At a time when the slasher genre began its carnage of blood spraying fun in the early eighties, one film garnished the ranks as the most over-looked and underrated, with it taking a holiday largely avoided, and prime territory for director George Mihalka (The Psychic ) to stake his first directorial horror claim. The most interesting aspect of the movie is actually the authenticity of the style, setting the movie in a mining community complete with an actual mine, known as Sydney Mines and fitting a cast of actors from the Nova Scotia area. In fact, the actors, no mindless teens, rather working class adults, in their mid-twenties, and giving the movie a hot-dogging style of fun and energy, which pits it against the mindless, other slasher bloodbaths exploding into the market. Mihalka’s film owes plenty of thanks to his screenwriters first Stephen A. Miller who originally had the story concept and then John Beaird who penned the script; John had the pleasure of seeing two of his works make it to the theaters in the same year, first this movie and then in May Happy Birthday to Me.
The film does contain one of the oddest and yet entertaining opening sequences, of two individuals alone in the mines, in full protective gear, stopped against the wall with one pitching a pick into the wall, one removes a mask revealing an attractive woman dressed scantily underneath the uniform, while she reaches for her lover’s mask, but he refuses. Then she begins the unusual fondling of his long breathing hose apparatus, the camera gives a glimpse of her heart tattoo shown, suddenly a violent thrust of her back onto the pick plunging through her heart with gory delight. This brings the shock, a little bit like Friday the 13th yet with a different element possessing the screen, a unique and entertaining slasher gem, lost in the mines of the fictional town of Valentine Buffs. In addition, the movie gives a smirk to the Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, as the movie title card stated Saturday 14, giving the audience the knowledge that more than one massacre might occur in the nation in a weekend. As is common with the slasher genre, there are two main characters which include a goofy comedic, which is Howard (Alf Humphreys (Funeral Home )) and a crazy Ralph doomsayer, herein a bartender named Happy (Jack Van Evera (The Incubus )).
This film truly ages well over the past 39-years with references to coal mining and cave-ins dotting the national and world headlines, though none to this horrific level, however in a horror film, the situation creates great attention and adds the natural state of claustrophobia. Most of the cast had this production as their first horror, and while the characters fit the mold of tissue thin, they still performed their roles exceptionally well. The town contains a unique essence of believability of a working town, dependable on the mines, and the hard life of work, struggling with short lives of black lung and a homicidal killer obsessed with hearts, and centering on the failure of T.J.’s attempt for a cleaner living only returning for heartache. The character of T.J. is part of larger subplot in the film former best friends Axel (Neil Affleck) and T.J. (Paul Kelman (Black Roses )) battle in a twisted love triangle over Sarah (Lori Hallier). The audience learns about the curse warning from the bartender at the local bar as the miners and girlfriends, enjoy laughs, while one plays a knife game known as FFF [Five Finger Fillet], against the stylish mustache engulfing hearting champion Hollis (wonderfully portrayed by Keith Knight – who passed in 2007). The group listens intently to Happy’s recanting of the story of Harry Warden and four other miners, trapped in a mine from methane explosion the supervisors wanted jollies at the Valentine dance, and forgotten and dug out six weeks later, with Harry’s survival from cannibalism. Of course, one cannot keep a good man down, especially in a horror movie. His voice echoes the timeless essence of doom, but with flair to the style, that later enhances his own encounter with grim reminders of lurking dangers. Hence, with Mabel’s (Patricia Hamilton (The Entrance )) death from heated heart exhaustion, the Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds (Killer Workout )) and Chief Newby (Don Francks (The Possession of Michael D. )) decide to cancel the dance and destroy every decoration to avoid the wrath of the killer, as if it will stop the maniac. Soon enough, the passion of killing develops into a mayhem rollercoaster of delights complete with creative bloodshed, that only slasher fans can appreciated and crave. Then all one needed was the killer outfit, rather than inventing one, the natural one used by the workers worked best a faceless hulking individual with a spotlight to blind and disorientate the target. A trivia tidbit is a favorite line quoted by many true fans of the film, shows a bit tease of camp, and still endures the passion, “It happened once, it happened twice, cancel the dance, or it’ll happen thrice!”
