Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Movies: My cruddy valentine.

I went to see My Bloody Valentine 3-D, the gimmicked-up reheat of the also-ran 1981 slasher of the same name, at a sold out showing in Union Square. In the seats ahead of me were two young men, drunk as lords. One, to my right, was a short and round Caucasian with thinning hair, a drooping expression, and a perpetual look of mildly frightened disappointment that made him look as if all the world was made of sharp objects and he was a drifting balloon, losing altitude and air pressure. The other, a lanky white dude with an angular face, thin lips, and a faux-hawk do, had a single conversational setting: spasmatic. His expressions were a toxic logorrhea of foul language, broadly played blackface usages, and awkwardly mixed sports/military metaphors: "Please nigga, that fuckin' bitch got to realize we're behind enemy lines, pushing into field goal position. True dat." Whenever the thin one gushed one of his spews of nonsense, he would lean hard towards the fat one, as if he intended to slip his companion the tongue or, perhaps, bite his nose off. The fat one shrank repeatedly from these repeated violations of his territorial bubble, until, by the time the previews were rolling, he was draped over the armrest of his seat in a posture reminiscent of Jacques-Louis David's slain Marat. His eager companion appeared to be shouting into his left armpit.

If, like me, you wonder just who Hollywood makes films like Miss March for, you may wonder no longer. The trailer for the film, which is a dumbed down Old School or a slightly smartened up Brown Bunny, seems to have been the single greatest aesthetic experience that Skinny ever had. Every joke elicited body-convulsing paroxysms of laughter. Every line pierced his very soul, illuminating the human condition and speaking truths long buried within him that he was no longer able to express. One half expected him, as the Elector of Bavaria did on hearing Mozart's Idomeneo, Re di Creta, to stand and proclaim to the heavens that the miracle of creation was now finally and well complete. Instead, of course, he simply menaced his companion's armpit with the roaring opinion that, "That shit was off the fucking hook, yo!"

This pair of cinema lovers continued this routine through the first twenty or thirty minutes of the film. Despite a steady barrage of shushes, Skinny would provide regular updates on the film's progress to Tons-of-Fun's hearing impaired armpit. When he felt that strict reportage would not adequately convey the emotional content of what was transpiring on screen, he would add some insightful personal assessment. Not content to simply remark that one of the women involved in the flick was attractive, Skinny loudly informed Chub Rock's pit that he would "pop her in her shit chute."

This particularly ripe expression of his passionate attraction to the actress Megan Boone crossed the line for his neighbor his left, a stubby dark-haired woman who suggested that he should save up his comments until the end of the film and then, after the credits roll, give Fats Staller's armpit his complete and thorough assessment. He suggested that she should attempt to fornicate with herself. She suggested that her boyfriend would object to that and, in fact, he would object to the very idea of further suggestions. Stewed in Dutch courage and perhaps momentarily dazed by the distorting effects of his Buddy-Hollyish 3-D specs, Skinny announced that he would not hesitate to engage this woman's boyfriend in fisticuffs. At this point, the boyfriend intervened. He was a large, shaved-headed man slightly smaller than the state of Montana. Pointing at skinny with a hand the size and density of a frozen turkey, he enthusiastically welcomed the invitation to brawl with Skinny and added that if Skinny did not allow the film to finish sans commentary, he would introduce specific moves to the planned bout that were most decidedly not according to Queensbury. (Although, given the verbs and body parts involved, Queensbury's son, Lord Douglas, may well have recognized these proposed innovations to the sweet science.)

Never one to stifle innovation, Skinny stood up and requested that Montana and his female companion, whom he may have slandered when he insinuated that she was an accomplished exemplar of the world's oldest profession, join him in the lobby. All three left. As Montana slid his considerably mass past Heavy D, he offered the portly and silent man an undercard match. A lover and not a fighter, Chub Rock reacted with a sort of sudden recoiling action, not unlike the contraction of a slug that's been salted.

I bring this up because, at that moment, my companion and I had to decide whether to follow the combatants into the lobby or stay with the film.

We chose, after no small amount of hasty and whispered deliberation, to stick with the movie.

While not exactly a decision I'll regret all my life, I now think Dave and I chose unwisely.

