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Saturday, 14 February 2015

My Bloody Valentine 1981 - Happy Harry Warden Day!

In the tradition of Valentine's Day, which was yesterday, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite horror movies ever, My Bloody Valentine. Filmed in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, My Bloody Valentine is one of the more original slasher films of the Eighties. Rather than the typical ones, which often feature preppy rich suburb kids being killed off (Nightmare on Elm Street, Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, etc.), My Bloody Valentine features a dreary, economically depressed, polluted coal-mining town where nothing ever happens, and the main characters are mostly blue-collar mining workers and their girlfriends. There's a police chief who looks vaguely like the Cigarette-Smoking Man from The X-Files and a wrinkled-prune mayor as well, there's a middle-aged Valentine's Day enthusiast named Mabel who runs the town laundromat, and there's a really cool horror killer, who dresses in a miner's gas mask and wields a bloody pickaxe.
Coolest slasher poster EVER! :D
So, My Bloody Valentine takes place in 1980 (presumably), and features a group of twenty-something-year-old coal mining guys all discussing their (immature and pervy) plans for Valentine's Day, then heading out together through industrial Cape Breton, or as the movie calls it, Valentine Bluffs. Bizarre hillbilly music ensues along with a clip of a guy struggling to pull another guy's pants up as they run to their junky old cars to race down to the community hall... in small towns, you've gotta find your own fun. 
All sorts of mutations occur in these inbred coal-mining communities.
Among the coal miners is Tom (T.J.) Hanniger, whose father, the mayor, owns the Hanniger coal mines. T.J. has just returned after trying to make it big out on the west coast and failing miserably, but he finds that Valentine Bluffs isn't the nostalgic, fun place he remembers. Moreover, his former girlfriend, Sarah, is now dating his best friend Axel. So, despite the cheery red and pink decor for the holidays, the movie has a lingering depression the entire way through... oh, and about that... this is the first time in twenty years that anyone in town has dared to celebrate Valentine's Day. In 1960, a mining disaster happened that trapped several men down below in the tunnels. One of them, a guy named Harry Warden, was forced to eat his colleagues to survive, trapped in near-darkness for six weeks and driven to insanity until he was finally rescued. As Happy, the town bartender, puts it:
"It was the night of the Valentine's Day dance at the union hall. It had been a tradition for over a hundred years. Everybody was there, except for seven miners at the Hanniger Mine, five of them still down below. Two supervisors were waiting for the men to come up. Anxious to get to the party, they left before the men were safely out, failing to check the methane gas levels in the tunnels down below. For six weeks we dug 'round the clock to try and save 'em. When we broke through, one man was found alive. I was the one who found him. Harry Warden spent the next year in the state mental hospital. Exactly one year later, on Valentine's Day, he came back to town. He killed the two supervisors who'd left their posts the year before, and he cut out their hearts, stuffed 'em into these heart-shaped candy boxes. That night at the dance, they found the boxes, blood dripping out the sides. Inside was a note, a warning from Harry to NEVER hold a Valentine's dance ever again. Every February 14th, Harry comes back to town, his pickaxe stained with blood, waiting in the shadows of the Hanniger Mine, just for someone to kill, should they not heed his warning. IT COULD BE YOU!" After his ominous warning, a guy named Howard makes a weird fart sound. They obviously think that ol' Happy should be sitting on a front porch somewhere playing a banjo or something and dismiss his bizarro legend retelling.

Cape Breton's coal mines weren't exactly known for being safe.
So anyway, later on that night, old lady Mabel is working at the laundromat, washing various fabric heart pillows and such for the upcoming V-Day dance at the community hall, when suddenly she finds herself being chased down by Harry Warden and killed. The next day, Chief Newby (or Cigarette-Smoking Man lookalike), heads to the laundromat to investigate and to his horror he finds Mabel's mutilated body spinning around in one of the dryers!
"Come on, let's twist again, like we did last summer, come on let's twist again, like we did last year..."
Horrified, Chief Newby calls Mayor Hanniger and breaks the news. "What an awful smell!" he remarks. "It's just like it was twenty years ago!" (apparently ol' Mabel smelled just like a charred corpse twenty years ago, ewww.) Mayor Hanniger doesn't want to cause a panic, so he tells the coal-mining community that Mabel died of a heart attack. He also cancels the dance - bad idea, because the miners and their girls decide to have a secret V-Day party in the community hall with T.J.'s help. T.J. hopes that this will impress Sarah and make her go back with him again.
Sarah confesses to her best friend Patty that she doesn't even feel like going to the dance anymore; she is angry that he just ran away to the west and left her behind in the run-down mining town. She meets him at their secret spot (a beach which I think is located in Glace Bay, I can't remember because it's been a year since I last went to Cape Breton). After a weirdly funny argument, they kiss in front of the silhouette of an old blast furnace. I'm not sure if I should consider that romantic or just strange.

