February 14th, in America and England anyway, is generally heralded with roses & chocolate, little naked angels and anatomically incorrect hearts. Valentine’s day is Love’s Holiday, in spite of the fact that it was named after not one but TWO saints executed by the Romans in the 4th century, and was rooted in the tradition of Lupercalia, in which women were beaten with dog or goat pelt to ensure fertility, and then paired off for a weekend of drunken fraternizing.
Suffice it to say, there are a number of ways to interpret the heart-shaped day. I come from Chicago, originally, so the name always resonated with blood in my mind, thanks to the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where 7 gangsters met their bloody end in a parking garage, in 1929. Factor in the fact that February is typically the shortest, coldest, blackest month of the year, and you’d be forgiven for deducing Love Day is not entirely romantic.
For many, who don’t have a sweetheart, the day can be downright bleak. Or maybe you are in love, but celebrate in your own way. I’ve dug up three Valentine’s related movies, for the lonely, or the morbid, the misanthropic and the misunderstood. For those that plan on staying in this Feb. 14th, here’s three bloody tales, to weather Cupid’s bloody shooting spree, or just to avoid overbooked restaurants and overpriced bouquets.
The Loved Ones (2009)
Have you ever been turned down for a dance? Lola Stone has. Repeatedly, it seems. Well, she’s determined to have the prom night of her dreams, whatever the price.
The Loved Ones starts off with high school senior Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel) swerving to avoid a ghostly figure in the middle of the road, and killing his father in the resulting accident. Flash forward six months, and Brent’s a wreck – taken to weed, heavy metal and self-harm to hold it together. Still, he’s good looking and attractively brooding and tortured, and he’s got the love of a good woman, his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine) to get through. Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy), the quietest girl in school, digs up the nerve to ask Brent to the Prom, but he’s already going with Holly, and has to let her down.
After a blow-up with his emotionally destroyed mother, Brent storms out to scale a cliff and smoke some weed. While unwinding on the cliffside, he’s given the ol’ chlorophyll-and-rag treatment, and Brent is subjected to a very different prom than what he was expecting.
The Loved Ones is subtitled Pretty In Blood and has been compared to “Pretty In Pink meets Misery“. It definitely falls into the “torture porn” sub-genre, which i traditionally loathe, but as a number of other reviewers have noted, this film transcends the limits of the genre, with timeless cinematic attributes, that makes it stand out from the bloody hordes.
First of all, there’s the cinematography, courtesy of Simon Chapman, which is downright artful. There are seamless transitions, that create a sense of interdependence between the various storylines.
Secondly, there’s a dosage of black humor, that alleviates the tension, and stops this from being merely a nonstop schadenfreude bummer flick.
Thirdly, there’s a killer soundtrack, that does a wonderful job of illustrating the interior experience of the characters, going from delicate femme-pop to brutal death metal, and interspersed with classic electronic ambiance, courtesy of Ollie Olsen, on par with classic horror scores like Dario Argento‘s Suspiria.
And lastly, and most importantly, there’s actual characters. Director Sean Byrne creates a real empathy with the main characters, showing their parents, their home lives, their scars, their hopes, their strengths.
And then there’s Lola. The website Cinematic Shocks put it like this:
This is all aided very well by Robin McLeavy’s juggernaut of a performance as the deranged and twisted main antagonist Lola Stone “Princess” who has sunk into a delusional world making for one of the screen’s more memorable screen villainesses in a long time.
They pretty much got it in one. She’s Daddy Little Girl gone terribly, terribly wrong. She’s like Carrie White, if Carrie weren’t repressed or actually a good person, beneath it all. She is the revenge of every meek high school girl, sitting alone on Prom Night.
While this is not precisely a Valentine’s movie (although one family in the movie has the last name Valentine), The Loved Ones is for those who know what it feels like to be left out, to not get what you want. It’s also an interesting reversal of the typical misogyny found in most horror films, and especially of the “torture porn” variety.
While I would recommend this film to just anybody, particularly those not used to the genre, for true diehard Horror afficianados, you might curl up with a bucket of chocolate popcorn with your morbid sweetie, and tuck into this masterful addition to the canon.
“You’ve got ten seconds to go, before my daddy nails it to the chair”
The Loved Ones
Perhaps you might need something a little more lighthearted, after that last gorefest? Let’s turn to one of the classics, James Whales‘ sequel to the original Frankenstein, The Bride Of Frankenstein.
The Bride Of Frankenstein picks up where the original left off. It starts off with the original unholy trinity, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, sitting in a Gothic estate on a stormy night. Mary Shelley spins a new yarn, revealing that the Doctor and his creation had not died, as previously thought. The Doctor recovers, swearing off his wicked ways and aspiring to a quiet, married life. This idyllic daydream is shattered when an even madder Doctor, Dr. Pretorius (wonderfully portrayed by Ernest Thesiger), kidnaps Frankenstein’s wife, forcing him out of retirement.
