of my generation’s February frightener before finally embracing an older love, George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine. I mean, a mineshaft-set murder spree with an original end-credits ballad about the film’s psychopath killer? Be still, beating heart.

I’ll forever champion My Bloody Valentine 3D as the almost-pinnacle of studios attempting the “Nu 3D” resurgence of the 2000s. That fondness is not fleeting. My teenage self and friends packed two rows in a sold-out Thursday midnight premiere, and surprisingly, we weren’t even the most raucous section. Everyone, from the shadowy makeout-nook couples to front-row latecomers, cheered and roared as Harry Warden 2.0 chucked his pickaxe towards the screen, oozing aughts-emphatic horror. Forever one of my favorite in-theater moviegoing experiences, but that’s not to diminish the wildness of Mihalka’s 80s-outrageous original. My Bloody Valentine hasn’t lost its “golden age” slasher shimmer; a puncture-and-squeal flick that undoubtedly would have been one of my favorite drive-in experiences should timelines be different.

The Approach

In penning the modernized update, Todd Farmer and Zane Smith refuse to option a new curse with limerick threats and an unrested miner’s vengeful soul. Hanniger’s mining facility still undergoes a disastrous tragedy that leaves workers dead and villainizes Harry Warden, who’s discovered having murdered his crew to conserve breathable air. There’s more commentary beyond stalk-and-kill intrigue. My Bloody Valentine 3D introduces Tom Hanniger (no longer T.J.) as the son of Hanniger Mining fame. Within the context of 2009’s dwindling mining communities, scripting pits salt-of-the-earth workers against corporations snatching relied-upon mines for industrial usage or site closings. The Valentine’s dance subplot is deemed outdated, the lover’s triangle still extremely relevant, and motivations for Tom’s disappearance are dictated by trauma, not choice. Stakes are elevated and dramatically enforced.

My Bloody Valentine 3D opens on a flashback; Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) and girlfriend-at-the-time Sarah (Jaime King) join Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith) and Irene (Betsy Rue) for a party within Hanniger’s inner mining tunnels. It hasn’t been long since Tom accidentally caused a methane explosion that left Harry Warden in a coma, so he doubles-back on account of skittishness. That’s when a fully geared miner starts slaughtering teenagers, leaving Axel to rescue both Sarah and Irene. Tom reappears but is nearly killed by the revealed-to-be Harry Warden, right before Sheriff Burke (Tom Atkins) sprays blood on Tom’s face when shooting Harry. It’s a traumatic experience that chases Tom away for nearly a decade until he returns to Harmony (no longer Valentine Bluffs), intending to sell Hanniger Mining since his father’s death upgrades Tom to the majority shareholder.

Farmer and Smith are more contemplative of contextual importance enveloping the killings this time around, taking care to embellish and empower past slasher loose ends. Tom and Axel still compete for Sarah’s interest, but Axel’s cheating subplot outs a scumbag in minutes while Sarah expresses more agency, not just a trophy worth bickering and punching over. The mines aren’t merely a limestone-dusted backdrop; Tom’s financial gains by selling the mine weigh heavily on those employees or small businesses who benefit from mining town cultures. The deception, the thickness in which Farmer and Smith steep their script in red herrings, points fingers for the film’s entirety, introducing more possible suspects into a community where anyone has reason to frame Tom Hanniger for the return of Harry Warden. Don’t get me wrong, 1981’s My Bloody Valentine is a lovesick and complete slasher—it’s more how Farmer and Smith relish the benefit of tweaking what succeeds and enriching their experience based on what doesn’t exist prior.

Does It Work?

Patrick Lussier commands a narratively enthralling and better-entangled mystery in My Bloody Valentine 3D that leans into its twists with more suspenseful redirects. Am I qualifying the 2009 remix as a Greecian epic? Quite insistently not, but Farmer and Smith fill in storytelling gaps that weren’t as important to 80s horror filmmakers. Where My Bloody Valentine echoes cavernous aesthetics that still boast signature uniqueness in burrowed backdrops, My Bloody Valentine 3D spends longer provoking the murder-mystery aspects of Harmony’s intimate community. Axel and Tom’s rivalry complicates and infuriates more frequently. The specter of Harry Warden causes a darker eclipse. Less time spent in the mine means Harmony’s civilian workings become more critical. I’ll always tune-in for a “dumb kids ignore warnings” parade of death, but My Bloody Valentine 3D is a meatier serving of engine-heated snackage.

Of course, the film’s pivotal break in psyche within Tom Hanniger is the divisive element that splits audience reception. Both films hide their killer in broad daylight, but Lussier’s task is unenviable. Tom must appear as a bystander in kill sequences even though Tom, psychologically possessed by the “spirit” of Harry Warden, is physically butchering the bodies on-screen. Jensen Ackles is asked to convey “wounded yet deranged,” a victim racked with guilt who’s shaped into a monster we can’t implicate until the skyrocket of a climactic reveal. In My Bloody Valentine, it’s a simple “Axel or T.J.” conundrum once they both descend into the mine when barely a finale remains. In My Bloody Valentine 3D, Farmer and Smith ambitiously dangle carrots within opening minutes and challenge themselves to plot the unthinkable. We’re supposed to believe Tom aerates that mining overseer with sharpened steel then locks himself inside a cage, stealthily assembling an alibi? Yes, and more often than not, Lussier doesn’t break our disbelief.

