Released during the height of the popularity of the slasher genre of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it is considered an example of the horror slashers reminiscent of popular slasher films such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). It was shot on location in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, Canada. Upon its release on February 1981, the film received mixed reviews.
Inside a mine shaft, a female miner takes off her gear while another miner remains geared. When the woman performs a strip tease and fondles the miner's breathing tube, the miner pushes her onto a embedded mining pick, impaling and killing her.
Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds) of mining town Valentine Bluffs reinstates the traditional Valentine's Day dance which has been suspended for twenty years. The dances stopped after an accident that occurred when two supervisors left several miners in the mines to attend the dance. Harry Warden, the only survivor, who resorted to cannibalism to survive, murdered the supervisors who left the mine and vows further attacks if the dance resume. Warden was placed into an asylum and the accident was forgotten so the dance resumes. Many of the town's younger residents are excited about the dance. This group consists of Gretchen (Gina Dick), Dave (Carl Marotte), Hollis (Keith Knight), Sylvia (Helene Udy), Howard (Alf Humphreys), Mike (Thomas Kovacs), John (Rob Stein), Tommy (Jim Murchison), and Harriet (Terry Waterland). Of this group, Sarah (Lori Hallier), Axel (Neil Affleck), and the mayor's returning son T.J. (Paul Kelman) are involved in a tense love triangle.
Mayor Hanniger and the town's police chief Jake Newby (Don Francks) receive an anonymous box of Valentine chocolates containing a human heart and a note warning that murders will begin if the dance proceeds. That evening, resident Mabel (Patricia Hamilton) is murdered by a mining-geared killer and her heart removed. When Newby discovers this the next morning, he publicly reports that she died of a heart attack to prevent a panic. Newby contacts the mental institution where Harry Warden was incarcerated, but they have no record of him. Hanniger and Newby cancel the dance and order the hall locked, however the town's youngsters decide to hold their own party at the mine head. After a bartender named Happy (Jack Van Evera) is angered by the youngsters, he tries to set up a fake miner dummy to scare them, only for the real miner to impale him with mining pick underneath his chin and drag his corpse away with it.
The next night, the teenagers celebrate the party at the mines. The miner proceeds to kill Dave by shoving his face into a hot boiling pot inside the kitchen, and impaling Sylvia's head with a shower nozzle in the shower facility. After Axel and T.J. have an angry confrontation, a shaken Sarah along with Mike, Harriet, Hollis, Patty and Howard decide to travel down into the mine as a diversion. While they are down there, Gretchen and John discover the bodies of Dave and Sylvia and they get the attention of Newby, who soon rushes into the mines with police support to rescue T.J. and Axel and the five teenagers down in the mine. Down in the mines, the miner impales a large drill bit into Mike and Harriet, and shoots a nail gun twice into Hollis's head; the latter staggers around until falling dead when Sarah and Patty discover him. T.J. and Axel appear shortly after to lead the girls to safety, but they find the elevator has been broken and the mining car tampered with.
When finding their way out, Axel apparently falls into deep water, and Pam is shortly killed by the miner slamming the pick into her stomach. The miner then chases T.J. and Sarah through the mines and into a small alcove. During the fight, the miner is revealed to be Axel, who faked his demise earlier. In a flashblack, Axel's father was one of the supervisors and as a child he witnessed Harry Warden murdering his father, traumatizing him. Soon, the tunnel begins to collapse from the fight and traps Axel inside while Newby and the police arrive to rescue T.J. and Sarah. It is revealed that Harry Warden had died five years earlier. While T.J. and Sarah walk away, she hears Axel's screams. Inside the alcove, she sees Axel freeing himself from the fallen debris by amputating his trapped arm. An insane Axel runs deeper into the mine shouting threats to return and murder everyone in Valentine Bluffs and mumbling to himself about Sarah being his "bloody valentine". As Axel runs deeper into the mine, he says to himself "Daddy's gone away, Harry Warden made you pay." The film ends with a maniacal laugh being heard as a ballad for Harry Warden begins to play over the credits.
Director George Mihalka, on the strength of his earlier movie Pick-Up Summer, was approached by Cinepix Productions, headed by André Link and John Dunning with a two-movie contract. Mihalka was asked to direct a horror/slasher story, presented to Dunning by Stephen Miller in mid-1980, and, after Mihalka agreed to direct, John Beaird was bought in to write the screenplay.
