My Bloody Valentine 3-D

2009-01-16 (General release)

Opening a Valentine’s Day picture in mid-January seems odd, to say the least. But you can see the bind presented to the producers of My Bloody Valentine 3-D, also released sans glasses as My Bloody Valentine. It’s got a great horror-date movie crossover gimmick, yet January, not February, is the established territory of cheap, gimmicky horror movies.

Compounding the out-of-time status for this loose remake of George Mihalka’s 1981 (initially X-rated) film, its connection to Valentine’s Day is strangely tenuous. The pickaxe-wielding mystery killer usually (though not always) removes his victims’ hearts, and sometimes remembers to leave candy-themed crime scenes. Most of the backstory focuses on a sleepy mining town haunted by memories of a deranged serial killer. When estranged survivor Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles) returns to sell off the mine, the killings begin again — targeting Tom, his former love Sarah (Jaime King), her current husband Axel (Kerr Smith), and any poorly developed side characters in the way.

What all of this requires (at least in January) is slick genre professionalism. Director Patrick Lussier, Wes Craven’s longtime editor, has dozens of horror movies on his resume (even without counting D3: The Mighty Ducks). But while Lussier sharpened his blades on New Nightmare and the Scream trilogy, there is nothing postmodern, winking, or even particularly stylish about this re-slashening.

Sometimes its straight-ahead anti-style generates effective, unadorned suspense, as in a stalking scene set inside a closed grocery store. Elsewhere, though, the lack of invention is frustrating. Early in the movie, Irene (Betsy Rue), a semi-anonymous old friend of the main characters, engages in the standard slasher picture sex-and-death combo. Usually this involves a glimpse of flesh; Rue plays the entire number completely naked (unless you count her heels). But while the scene displays a slight self-awareness concerning genre rules, the movie doesn’t escalate the gag beyond the degree of nudity. Wouldn’t it be kind of funny, and surprising, to see a naked starlet actually outwit or outmaneuver a prospective slasher, despite the obvious handicap?

Rue puts up a decent fight, but she can’t win because the film is a traditional slasher movie — cheesy and silly, using its apparently limited inspiration to dispense gore. Even if it wasn’t a remake, this movie would more or less already exist.

Still, on its own, incomplete slasher-revival terms, My Bloody Valentine sort of works. Or at least the 3-D version does, by offering something you can’t find in discount bins: bits of viscera appearing to fly at a grateful audience of teenagers and horror geeks. The best, or at least most fun, horror movies are largely audience experiences: shrieking, gasping, and laughing with strangers in the dark becomes as central and interactive as laughing at a good comedy. The newly updated 3-D, confined mostly so far to computer animation, reaches even further out to the crowd.

While much improved since the days of blue and red lenses, the new digital 3-D isn’t exactly mind-blowing. It remains more of an obvious illusion than traditional 2-D photography. But the imperfect nature of the technology actually lends My Bloody Valentine 3-D some rickety charm — cheeseball showmanship and B-movie excess. The expositional dialogue from the “town elders,” the cast of TV refugees, and, especially, the many gruesome variations on death by pickaxe pop out, the way they might during a caffeine-fueled 2am cable binge. As a movie, it isn’t particularly accomplished (I can’t imagine the 2-D version offering much fun); as moviegoing, however, it offers horror fans an old-fashioned ride.

RATING 5 / 10