Happy decides to play a trick on the miners by setting up a Harry Warden doll to pop out at them from a string suspended on the community hall ceiling. Unfortunately for him, the real Harry arrives and yanks Hap's eyeball out with his trusty pickaxe, dragging the body away (in a highly disturbing scene if you decide to view the uncut version of the film). The miners have no idea that their secret party is going to open a whole new can of worms and they have no idea that Happy has been murdered, nor do the police.
Holy jesus-crow... they sell those same eyeballs at the local Dollarama!
February 14th, 1980: the town of Valentine Bluffs is quiet, desolate, miserable. A melancholy haze seems to fill the air as cheap decorations flutter in the breeze. You can almost smell the cow patties of the rural Cape Breton farms in the distance... ooh, and speaking of patties, Sarah's best friend Patty plans on wearing a red dress that is nothing today but in 1980 would be considered very inappropriate. As the evening falls, the miners break down the community hall door and immediately start playing their Chuck McDermott music (which Paul Zaza, Paramount and Lionsgate have yet to release). Some of them make out on benches... while others get the bright idea to snort beer through their nostrils. Axel and T.J. get into a fight over Sarah and Sarah starts crying, and the brief fun moment is killed off. Oh yeah, and a boy's face is jammed head-first into a pot of boiling wieners by Harry Warden in the  kitchen behind the community hall, that sorta kills the moment even more so.
Meanwhile, good ol' Chief Newby gets a rather eerie V-Day gift - a box of chocolates in wax wrappers, sent in advance by Mabel, who kinda had a thing for him before her demise. Depressed, he sorta wanders the police station and bugs the rookie cop at the desk until outside, he finds a heart-shaped box drenched in blood with an enclosed note that reads, "you didn't stop the party!"
"Didn't stop the... what damned party!?" Newby shouts out into the night, but the miners are too busy partying to hear him.

Because Sarah is in a lousy mood, Patty suggests to her obese miner boyfriend Hollace that he take a group of friends down to the coal mine on a tour. Sarah agrees to come along reluctantly and Hollace and Patty continually hug and kiss like there's no tomorrow - which for them, there sorta isn't. But it's weird to watch, because Hollace looks like a walrus... it's like watching a woman kissing a walrus repeatedly. Happy Valentine's Day.
As the friends wander through the mine, Harry Warden goes right to town. Hollace gets it in the head with a nail gun, Howard is hung from a mine cable by his neck and a couple making love end up, uh - getting scr*wed, literally... this very large corkscrew-like mining drill thingamabobble is drilled right through both of them and it kills them. Up above in the community hall, Sylvia (a town girl) is killed when Harry Warden rams her neck through a shower faucet, and the boiled wiener boy has his heart boiled in the pot of weenies and his head severed and placed in a beer cooler. Weird.
T.J. ends up going down into the mine with Axel in an attempt to rescue their best friends from the deranged coal miner below. Unfortunately Harry is a master at sabotaging the mine's elevator system and electricity, meaning that there's really no way out but up a high ladder covered in rust (and Sarah and Patty are wearing high heels, hard to rush though an underground coal mine in those things) .
Howard's body and severed head are found hanging above the ladder, so Axel, T.J., Patty and Sarah climb back down, afraid that Harry might be waiting at the top of the ladder.
As the four remaining friends attempt to get out of the mine, Axel is (supposedly) killed when he falls, or is pushed, into a pit of water in the mine which is 60 feet deep (and creepily enough, Cape Breton's coal mines did have pits of water like that underground in reality!) T.J. tells the two girls that there's no way to save poor Axel and that he'll end up drowning and sinking to the bottom of the pit. They are forced to leave him and move on.
As they reach one of the abandoned shafts, Patty is whacked by Harry's pickaxe and killed, and Sarah can do nothing except stare into his derailed eyes with a look of fear, and then flee, only to find T.J. waiting for her. They both hug and head onwards, with Harry in hot pursuit.

My Bloody Valentine has great soundtrack - apparently composer Paul Zaza wanted the soundtrack to have a "dripping, damp, dreary sound, like in a real coal mine". Canadian singers Marie Bottrel and Chuck McDermott sung several songs for the movie as well, including the ending credits' "Ballad of Harry Warden". Unfortunately the soundtrack was never commercially released and Paramount and Lionsgate have yet to say whether or not it ever will be.
Looking at Cape Breton today, you'd never know it but it was once home to one of the country's largest hazardous waste sites, an enormous steel mill and a series of coal mines. It was a very industrial place. Since the filming of My Bloody Valentine, the coal mines and steel mill have been shut down and dismantled and the hazardous waste site, known as the Sydney Tar Ponds, was buried and had a park built on top in 2013. Many of the houses shown in the film's background were miner's company houses and are still around today, but they've since been repainted and repaired as the years have gone by.

My Bloody Valentine never gets old; though it's rather out-of-date compared to today's CGI-infested horror films, it's still incredibly fun to watch and enjoy with friends. Out of all the Canadian slasher films that popped up around that era, My Bloody Valentine still stands out the most to me. I first saw it in 2010 and it's since become one of my favorite movies, despite how lame it is.
It's gotten sort of a cult following, and it definitely has its fans - you can seriously buy a Harry Warden action figure online for about sixty bucks and some companies sell Harry Warden t-shirts. Art-sharing websites are full of art related to the movie.
In 2009, a remake of My Bloody Valentine was made. On one hand I thought the remake was awful, full of bad acting, pervy nudity scenes and bad special effects; on the other hand, at least it put into motion the release of most of the uncut footage from the original movie. Every February, both the original My Bloody Valentine and its remake air on various television channels. It looks like Harry Warden will still be prowling the mines and the minds of viewers for years to come!

As sort of a homage to My Bloody Valentine, I mentioned the movie in my fiction novel, Smog City. The main character has a Harry Warden t-shirt and lives near Sydney Mines, and her favorite film of all time is My Bloody Valentine.

The real Sydney Mines, late Eighties.
Mine used in My Bloody Valentine on a tourist postcard from Cape Breton.

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