Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: February 12, 2019
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that Scream had largely come and gone by 2001, just five years after its debut sent shockwaves through a largely moribund slasher genre. But that was pretty much the case when Valentine slipped into theaters just a year after Wes Craven’s then-final entry in the landmark series. As such, a white hot trend suddenly cooled into more of a void, ushering in a purgatorial era where the horror genre was waiting for the next big thing to hit. Valentine suddenly wasn’t just a tagalong—it was practically a relic from a short-lived resurgence for a sub-genre that barely shook the dirt off its grave just long enough for it to be buried again. No wonder, then, that it didn’t leave much of an impression at the time with audiences or critics, who dismissed it as a late-comer Scream clone, what with its sleek production values and a cast of popular rising stars.
Predictably enough, though, a cult fan base formed around Valentine, whose devotees saw right through its façade and recognized it for what it is: an 80s slasher trapped in a post-Scream-era body. Where Kevin Williamson blended a send-up into a love letter to the slasher genre, Jamie Blanks fashioned…well, an honest-to-god valentine to that bygone era. For the most part, it’s the genuine article: less an homage and more of a spiritual successor, it aims for imitation instead of subversion, offering a no-frills but relatively polished update to the formula.
To wit: just as many of those classic efforts opened with a decades-removed prologue, so does this one. The wrinkle, here, however is that we open in the late 80s, at a middle school dance where nerdy Jeremy Melton desperately wants a girl—any girl—to acknowledge his existence. Fellow outcast Dorothy—who has been exiled to the bleachers because of her weight—obliges. In fact, both of these awkward kids are soon beneath the bleachers, furiously making out until a group of “cool kids” seizes the opportunity to torment them both. Sensing a chance to save her own skin, Dorothy insists Jeremy actually attacked her, prompting the group of bullies to swiftly descend upon the boy and beat him to a pulp, much to the amusement of the entire auditorium.
Thirteen years later, a group of girls from the dance have remained friends into their twenties, and their past is about to catch up with them in the most brutal manner imaginable. A mysterious psychopath has emerged to stalk them, delivering mysterious Valentine’s Day cards before hacking them up. Truly, this is all you really need to know about Valentine. Sure, there are some slightly pertinent details involving the gals’ boyfriends (or lack thereof) and their various post-graduate ambitions, but, in the grand tradition of most slashers, it’s not exactly the raison d'ętre. What’s more important is that the script dutifully leads them to the slaughter at a reasonable clip and with gory fanfare.
For the most part, Valentine holds up its end of the slasher movie pact by hewing to this stripped-down, back-to-basics formula. While Blanks’s touch is a bit more restrained than those reckless splatter movies that came to define the genre, the script prioritizes both the killer’s carnage and the mystery surrounding his identity. Sure, we know it’s Jeremy Melton whose returned to exact vengeance after 13 years, but this bunch is slow on the uptake; furthermore, the passage of time means he could be anyone, including one of the men already in the girls’ lives. If that sounds implausible, please consider that Valentine is a film that assumes a group of middle school friends has remained intact for over a decade. Besides, as the intrepid investigator assigned to the case (Fulvio Cecere) insists, plastic surgery may have completely altered Jeremy’s look.
As such, Valentine goes out of its way to find red herrings between the creepy dates, a weird neighbor, and various boyfriends. One of the latter is a recovering alcoholic (David Boreanaz); another one is a yoga class associate who moves in with one of the girls after facing eviction (Daniel Cosgrove). Yet another is just a smarmy artist (Johnny Whitworth), rounding out what is clearly a murderer’s row of suspects. As silly and overwrought as it is, though, Valentine is quite invested in its central mystery, to the point where it actually drives the proceedings. In many slashers, the tail wags the dog to an extent, with the elaborate murder sequences serving as the main event and the plot settling for the undercard. Not that the plot here is exactly intricate, but this one is definitely more in the spirit of those early slashers that favored a more suspenseful whodunnit approach.
And even though Valentine feels a little too dopey to coax true edge-of-your-seat tension about the killer’s identity, the effort is certainly nice. The characters—shallow though they may be—leave just enough of an impression that they don’t exist exclusively to die horribly. Most of them boast enough personality and eccentric charm because the performers are dialed into the right wavelength here. Just about everyone—save for Marley Shelton’s Kate Davies, the clear Final Girl from the moment she appears—is playing to that campy splatter movie sensibility that calls for outsized personalities.