I’m sorry to say it, but I am criminally underexposed to the classic Universal Monster Movies. It’s one of the real delights, of writing about horror regularly, that I get a chance to rectify that.
I thoroughly enjoyed TBOF. Sometimes films from the ’30s can be snail-slow, and my modernist sensibilities have a hard time adjusting their heightened pace. I did not find this to be the case with The Bride Of Frankenstein, luckily.
The first thing that struck me was the sets: lush, grand, ornate Gothic structures, built on a Universal backlot. The stormy countryside, the stone castles, the mad laboratories, all add to create an immersive effect, that make you feel as if you are in late 19th Century Bavaria. These sets are filmed in stunning, silver nitrate black & white, utilizing light and shadow to full effect. It’s a gorgeous, scrumptious visual masterpiece, that every self-respecting Monster lover (or art lover or historian) should see.
The visuals draw you in, and the performances and the script mesmerize and spellbind you. The acting is downright Shakespearian, one of the main advantages of Cinema, before they could hide behind too many special effects. Karloff is the quintessential Monster, in this film, and people who know better than I claim that this is one of the defining roles of his career.
Doctor Pretorius really steals the show, however. He’s the ultimate Mad Scientist, unburdened by Frankenstein’s sense of guilt and morality. He’s hellbent on creating a new race of mankind, and bending them to his will. You get the sense he’d be happy with world domination. His evil is tempered with a black wit, that I personally find hilarious, like when he keeps switching vices.
The Bride Of Frankenstein only appears in about the last 10 minutes of the film, which is interesting, seeing as how iconic her visage has become. She is credited as being played by ?, in the credits, and it turns out that she was played by Elsa Lanchester, who played Mary Shelley, in the beginning of the film.
The Bride Of Frankenstein shows how all living things need companionship, understanding. The Monster never asked to be born, and everybody (that isn’t blind) that he encounters shriek in dread, try and burn him alive, and he ends up killing them. Some are born to endless night, eh?
Unfortunately, even one cut from the same corpse parts still finds him terrifying, and it is back to unending loneliness and misunderstanding, for our dear Mr. Karloff.
The Bride Of Frankenstein makes me think that people that make (and watch) horror movies are the most misunderstood, outcast creatures on Earth, and we all relate to that Monster on the moors, in some way. Wish it could’ve turned out better for our stitched up friend.
Highly recommended for modern and classic horror buffs alike. It’s funny, it’s moving, and even downright scary. I’ve seen clips and heard quotes from this movie for years, so it was nice to see where they all came from.
“To A New World, Of Gods And Monsters!”
The Bride of Frankenstein (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection)
And last, and perhaps best:
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
The town of Valentine’s Bluffs, Nova Scotia is having their first Valentine’s Day party in 20 years. Because a psycho in a gas mask told them he’d kill them all if they ever had another.
20 years ago, there was an accident in the Coal Mine, because two foremen were in a hurry to get to a party. Six men were buried alive, and only one survived, after being buried for six weeks. A year later, Harry Warden, the sole survivor, returned, and killed the two foremen, and warned the town to never celebrate Valentine’s Day again.
This film is a pretty standard Slasher Flick from the early ’80s. It’s got lots of big hair and bared breasts and meatheaded coal miners that are probably going to die. It’s nice to see the genre before it became completely mired down in formula. There’s a sufficient amount of blood and gore, without being entirely traumatizing, and some satisfying kills (someone is made into a shower spigot, at one point), making this a good middle-of-the-road Horror flick, maybe good for introducing someone to the genre.
For me, a child of 1980, these kinds of films are worth watching for the setting alone. It’s endlessly interesting, to see the clothes and hair, to see where people’s heads were at, what they were afraid of. In the late ’70s/early ’80s, everybody seemed afraid of the lone maniac, probably thanks to a couple of high profile serial killers. I definitely remember this vibe, when I was a kid, and although it was terrifying at the time, it seems almost quaint, compared to the social commentary horror that we have nowadays, with viral outbreaks and widespread apocalypse.
My Bloody Valentine was originally even bloodier, but was heavily edited, when it was released, which was typical of the era. There’s an uncut version available, which has restored some, but not all of the original footage, but it’s as best as they could do, with the deteriorated condition of the film.
This film has the most to do with February 14th, making it top choice for a bloody Valentine’s night. And of course, it is responsible for the greatest band name of all time, so it’s got to be good.
They remade this in 2009 for 3D, but i’ve not seen it, and don’t have high hopes. Anyone out there have any thoughts on the remake?
So here’s three options, for weathering these long, chilly nights, whether you’ve got someone to share them with or not. Get thyself some chocolates and some bloodwine, and don’t go investigating that strange knocking sound!