The film was originally entitled The Secret, however, the producers decided to change it to My Bloody Valentine, so to overtly reference the holiday serial killer trend with which the slasher genre was becoming increasingly popular, through films such as Black Christmas, Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Shooting on My Bloody Valentine began in September 1980, taking place around the Princess Colliery Mine in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, which had closed in 1975. Two mines were considered for the setting, the other in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The production company decided on the Sydney Mines location due to "the exterior [being] a dreary, cold and dusty area [with] no other buildings around it so it looked like it was totally in the middle of nowhere."
Upon arrival at the town for principal photography, the crew found that the townspeople, unbeknownst to them, had redecorated the mine so to make it more presentable, thus destroying the dark atmosphere that had convinced the production company to base the film there. The cast therefore spent a few days staying in Sydney Mines, encouraged by the director to get a feel for the small-town location.
Mihalka has said since making the movie that the most difficult element of My Bloody Valentine was filming in the mines. Located 2,700 feet underground, filming in the mine was a lengthy process, as, due to limited space in the elevators, it would take an hour to assemble the cast and crew underground. Also, due to the methane levels, lighting had to be carefully planned as the number of bulbs that could be safely utilised was limited. Producer Dunning recalled that the production spent an estimated $30,000 painting portions of the mine to achieve a darker atmosphere. Dunning referred to the shoot as "horrendous."
The movie grossed USD$5,672,031 at the United States box office upon its February 11, 1981 release.
My Bloody Valentine received mixed reviews from critics. Contemporary review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes shows the film has a 50% approval rating, with an average rating of 4.8/10.
Upon its release, critic Dan Scapperotti of Cinefantastique praised the film's cinematography, writing: "[it] is beautifully photographed, and the utilization of the mine creates powerful imagery." Tom Buckley of The New York Times gave the film a negative review, however, writing: "My Bloody Valentine probably won't make you shiver with fright, but it's almost certain to make you squirm, first with irritation and then with revulsion."
In a March 30, 2007 issue of Entertainment Weekly, the film was ranked 17 in a list of guilty pleasures, listed among such films as Dawn of the Dead and Escape from New York, and called "the most criminally underappreciated of the slasher genre." Popular filmmaker Quentin Tarantino called it his all-time favorite slasher film. In a retrospective assessment, film historian Adam Rockoff wrote that the film was "easily one of the best and most polished slasher films."
In another retrospective assessment by scholar Jim Harper in his book Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies, he notes that the film distinguishes itself from other slashers by moving outside the "typical teen based scenario," instead focusing on a group of twenty-something adults in a working class community, and relying on a notable "atmosphere dread."
Much has been made of the censorship issues around My Bloody Valentine. For the MPAA to award the movie with an R-rating, cuts were requested to every death sequence in the movie; producer Dunning said the film was essentially "cut to ribbons" in order to achieve an R-rating. Even after cutting the movie to match the requirements made by the MPAA, the film was returned with an X-rating and more cuts were demanded. Stills of the trimmed footage were published in Fangoria magazine whilst the movie was still in production, even though the sequences were excised in the theatrical version; even today the complete uncut version has not been released (though a 2009 DVD and Blu-ray release by Lionsgate reinstated three minutes of excised footage).
There are two reasons that are frequently attributed to the extreme cutting of the film. It has been suggested that Paramount Pictures was keen to remove the offending footage due to the backlash they had received from releasing Friday the 13th the previous year. The second reason, that Mihalka attributes, is that the movie was cut due to the murder of John Lennon in December 1980, stating that there was a major backlash against movie violence in the wake of his death.
The 2009 DVD reinstates around two and a half minutes of footage back into the movie, which contradicts an earlier claim by director Mihalka that the film had been trimmed by 8–9 minutes. It has been argued that the so-called uncut DVD still has some sequences missing, particularly the double-impalement of Mike and Harriet which the director recalls filming. It is thought that the remaining footage appears to be composed of expository scenes, such as dialogue and other non-violence related material. This is given credence by the fact that Mihalka gave his seal of approval to this release, and a written introduction by him precedes the beginning of the special edition DVD, stating that this version was the way that the film was meant to be seen.
