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Friday, February 26, 2021

‘My Bloody Valentine’: George Mihalka on the Unmade Sequel and the Sequel We May Still Get [Phantom Limbs]

phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.

Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

With this installment, we’ll be digging into The Return of the Miner, the long-planned sequel to director George Mihalka’s classic 1981 Canadian slasher film My Bloody Valentine, which sadly went unproduced after years of development. Mr. Mihalka has joined us to discuss not only this unmade MBV sequel, but also his currently in the works follow-up Valentine Wakes, which would see the original film’s cast of characters returning to face off against a murderous miner once more in the present day.

Though the original My Bloody Valentine was initially met with lukewarm critical notices and minimal box office success during its release forty years ago, the film has since been embraced by genre fans and elevated to cult classic level, receiving numerous home video releases over the years as well as a successful 3D remake back in 2009. Given its iconic villain and ever-growing fan base, a sequel should have seemed a no-brainer over the years. Indeed, as Mr. Mihalka tells us, a sequel titled The Return of the Miner was developed back in the 90s and aughts, though it never came to pass.

“It was the [original MBV] producer, John Dunning,” Mr. Mihalka says, revealing the project’s originator. “[He] kept thinking about producing a sequel. This must have been about ten or so years after the original. He’d call me and say, ‘I want to do a sequel.’ I’d say, ‘Great, let’s talk about it.’ Then I’d get a screenplay, and … it wasn’t something that I really wanted to get behind.”

So what was the sticking point that kept Mr. Mihalka from eagerly returning to the director’s chair for this sequel? “One of the things about Bloody Valentine, it wasn’t about teenagers. It was about working class people, young adults, with no hope of a better future except working in that shithole. John wanted to make the sequel about teenagers, and follow more of the formula of the usual slasher films of the time. Sexy teenage girls being killed, good looking teenage boys being killed. Basically, what I didn’t particularly like was … when we made Bloody Valentine, one of my mandates was that it break molds. We jokingly called it The Deer Hunter of horror films. And then Tarantino, about ten years ago, said ‘It’s The Deer Hunter of horror films!’

“So it was basically a creative splitting of the minds. John wanted to create something that was very much the trend of the time, and I kept saying, ‘The reason My Bloody Valentine, after all these years, is still the iconic movie that it is, is that it didn’t follow any trends!’ It had nothing to do with the clichés, what Halloween and Friday the 13th set up. It wasn’t that. It was more of a whodunit, like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. It was about working class people and their problems in life, and then this shit happens at the same time. That was what excited me about it, and that’s what would excite me about doing a sequel, would be carrying on in that tradition.”

T.J. (Paul Kelman) and Axel (Neil Affleck) in ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981)

Mr. Mihalka also reveals that the original screenplay for The Return of the Miner had no returning characters from the previous film, and featured a completely different miner. “It was only in that the [story] would have happened in Valentine Bluffs,” discussing the mooted sequel’s tenuous connection to its predecessor. The filmmaker also points out that the finer details of the original take are lost on him, given the time that’s passed since it was originally written and presented to him.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dunning persisted in developing the project, ultimately bringing Mr. Mihalka two more entirely different takes in the hope of winning his interest and participation. Three entirely separate stories were ultimately pitched to the director over the years, with each take straying further and further from the simple slasher setup that had initially turned him off. “I believe one of them happened in some amusement park, where there was a miner ride or a Valentine’s Day ride.”

In a 2005 interview with Mr. Mihalka, the gentlemen at The Terror Trap revealed that they’d been able to glean some interesting plot details from the late Mr. Dunning in a prior interview they’d conducted with the producer: “The story picks up with Sarah now the sheriff of Valentine Bluffs. She and T.J. are married and they’ve had a few sons of their own, the latter around which the basic action will focus.

“Seems the little town has decided to turn the old mine into a carnival attraction complete with a Mine of Terror thrill ride. And surrounding the ride are theme concessions selling masks, miner helmets, toy pick axes, t-shirts, etc. Needless to say, with their experience from the past, an older and wiser Sarah and T.J. are not enthused!”