The talent involved keeps it grounded just enough, however, so the girls don’t come off as completely obnoxious caricatures; rather, they’re actually a pretty believable group of friends whose genuine concern for each other is refreshing (one of the film’s writers is a woman, and it shows). Most notably, the reemergence of Jeremy Melton feels like a physical manifestation of the routine horrors women experience with the creepy, overbearing toxic masculinity of noxious dates and abusive cops. Granted, this angle grows tricky with the realization that Melton was most certainly wronged and is taking vengeance because of a false allegation, but there’s a hint of twisted truth lurking beneath the crimson-stained surface.
(And, yes, this looks an awfully lot like a Scream-inspired cast, but you won’t find Williamson’s heightened dialogue or glib self-awareness. In fact, killing off a relatively high-profile actress like Katherine Heigl early on seems to be the only taken the script takes from Scream, and even that just hearkens back to Psycho anyway.)
That early sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film’s splatter quotient, too. With its prowling camerawork and carefully orchestrated fake-outs, it prizes tension over the gory payoff, and the rest of Valentine mostly follows suit. For a film that often feels like such a silly trifle, you might expect over-the-top gore that plays up to those gore-soaked expectations. Absurd splatter-fests became synonymous with this genre, but Blanks looks beyond those and again takes inspiration from those earlier slashers that blended suspense and blood to great effect. He rightfully escalates the violence here, working his way up from concealed carnage and off-screen mayhem to some inspired bits involving a bow-and-arrows, trash cans, and power drills.
If I’m being honest, though, Valentine is missing that one killer, signature gag that you’d earmark permanently into your brain with this title. The power drill sequence (and another involving an iron) comes mighty close, I’ll admit. Whether by design or by circumstance (this is a studio slasher with gorier material on the cutting room floor, after all), Blanks doesn’t push things all the way and remains to content to bask in the glow of his cupid-mask killer stalking victims before hacking them up. It’s a striking image that Blanks indulges as much as he can, and a sequence that has the killer slinking through a labyrinthine art show proves to be especially cool.
In many ways, Valentine strives to be an elemental, timeless throwback, and Blanks may have gotten away with it weren’t so overwhelmingly 2001. If you think our culture has stagnated, look no further than this movie's legion of post-grunge metal, frosted tips, and other unsightly male fashion choices as evidence to the contrary. I’m not sure what anyone was thinking at the turn of the millennium, but most of the guys here do not make the case that they don’t deserve a hot iron to the face just a first glance. In this regard, Valentine does for the early-aughts what Scream did for the mid-90s in terms of dragging this genre into a new era, making it definitive in that regard since it’s almost certainly the only slasher where you can hear the likes of The Deftones, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Static X, Rob Zombie, Orgy, and Disturbed. It's a wonder every goth kid wasn't issued a complimentary copy of Valentine at Hot Topic.
The cult legion that’s been singing the praises of Valentine for damn near two decades now has found vindication via Scream Factory’s newly-released collector’s edition Blu-ray. Long confined to an ancient (snapper case!) DVD, this title has been past overdue for the upgrade, and this release doesn’t disappoint from both a presentation and supplements standpoint.
Quite frankly, this disc is absurdly packed: where WB’s original release was virtually bare bones, boasting only a commentary, some fluff promotional material, and an Orgy music video, this one has all that and more. A ridiculous assortment of newly-produced interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, eight minutes of deleted/extended scenes, trailers, TV spots, stills, and even a newly recorded commentary with Blanks (alongside Don Coscarelli and Peter Bracke) await fans, who will need several hours to plow through this stuff. Six separate interviews from various cast and crew members provide over two hours of anecdotes and recollections from the film’s production.
A trio of the main actresses—Shelton, Denise Richards, and Jessica Cauffiel—appear with on-set memories and a fondness for a film they felt was empowering. Editor Steve Mirkovich gives the sort of standard interview where he briefly recounts his career before working up to Valentine in particular, while composer Don Davis obviously discusses scoring the film. In the most informative, interview, co-writers Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts appear for an hour-long discussion about crafting the screenplay.
As someone who’s been a little disappointed to see Scream move away from cohesive, documentary-style retrospectives in lieu of these separate interviews, this release makes a good case for this approach because it allows for a deeper dive. Nearly two hours of additional, fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes footage provides even more insight to the film’s production, and Scream has also tossed in the old EPK material from the original release as well.
As always, some fans might be left wanting for appearances from some of the film’s stars (Heigl and Boreanaz are noticeably absent), but it’s hard to imagine lodging any other complaints about this release. Not only a sweet treat for the devoted, it’s also a chance for others to discover—or rediscover—a solid slasher that fell victim to timing and circumstance. After nearly twenty years, it’s managed to outrun Scream’s shadow and has emerged as one of the better slashers of the new millennium. Less the slasher’s death rattle and more the guttural, defiant grunt of a genre that won’t die, Valentine proves that these movies will never go out of fashion—even if they sport frosted tips and questionable musical taste.
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