The original British cinema print was also the pre-cut version. However, it did restore the ending. The footage was obviously from a different source and cut back into the film.
Although the UK cinema version was never cut by the BBFC the print used was culled from the US R-rated version, though it contained an additional closing shot of an arm being ripped off which was not present in any later releases. The 1989 CIC video and 2003 DVD versions contain the original heavily cut R-rated US print.
An unrated region 1 DVD was finally released in January 2009 by Lionsgate/Paramount. The DVD gives viewers the option to watch the R-rated version of the movie or with the original violent scenes spliced back into the film. Despite this, three scenes play in their unrated form regardless of which version is being watched: the flashbacks of Axel's father's death, and Harry Warden with the arm.
The following scenes were trimmed or re-edited to avoid an "X" rating from the MPAA:Some seconds of gore was cut from the pre-credits sequence where the woman is pushed backwards onto a pickax.
Mabel's mutilated body was originally on screen for much longer.
In the flashback, Harry Warden is shown cannibalizing a severed arm, in the edited theatrical release, he is simply shown picking the arm up.
The scene where the bartender is playing peek-a-boo with the Harry Warden dummy was edited so that no blood is shown. He was pickaxed up his chin and out his left eye, then dragged along the ground with his eyeball hanging out.
The face-boiling of Dave was shortened so you don't see the after-effects while he is dying.
Graphic head-on shots of Sylvia's shower impalement were deleted.
Michael's and Harriet's death was originally on screen. The killer enters and shoves a drill bit into his back. The "R" rated version only shows the killer entering the room and the aftermath later.
A stock footage close-up of the miner's light being shone at the camera replaces the bulk of a shot of Hollis' bleeding face after he has been nail-gunned twice in his head. In the widely seen release, the scene picks up after Hollis has mostly turned away.
Howard's hanging is shortened. In the original print, he was decapitated. The decapitation was cut out, so it looks like his body just falls, stops short when the end of the wire is reached, sprays blood all over Patty and Sarah, and then resumes falling. Not only do the cuts imposed render the scene senseless, but they also make it so there's no payoff to Hollis' earlier comment that Howard would lose his head if it weren't attached.
Patty's death scene, who is killed by the mining pick near the end, was edited of all blood.
The flashback of Axel's father being murdered originally showed the miner ripping out his father's heart. In the "R" rated version, all we see is a brief, non-bloody shot of the pick ax going in.
Axel's left arm gets trapped under rocks in the cave-in at the end. He rips it off to get away, leaving his severed limb behind to horrify everybody else. But since the key footage of the arm removal all had to be removed itself, it is hard to see exactly what happened.
My Bloody Valentine was released to both videotape and LaserDisc in the 1980s. In the United Kingdom, the original pre-certificate video release contained an extra four seconds in the sequence where the killer escapes by cutting off his arm; however, the 1989 release was identical to the R-rated version. Rumours were rife that the film had been issued uncut in the East Asian market, most notably Japan; however, director Mihalka denies the possibility of this.
With the advent of DVD, My Bloody Valentine has been released three times. The original disc is a bare-bones release without any additional features. This same disc was re-issued as a DVD double bill with April Fool's Day in March 2008. Both discs were supplied by Paramount. The third and most recent DVD release was issued on January 13, 2009, the same week as the remake was released in theatres. This version integrates the cut footage back into the film and features two featurettes and optional introductory sequences to the previously missing murder sequences. Two featurettes are also included. Director Mihalka, cast members Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Helene Udy and Carl Marotte, composer Paul Zaza and make-up artists Thomas Burman and Ken Diaz are all involved.
A Blu-ray was released on November 24, 2009 from Lionsgate, on loan from Paramount. The disc contained everything that was on the Special Edition dvd mentioned above. The film was obviously in 1080p and the cut footage received the bump in resolution as well. The Blu-ray is now out of print.
The pop-punk band Good Charlotte has a song of the same title.
Irish Shoegaze band, My Bloody Valentine, did not get their name from this film.
On January 16, 2009, shortly after the uncut version of the film was released in Canada, a remake titled My Bloody Valentine 3D was released in theaters.