A simple rule in filmmaking, regardless of the genre, if one has a great location, let it speak, becoming an important character, and this town and mines do just that, all thanks to direction of Mihalka, providing the gritty and filthy scenes, with no high resolution of slickness, a true passion of realism. Needless, the character of the killer takes the center stage, bringing volumes of brutality with much of the display stumbling at the feet and pouring down upon the dwindling number of survivors. T.J. works first against his best friend, Axel (Neil Affleck, who starred in Scanners, which opened in January of 1981) only to join forces with the mounting issues facing them from the killer and the hazards of the mines, providing a thrilling and entertaining conclusion. The special effects and makeup designs provide originality and, in fact, a screwy kill scene which mirrors a killing from Jason X (2001). One might realize that this writer wants to avoid the compromising issue of revealing too about the killer and the kills themselves, for some horror fans this movie lays as a buried treasure, especially to the newer crowd of horror fans, yet adventure warrants one to nail them down for this bloodbath. Although the local town which agreed to the filming of this story assisted in wasting $75,000 dollars of the film’s budget as the community spend $50,000 to paint, brighten and clean the mine for the filmmakers, obviously they didn’t understand the reasons of atmosphere for a horror film. While the writers use the customary ‘flashback scene’ to generate the backstory in a clear and clean storytelling for many critics frown on the retelling of it to the standpoint of grown men and women hanging onto the words of horror from Happy, as if a brand new story, in the bar sequence. However, one tends to overlook that they likely heard the rumors, tales and urban legends of Harry Warden, and growing up in a small town, but like a campfire tale, one cannot help the enthralling tale.
Shockingly interestingly Mihalka approached Paramount about a sequel for the movie in 2001, as evil never dies, especially in horror films, as all fans of genre can easy attest to, given to the nameless franchise heroes, however they passed due to the poor box office showing, of a profit of $4-million. The twist to this development, the studio, did a remake eight years later with director Patrick Lussier, which garnished a box office reap of $35-million, but not with same grisly gusto of killing. Now, almost 40-years later, finally receiving a proper release from Sh Factory with a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray (expect that review at a later point) the movie generates a cult following with intense passion for the pick-wielding killer Harry Warden and others, after all, when countless other killers wore a mask for disguise this lunatic wears as safety gear, and every miner has their own rig all identical. If one recalls from the photos, they show an individual in a dirty black work suit, breathing gear, and the brightest spotlight on his helmet to shock and blind the victim in fear. Then, add this with filming underground to the depths of 900-feet and with the risk of cave-ins, and methane explosions, knowing on certain types of lights were used to lessen the dangers, but not eliminate them. Needless to say, the movie previously earned a 2009 deluxe DVD edition, with restored scenes, and more bloodshed, courtesy of Lionsgate, and much to the pleasure of gore-hounds and horror fans in general. Another truly interesting aspect, in 1981 this treasure took the weekend by shock and ghastly heart stopping savage, curiously enough 50-years prior on the Valentine’s Day Weekend, Dracula (1931) opened with a gothic love story, perhaps the date means more to horror fans than otherwise believe beforehand.
Valentine’s Day once a romancing day, now filled a cheap commercialism payday, which has dulled the emotions associated with the entire feel of the passion for the one you love, though isn’t everyday to show and express the love to your lover. Therefore, the vicious creation of this harsh and stark raving madness bringing a double-digit body count, champions as the first feature horror film centered on the loving day, and while they anthology film Tales from the Crypt (1972) had a story called Poetic Justice, first, it was film solely focused on the day. In addition, Hospital Massacre (1981) from director Boaz Davidson center the entire film on association of humiliation and the special day of cupid’s arrows did not grace USA until April 1982 and premiered in Mexico in October 1981. The film’s uniqueness expounds further with limited budget funding, a quirky folk ballad from composer Paul Zaza (who has created many compositions for over 90 films), added this track, which later covered by the death-thrash band Deceased on their Cadaver Traditions album in 2015. Easily this movie, strives forward capturing the hearts on the faithful slashing loving fans, and with a Lions Gate specially loaded uncut DVD available the modern horrors find themselves picked apart and rotting in the spooky mines with a deranged psycho. Even Waxwork Records has released a special 180-gram record of the soundtrack, including a re-release in 2020 , that many of the cult fans scooped very quickly.
Since, its clearly obviously that I thoroughly enjoy this film, it does rank very high on the slasher loving list, and one I repeatedly watch throughout the year, regardless of the holiday or not, it is also one that the collectors of genre that have purchased the Molson moose head neon signs which were shown in the film well-before product placement became a thing of the day. It’s a good story for the horror fans to clutch their loved one or a tub of popcorn, as the thrills of gore, so why not spent a little time down in the mine with Harry.
- Harry’s out to steal your heart.
- Cross your heart…and hope to die.
- This Valentine’s Day, romance is DEAD.
- Sarah, be My Bloody Valentine!
- It’s such a coal movie, you’ll want to see it over and over again
- There’s more than one way to lose your heart…
- Valentine’s Day will never be the same again…
IMDb Rating: 6.3/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.0/10