Vintage Canadian Bloodletting

When the producer John Dunning talks about the role Canadians played in expanding the colourful ideas and images in the slasher genre in the doc Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006), it’s kind of pride-tingling, because it means some of the exploitive entries we made have withstood the test of time and are regarded as classics – and My Bloody Valentine may be the best of the lot.

Yes, there was also Curtains, Humongous, and Death Ship, but Valentine was the most satisfying because it contained just the right balance of shocks, grim atmosphere, and occasional, self-conscious nods at the overall silliness of watching goofball characters moments away from being baked in a dryer, turned into a bloody showerhead, pick-axed through the eye, disembowelled, speared, or poked through the booby.

Director George Mihalka also walked a peculiar fine line in going following genre conventions he knew were quite ridiculous, and using gore to thrill as well as unsettle audiences; he wanted realism, but he wanted it to disturb, which is an unusual choice when gore was supposed to make audiences jump and nervously laugh. Valentine is still a fun haunted house film, but there’s a tangible nastiness, as though Mihalka wanted to punish fans by giving them more than they expected.

That decision ultimately affected the film’s final form when its’ then-shocking gore was snipped to ensure it would get an R-rated release, and it’s only now, after the 3-D remake was made, that the closest we’ll get to a Director’s Cut makes it to video via Maple in Canada, and Lionsgate in the U.S..

Valentine was a studio distributed film, which means it’s part of a back catalogue, and we always had a good chance of seeing it widescreen on video. The three aforementioned titles – Curtains, Humongous, and Death Ship – were not, and they remain, like many tax shelter films of the era, orphaned.

For fans of the genre as well as the era, it’s a hunting game to track down TV broadcasts and old VHS tapes of films that have yet to receive a release in their country of origin. Death Ship, for example, was released in England on DVD, and sourced from a BFI print; the fact no one knows where another lies, let alone in Canada, is ridiculous.

So while the hunt goes on (and when sometimes successful, a review will appear), fans should consider themselves lucky that My Bloody Valentine is one of the few Canuck shockers that can be enjoyed on DVD and in widescreen, because its cousins, good and abysmal, more often than not, exist as old and ugly full frame transfers on long forgotten VHS releases, or taped off cable TV in Beta.

Or, as is typical with Canadian films, they get released in the U.S. or Europe, and we have to “import” our own work.



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