We can’t ignore the impetus behind My Bloody Valentine 3D either, emphasis on the “3D.” In a period when Clash Of The Titans exemplified everything misunderstood about crafting three-dimensional cinema, My Bloody Valentine 3D prevails. Do sequences now exist as digital standouts on streaming since Netflix or HBO Max can’t spike pickaxe points out of your televisions or laptops? Oh, for sure. That still doesn’t erase the film’s glorious usage of objects thrown at audiences in cheap plastic glasses, from petite purse pistols to Tom Atkins’ severed jaw. In addressing whether Lussier helms a horror experience that “works,” my critical acknowledgment spans all the ways this remake was situated to fail. Whether that’s winning over faithful audiences of the cult classic, maintaining unbelievability in an otherwise should-be-doomed script, or appeasing studio big-wigs who craved that increased 3D ticket profitability. Across the board, Lussier performs above expectations.

The Result

What’s not to love about My Bloody Valentine 3D in terms of 2000s remake horror? It’s a reinvigorated, daringly different, and yet still respectively aware redo that assertively chisels its own legacy. From the scorched-and-smoking corpse in a dryer machine to the makings of a future serial killer, the locker room uniform ghosts, fans are sufficiently serviced. From Axel’s hideaway cabin filled with heart-shaped boxes to Tom’s medication, there’s a newfound zeal in both their warring blame-game tactics. It’s comparable to The Hitcher in terms of catching stride with current societal behaviors that still trigger remembrances of an original predecessor, with standalone fortitude at the forefront as Harry Warden becomes the latest horror icon revamped after Saw’s genre-cultural influence.

It’s impossible to ignore the Saw-era redirections throughout this column because remakes became the hottest theatrical commodity around the same time. My Bloody Valentine 3D doesn’t go as “dark and gritty” as the Platinum Dunes catalog, but holy buckets, does the gore explode in no time. As Burke surveys the hospital carnage left in Harry Warden’s wake, we’re served a healthy buffet of detached patient torsos, isolated organs, and messy Hallmark card messages hand-smeared in blood. Violence only gets more grotesque as Todd Farmer gets pickaxed through his polished dome, or the aforementioned flung Atkins jawbone, or a magnificent beheading where Harry Warden stabs a party girl in the mouth with a shovel, pinning her head to a wooden beam. A stronger thrust severs the girl at her jawline as what’s left atop slides down the metal shovel, now slick in her juices—shoutout to Gary J. Tunnicliffe, the maestro behind My Bloody Valentine 3D’s sweeter-than-conversational-hearts slasher highlights.

Most notably, My Bloody Valentine 3D stars baby-faced Jensen Ackles in his early Supernatural days but outside the show’s universe. Everything Ackles brings to his interpretation of Harry Warden, the layers that suffocate Tom Hanniger, allow Lussier to get away with “filmmaking murder,” so to speak. Without someone as imposing, empathetic, and uninhibited, the charade would crumble like dried roses clenched in your palm. As is, Ackles’ troubled hometown boy wages an indecipherable war against Kerr Smith, not to mention nails the forbidden lover notes with Jamie King. Throw in Atkins and Kevin Tighe’s likes as gruff elder pillars, and Ackles has all the combativeness to play against from multiple directions. It’s the characterization of a forgotten victim of circumstance that Ackles manipulates under Lussier’s keen-to-entertain theatrics. The mirror-image glare and repeat? Chef’s kiss. None of this should work, and yet? My Bloody Valentine 3D is a wily, first-time unpredictable whodunit that runs crimson rivers of ridiculously righteous rural devastation.

The Lesson

You’d think any remake that attempts to throttle absurdity harder than its predecessor would welcome doom by forcing frenzied mutilation. My Bloody Valentine 3D disagrees. Patrick Lussier trades Moosehead lager for removed-head laughter. Foolish chasers of carnal pleasure for ill-fated townsfolk who incite their own fates. My Bloody Valentine is a more traditionally “sleazy” slasher noted by the opening miner-sexy nudity tease; My Bloody Valentine 3D strives to rebrand Harry Warden by channeling alternate horrors of the same calloused landscape while still reveling in said traditions (Betsy Rue’s confident full-frontal motel chase). Lussier could have shipped us right into the same labyrinthian mines, but Todd Farmer and Zane Smith dream bigger. A worthy remake, even courteous enough not to duplicate the most iconic imagery from Mihalka’s original—boiled hearts in hot dog water and shower faucet skewers are the predecessor’s expertise.

So what did we learn?

  • Even when originals rely on a surprise fake out, differentiation can exist in your remake. It’s a more difficult task, but there’s no definitive killer in My Bloody Valentine 3D until you unequivocally know (alright, the cage scene is a stretch).
  • The essence of an original film isn’t explicitly plotted milestones but the world around characters and events. By thinking outside the shafts and dugouts, an otherwise relatable script becomes something more individual when honing on the community.
  • Cinematography goes tremendous lengths, and Brian Pearson deserves the “One Perfect Shot” equivalent of a Nobel Prize for his framing of Tom Atkins’ face within the bloody heart outline.
  • The 2000s weren’t the desolate remake wasteland gatekeepers decree, eh?
  • Remakes should benefit from the periods when they’re released versus recreating the past. For example, My Bloody Valentine 3D benefits from being an extremely 2000s genre experiment in the most late-2000s way.

Dare I posit that My Bloody Valentine 3D is, indeed, the most ambitious of the 2000s remake barrage? Maybe up there with Piranha 3D? Maybe all the best 2000s remakes were 3D remakes? I don’t know what drug My Bloody Valentine 3D has me all hopped up on, but chased after My Bloody Valentine, these two may stand as one of my favorite original-remake combos. The only thing missing from My Bloody Valentine 3D is an acoustic ode to a maniac’s grime-caked history, but what’s stopping Ice Nine Kills from fixing this oversight someday?


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