The Alternative VALENTINE Movie
As horror fans, we celebrate differently than any other fandom. We annually celebrate holidays or latch onto dates from our favorite movies to have yet another reason to watch our cherished films. With that, the holidays bring about a different kind of fervor. We have a massive amount of movies to choose from when it comes to Halloween, followed closely by Christmas, and it's when we get to the lesser holidays that things get scarce. Valentine's Day has two massive monuments to pay tribute to in the form of My Bloody Valentine, both the original '81 version and the remake from 2009, but another Valentine's Day slasher is available and I'm here to tell you about why you should give Valentine a chance.
Valentine is a 2001 slasher that capitalized on the then recently revitalized genre thanks to the success of Scream. Based loosely on a novel by mystery novel author Tom Savage, it's pretty much what became standard affair for the films of this era. A group of friends who are twenty-something become stalked, and eventually killed, by our mystery killer. The cast were all young actors and actresses who were budding stars at the time (Katherine Heigl, Marley Shelton, David Boreanaz, Denise Richards) and while it was originally offered to Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly (HOLY SHIT, what would that movie have been?!) it eventually fell into the lap of Jamie Blanks. Now just who the shit is Jamie Blanks?
Blanks is a name that probably isn't too well known but he's the man who crafted the cult classic Urban Legend in 1999, which is arguably one of the best slashers to come out of the post-Scream mania. It was also wildly successful at the box office, raking in almost five times its budget, so it makes sense that Artisan would hand off a film in the same vein to someone who had proven himself competent and financially successful. So two years after Urban Legend (and a solid year after Scream 3), Valentine was released twelve days before Valentine's Day and caught the tail end of the teen scream revitalization.
The premise is silly. We start at a sixth grade Valentine's dance in 1988, where Jeremy Melton is the stereotypical nerd, and is asking girl after girl if they'd like a dance. These all end up being the women that we will follow for the rest of the film and they are mostly snide and condescending in their let down. Jeremy finally asks the other social outcast, Dorothy, if she would like to dance and they are soon found making out under the school bleachers. Embarrassed to be caught with the boy her classmates have all dubbed "pervert," she claims he attacked her and he is beaten up and stripped, a bloody nose ensuing from the duress of it all. Flash forward thirteen years later where all of these same women are still friends but they begin to be targeted by a Cupid-mask wearing, Valentine's Day themed murderer.
I'm not going to lie. On the surface, and on first viewing, I was not a fan of the movie. Perhaps it was because I was in that stage where I was starting to consider myself a cinephile and I looked down at it or it could have been that I was still riding high on the contemporary and unflinchingly meta commentaries on slashers that I completely missed the point here. Blanks actually takes a really big chance with Valentine and makes a bold move. While the films of the genre at the time were all copying Scream, Valentine instead presented itself with the same modern day sheen but decidedly eighties in it's execution. It was an exercise Blanks explored in Urban Legend, with a themed killer in a "costume" of sorts, but he fully commits to it in Valentine. Not only do we get a Cupid wearing stalker who is sending delightfully macabre Valentine's, but our cast of characters aren't quite as witty and referential as the characters we had been meeting in the late nineties and early aughts. The twist ending is also a direct shout out to the slashers of twenty years prior, swerving into a classic curveball ending that could potentially lead directly into a sequel if need be.
The kills don't try to be clever, although the Valentine's Day lead ups are wickedly smart, and instead are rather blunt and brutal. A knife to the throat, three arrows in the chest, an electric drill jamming through the top of an enclosed jacuzzi. Sure, this is 2001 but Blanks is giving us kills straight out of Friday the 13th classics. The tone of the film feels poignantly directed to be a throwback as well. The characters, although dying off and being stalked, spend much of the movie joking about men and partying. Even Boreanaz, our main lead and possible suspect, spends much of the film far less brooding than his Angel entertainment counterpart, and makes loads of goofy jokes and silly physicality. The score by Don Davis even reaches back in time to give that discordant jovial soundtrack that was so often found in the hack and slash of yesteryear.
It's fun because Blanks leans so easily into these tropes but also casually flips others on their heads. Where we are used to seeing a bunch of sex crazed males spend every minute either begging women to take their tops off or getting flayed, this female dominated cast spends most of the movie rejecting men for their oafish advances. The women actually mock men for their ridiculous behavior, spurn guys who are chauvinistic assholes, and are in complete control of any sexual activity that is happening. It's refreshing and in 2001, it was (unfortunately) way AHEAD of it's time cinematically.
I don't want to wax poetic too much about a movie that is by no means a masterpiece. The chances are that you won't go into the film and come out raving about how it deserves to stand in the annals of time with Halloween or Scream, but hopefully you can go in with wider eyes and have some fun with an 80's slasher made in the tailspin of the MTV generation.