Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Written by: Donna Powers & Wayne Powers and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts (whew)
Starring: Marley Shelton, Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, and Jessica Capshaw
Reviewed by: Wes R.
"The journey of love is an arduous trek, My love grows for you as you bleed from your neck."
Yes, I love the movie Valentine. It’s true. I shouldn’t, by nearly all of the typical horror fan reactions to the film. “It’s a Scream rip-off!” “The actors suck!” “It wasn’t scary!” Of course, substituting the title Halloween for Scream, how many other early 80s slashers that we all hold near and dear to our hearts can we say the very same things about? Plenty. Had this same exact same movie been released in 1981, people would be scouring eBay for used VHS copies and paying upwards of $45 bucks a pop…until of course, someone like Blue Underground or Code Red rescued it from oblivion. The point is, it would probably be more beloved than it is now. However, Valentine had the misfortune to come out as the resurrection of the sub-genre was fading, effectively ushering in the final nail in the coffin of what has come to be known as “the post-Scream slasher”.
For all of its faults, and believe me there are many, Valentine has a lot going for it that most fans of the horror genre and even a lot of slasher sub-genre fanatics just don’t immediately realize. For one, it’s a much better homage and representation of the late 70s/early 80s slasher film than Scream was. You won’t see or hear any self-referential crap in this movie. No “clever” name-dropping of classic scream queens, films, or directors. Nope. Instead, you get a tragic backstory, a deranged, masked killer, spooky opening theme music, and fun deaths that lovingly remind us of the days when drive-ins still prevailed and an Apple was still merely a fruit. The original theatrical poster (featuring the image of the killer’s Cherub mask overlayed with a childlike love letter) seemed completely retro in comparison to the “let’s slap as many teeny-bopper actors’ faces on this poster as we can get” mentality of most horror posters of the late 90s and early 2000s. Yes, Valentine does feature a cast of “pretty” people, some of whom appeared on television before making their film debuts, but if you really look at the two films (Scream and Valentine, it’s easy to see which one is truly the more modern and which one has its feet more firmly rooted in the past. Perhaps this is why modern audiences couldn’t connect with Valentine, I’m not sure. I do enjoy Valentine, and hopefully, if you watch it again with an open mind, so will you.
The movie starts off with a flashback to a tragic event in the life of a young Jeremy Melton sometime in 1988. At the school Valentine’s Day dance, the homely, awkward boy asks a series of girls to dance, and one after another, they offer him nothing but a cruel rejection. The last girl, overweight and homely in her own right, cautiously accepts Jeremy’s invitation and before long, the two are making out hot and heavy under the bleechers. Soon, the ‘cool’ kids are teasing the two, and the pudgy girl turns on Jeremy, accusing him of rape. The ‘cool’ kids torture and humiliate him in front of everyone at the dance. Thus, the wheels are set in motion for Jeremy to go insane, burn his house down, kill his parents, get locked away in a mental institution, and years later escape just in time for Valentine’s Day. One by one, the now-grown-up girls who rejected him are dispatched by a killer in a cherub mask with a variety of weapons (including a butcher’s knife, large power drill, an iron, an axe, and Cupid’s favorite weapon…a bow and arrow). Sound familiar enough?
The film was based on a novel of the same name written by Tom Savage. I have not read it, but by most accounts, the movie and the book are vastly different, so it probably doesn’t even matter. When you look at the death scenes and think back to the responses of the girls to young Jeremy’s invitation to dance, you’ll see that the script is a bit cleverer than most will give credit. Prior to their deaths, each girl is also sent a twisted, threatening Valentine card from a person whose initials are “J.M.” Gee, who could that be? Though it is in no way self-referential and definitely not constant throughout, I did enjoy the film’s moments of humor. When I first saw this in theaters, most in the audience laughed appropriately at the scene where Marley Shelton’s character is forced to rinse her shampooed hair in the toilet. There’s not enough humor to get on a die-hard horror fan’s nerves, but what little there is generally works.
Though the film features Denise Richards (Wild Things), David Boreanaz (TV’s Angel, and a bit part by Katherine Heigl [TV’s Grey’s Anatomy), the true star of the film is longtime stunt man, Marshall Virtue as the Cherub. Not since the good old days of The Redeemer and Harry Warden has there been a truly creepy killer in a slasher flick. His masked and black gloved performance is subdued, spooky, and quite reminiscent of Michael Myers. At the most basic of levels, for a slasher film to work, the killer has to work, and at a time when horror was perhaps at one of its lowest points, the Cherub was a breath of fresh, familiar air. After each kill, the killer’s nose bleeds (clearly paying homage to “The Bleeder” in Alone in the Dark). Each of the main girls in the film aren’t given a whole lot to do (other than show off the various ways which people can date, these days) but they are cute, charming, and harmless. They’re not Oscar-worthy performances, but for this film, they are quite adequate. Strangely, the ones given much more to do are the ones in supporting roles. Adam Harrington’s performance as “Jason” (the third-person-talking jerk who opens the film on a date with Heigl) and Fulvio Cecere as the sleazy “Detective Vaughn” are particularly memorable standouts.
One complaint I have in regard to the film is the decision by Warner Brothers to cut the film’s violence and blood down in the wake of then-recent school shootings. The film still retains an official R rating by the MPAA, but the blood and gore level is truthfully around a PG-13. I don’t know how it can be legal for a studio to cut the film down from its R rating after the rating was already approved and secured, and then release a PG-13 level film under the R rating. If they were going to cut the film of blood and gore, they could have at least given us a good nude scene or two to make up for it (the bare breasts in the background of the art exhibit don’t count). I mean, if I go into a film being misled to believe that I’m going to experience R rated material, isn’t that false advertising? It’s a shame, but this needless censorship displays yet another common trait that the film has with many of its early 80s brethren. Though they aren’t very bloody, the death scenes are still pretty fun, and do manage to evoke a cringe or two. At the end of the day, we can’t hold the filmmakers accountable for what Warner Bros did.
One greatly unsung star of the film is composer Don Davis. Most know him from his memorable scores for the House on Haunted Hill remake and The Matrix. Davis’ Valentine score, especially the opening titles piece, feature many piano and synth cues reminiscent of the scores to films like Happy Birthday to Me and April Fool’s Day. I wish someone would release the complete score on CD, as it has never been made available to the public. While, I’m not a great fan of director Jamie Blanks’ earlier post-Scream slasher effort, Urban Legend, everything he did wrong in that film, he corrected in Valentine. He put all the necessary pieces together to create a truly memorable and fun slasher film that honors the sub-genre that spawned it. It’s a shame that people dismiss it as “just another Scream ripoff”, but all I can do is offer my opinion of why I believe the film works and why I believe slasher fans should really give it a second look with an open mind. Yes, it could be better in so many different ways, but as it stands, there will always be a place in my heart for Jamie Blanks’ early 80s slasher love letter (pun intended), Valentine. Will you be mine? Buy it!
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