The new Valentine, no longer all that thematically linked to the titular holiday, has been relocated to the fictional mining town of Harmony. The film opens with a montage explaining the origins of the flick's famed gasmask wearing slasher: Harry Warden. Warden, we learn, was the sole survivor of a multi-fatality accident in the Hanniger mines. The accident was the direct result of the incompetence Tom Hanniger, the owner's son. Shortly after Warden is pulled out of the mine in a coma, the montage reveals that Warden's survival was predicated on the fact that he pix axed the miners he was trapped with to conserve his oxygen.

Flash forward a few years. The now disused mining tunnel is a teen party spot. Our core cast - Tom, his girl Sarah, and the jealous Axel – join a largest number of relatively nameless slash fodder for this rave up on the site of Harmony's largest industrial accident/mass murder. On cue, of course, Harry Warden wakes up and goes all stab stab, slash slash, like you do in these pictures. After slaughtering everybody in the local hospital, apparently with his bare hands, the recently recovered from a multi-year coma worker suits up into his old mining outfit, dons a gasmask, and pix axes the crap out of about a dozen kids. However, before he can send Tom to the great mountain removal pit in the sky, the town's two police officers intervene. They shoot Warden several times and chase him deeper into the mine. Later, we learn, Warden is presumed dead in a mine collapse. Of course, the body is never recovered. Is it ever?

Flash forward again: ten years later. Tom, unable to deal with fact that every time he gets near the mines it means that a bushel of people will end up with fatal pix axe wounds, has returned to Harmony after a self-imposed exile. He's come back to sell the mine and bury the past. Unfortunately for Tom, and anybody who thought this puppy was going to clock in at a reasonable time, two things stop him. First, his relationship with Sarah (now wife of ex-rival Axel, himself the police chief of Harmony) shows signs of renewed vigor. Second, speaking of renewed vigor, Warden seems to still be twitching too. Tom's return to the town marks the kick off of a new spate of pix axe murders. The rest, as they say, is misery.

My Bloody Valentine - oh sure, once it starts sucking eggs it's suddenly MY bloody valentine – is a soulless rehash of a mediocre flick. More bland than bad, it's a movie so predictable, so obvious, and so safe that it mild success seems effortlessly secure and overtly cynical. Seemingly written by committee, it ploddingly hits every point on the You-2-Can-Write plot specs provided in Writing Classic Slashers for Dummies while unwisely adding all the worst elements – all the un-mystery and none of the leavening wit – of a post-Scream Era slasher revival film. The end result is a leaden bore of film that pads a straight-to-video hour-and-twenty minute slasher with an extra near-thirty minutes of domestic drama and mystery moments that will actually make you long for brisk efficiency and taut professional focus a Kevin Williamson flick.

Only two things spared this flick a Sci-Fi Channel premiere: an extended nude scene and 3-D. Neither is quite enough to save the film. Like the film's plot, there's a bit too much sag in the nude scenes. As for the 3-D, while technically quite proficient, it is a fairly unnecessary gloss that hinders, rather than liberates the film. The 3-D is crisp and pleasingly clear, but it gives everything a weird "diorama in a box look," ties the hands of the cinematographer and editor by demanding unnecessary long takes and goofy extreme close-up, and it rarely used to significant effect (and how could it be when the exact same film also needs to be screened in not 3-D formats?).

No doubt there are partisans of the previous incarnation of Valentine that will feel some affection for this uninspired reworking. One of the few slashers that didn't manage to wear out its welcome by featuring Fat Boys theme songs, kung-fu battles with Busta Rhymes, or outer space adventures, Valentine's box office failure and subsequent neglect must now look something like integrity. By never venturing to Manhattan or rapping in music videos, Valentine's killer – the wonderfully designed Harry Warden – never lapsed into self-parody. Still, this retroactive re-evaluation of the original had more to do with the decline of more famous slasher icons than anything else. It wasn't that Valentine (and other such flicks, like The Burning) is so great, but rather that they never had the chance franchise-up and flood the market with inferior product. (A chance that the remake, with its "set-up the franchise" conclusion, seems more than willing to rectify.)

That the original owes its cult status to simply not decaying into utter suckitude is fitting. The remake is a giant ode to fan settling and a refutation that horror, as a genre, has room for new ideas, innovations, or growth. I read an online critic that praised My Bloody Valentine for catering to tastes of the 40-and-over set, and he was spot on. The new Valentine is the Big Chill of horror.