“Each time a new version came out,” Mr. Mihalka says, “it was closer to what [I wanted]. That’s why we kept in touch, and kept working together. I loved John, dearly. John was a mentor, John was a friend. We kept trying. John was busy with other projects, too. He had his own ideas, I had mine, and we would discuss it every now and then. Then I wouldn’t hear anything for a year, year and a half, and then I’d get another call. Then we’d discuss it again. We went through about two or three versions of it, before we found something we could work on. The last one was quite close. I still had my problems with it, but nothing that couldn’t have been fixed. But then the tragedy struck when John was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. His health kept going down, and nothing ever happened. Then the remake happened, and any talk of a sequel stopped. Then there was no chance of it ever being made.”

Sadly, Mr. Dunning passed away in 2011 at the age of 84.

While it’s undoubtedly a shame that this sequel went unproduced, Mr. Mihalka reveals a tantalizing bit of information regarding the future of everyone’s favorite murderous miner: “I started thinking of a sequel two years ago. It isn’t called The Return of the Miner – it’s called Valentine Wakes. “Wakes” being a pun on a wake, where the survivors would hold a wake every February 14th. Instead of celebrating Valentine’s Day, they commemorate their comrades, their friends, who died on that tragic day.

It has some interesting aspects where Sarah is now married to T.J. She runs a hardware store, and T.J. is still suffering from PTSD. He’s become a bit of a drunk. They have a daughter, and the daughter finds out that T.J. is not her father. In reality, Sarah got pregnant with Axel before the events [of the first film] happened. She just didn’t know.”

Mr. Mihalka goes on to describe what sounds to be an atmospheric opening for the film: “The first scene, we find ourselves in a gloomy cemetery. Winter fog. There’s a rose being placed on every grave, with each reading ‘Died February 14th, 1981’. There’s a group of people, the survivors, who are holding a little ceremony, and there’s a one-armed man watching them in the distance.

“[So] Axel returns as well. He’s been in an insane asylum for some time. He’s finally considered rehabilitated. Then, let’s put it this way, the killings start again. Who is it? We eventually find out that Axel is trying to stop the killings.”

The Miner kills in ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981)

With Sarah’s daughter, Mr. Mihalka points out, the film would have a character who would allow for a younger cast to populate this sequel. “The introduction of the daughter allows us to spend a lot of time with the new generation, who was born after everything happened, who have no real memory of it. People born after 9/11 don’t think about it as such an incredibly traumatic experience as the people who were there, or the people who were adults when it happened. So there’s that conflict. That would be the subtext for much of the show, while developing the same kind of mystery that we had in the original film.”

Mr. Mihalka also teases that a riff on a lost sequence from the original My Bloody Valentine may find its way into this new film that could someday come to life. “My favorite scene [from the original] is totally lost, and will never be seen. As much as the film was reconstituted, there’s nothing they could do about … this tender love scene between Harriet and Mike before they die. It was shot like an old master’s painting, with one lantern lighting it, with these two virgins finally getting to know one another, shall we say. Then the act is when they die. Obviously, that got censored right away. Back in that day, adding sex, blood and violence in the same scene was a big no-no. It was a beautiful, five minute long, Romeo and Juliet kind of romantic scene, with that catastrophic ending. If I get to do the sequel that I would like to make, I will probably redo that scene with another couple, just for the hell of it.”

So what is the likelihood that Valentine Wakes will see the light of projectors and television screens in the near future? “Right now, I’m booked on this project that I’m doing for another two years. I can remotely develop the project and see if I can get in financed in three years’ time. If everything works out right, we’ll definitely have it out.

“But this project that I’m working on now is something very close and dear to my heart,” he says, describing the current project as a historical drama focused on the Hungarian general who held off 150,000 Ottoman troops during their attempted invasion of Europe. “I was born in Hungary, and I have the opportunity to create and direct the biggest miniseries ever shot in this country for a worldwide audience. It’s a little bit like Hungary’s Game of Thrones, but based in historical fact.” The miniseries should be out in 2023.

Once finished, how will Mr. Mihalka go about making Valentine Wakes? “We will always have to deal with rights. We have to negotiate with Paramount and Lionsgate. There are some of hurdles that we have to do, coming up with the proper agreements. Everyone seems to be interested, but interest and actually making it happen are two different things.”

In closing out our talk, Mr. Mihalka offers his thoughts on the original film, and the sequel that might yet be. “I’m so grateful to the fans, for keeping this little film alive for all these years, and for continuing to find new things in it that even I didn’t know about. Hopefully, given the right circumstances, I want to repay their kindness and their love of this film by giving them the sequel that they deserve.”

Very special thanks to George Mihalka for his time and insights.

The original poster art for ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981)


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