Still, the 3-D glasses are kind of neat. I kept mine in the hopes that I'd someday be given something worth looking at.


when is evil cool? said...

glad to hear that seeing a movie at Union Square is still like that scene in Gremlins where they're all watching Snow White and carrying on.

i almost went to see this movie in a Brooklyn theatre yesterday. 2 things stopped me. the line was huge and on top of the $11 ticket price they wanted another $2 for the 3D glasses. we decided to have pints instead.

CRwM said...

Pints was the right choice.

Brad said...

Brilliant review.

Heather Santrous said...

Sounds like you didn't have fun watching the film because of what was going on around you. That has always played a big part to me in how I enjoyed the film. If people around me are annoying as hell, it is hard to get into the movie itself. Since your review was more about the people around, more than about the film itself, I guess that may have been apart of it.

I rather enjoyed going to this one. Loved the effects. The story could have been better, but then it is a remake. It would have been nice if they had stuck a little closer to the original story. But that is the curse of a remake, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Heather,

I don't know that I can blame the crowd, really. They were almost a pleasant diversion.

I guess I didn't hate the movie so much as I was simply bored by it. It just seemed like such a pointless exercise in genre rule following.

Certainly, if you had fun, that can't be argued with. They make so many movies because so many of us like different stuff. But this film bored me near to tears.

Shon Richards said...

Man, I want to know what happened with the fight in the lobby.

"Writing Classic Slashers for Dummies" might be a fun book to write.

Sarah said...

This is quite possibly the best blog post I've read in a long time, just for the Marat reference alone.

I walked away from MBV3D feeling disappointed too.

If it matters, I just found out that it was co-written by Todd Farmer, the guy who wrote/co-wrote Jason X. He also played the trucker who got a pickaxe through the skull at the hotel.

spacejack said...

Oh dear. Against our better judgement, Briny and I are going to check this out tomorrow.

Sometimes I enjoy following along with the formula... sometimes not. I'm not sure if it's a mood thing or if there's actually some quality that I can't define.

The Igloo Keeper... said...

I WAS that short and round Caucasian with thinning hair, a drooping expression, and a perpetual look of mildly frightened disappointment that makes me look as if all the world was made of sharp objects and I was a drifting balloon, losing altitude and air pressure!

Sasquatchan said...

Killer review, CRWM, as always.

I look forward to seeing your review of the new Friday the 13th rehash. Based on trailers, seems like a lot more T&A, but not so much Crystal Lake history/keeping with the canon. (I mean, c'mon, seeing Jason sharpening his machete on a grinding wheel ? Please.. And the hockey mask didn't come in until the 3rd movie, I thought..)

gandydancer said...


how can you expect to see a dumb slasher (in 3D, no less) and expect the audience to remain quiet?

i am always amazed at the sheer number of people who want to treat this as high art and sit in numbing silence throughout. a slasher--especially one presented to me in three dimensions with silly glasses provided to boot--is going to be met on my part with much hooting, hollering, and giggles a-plenty when someone does or says something stupid. on screen or in the seats.

i saw this film in a theatre filled with like minded people, and it was a particularly--shall i say joyous?--communal, FUN experience. people cheered at the inventiveness (or lack thereof) in the killings, snorted with collective disdain at the very silly denouement, and felt no compunctions about commenting on the more ridiculous aspects of the film.

silent audiences at (please be frank) absolutely stupid horror films are somewhat ludicrous themselves, and i've never been able to understand those who want to watch them as though there's really, honestly something there to look FOR. as you said, anyone who can't figure this film out needs to turn in their movie watcher's club card and go back to drooling in front of the telly, so who really gives a damn?

spacejack said...

Well, we saw it with a pretty lively audience as well - or at least, a row of lively people right behind us.

Anyway, immediately from the get-go, the 3D effect seemed goofy to me, so the wisecracking didn't bug me. It was pretty funny actually.

I came away from the experience having learned that white people in horror movies do dumb things (though if it weren't for these dumb white people, there wouldn't be any horror movies.)

That, and that MBV 3D is not only a pointless 3D re-imagining, but also rips off a far better movie from a couple years ago, making the ending easily predictable from about 1/3 of the way through the film.

Ryne said...

Great write-up.
As you read, I felt the same way, and actually would have rather had some dudes fighting in front of me. Your description of that alone is 5-star excellence.