Thursday, June 25, 2009

“We ARE an inbred mining community, Ben”

Once upon a time audiences were given little paper glasses to put over their eyes so that they could watch black & white cinema in GLORIOUS blue & red, I mean, GLORIOUS THREE DIMENSIONS (in blue & red). 3-D popped up again in the 80s and didn’t really catch on then either. Its 2009 and once again, the ghost of three dimensions has risen from the grave, only this time the glasses are a lot nicer and not two-toned. My Bloody Valentine 3-D! (exclamation point mine) (2009) has the distinction of being one of the first of this new crop of 3-D movies out of the gate. directed by Patrick Lussier, it’s a remake of an early (and 2-D) 80s slasher flick. I first saw it on the big screen, IN 3-D! and then on the DVD in 2-D.

In a small Pennsylvania mining town an accident happened one night in the mine that caused one of the workers to go apeshit crazy and murder a bunch of people before going into a coma for a year. He comes out of it on Valentine’s Day and murders a lot more people, including a bunch of idiot teenagers throwing a party in the very same mine where the accident happened. Driven off and presumed dead, the town moves on with its life, until ten years later, when one of the survivors of the teen slaughter comes home to sell his family’s mine. Its actually a fairly complicated plot for a movie intended to stab people in the head with pickaxes.

Tom Hanniger: His dad owned the mine and he worked in it as a teen, actually causing the disaster that made the killer flip out in the first place. After the ten year jump, he comes back home to sell the mine, reconnects with his ex-girlfriend (now married and with an incredibly silent kid in his tiny role) and interestingly enough, people start dying again. Pretty suspicious, if the cops do say so themselves. He gets some decent characterization/backstory and plays up a shell-shocked survivor with a few things bubbling under the surface pretty well. His arc is about whether or not he should sell the mine, but its never brought to the forefront of the movie.

Axel Palmer:
A survivor of the teen slaughter, ten years later he’s the sheriff of town, married to Tom’s ex-girlfriend, has a kid, is having an affair and is kind of a douche. As soon as Tom comes back into town, he doesn’t like him. Since Axel’s got a few things to hide, its pretty suspicious that the murders start happening when Tom comes back to town.

Sarah Palmer: The Girl that the two men fight over. She was Tom’s girl in high school, but after he left for ten years, she settled down with Axel. This of course leads to tension in the love triangle, as she realizes that seeing Tom again after all those years is quite a shock. As the movie progresses, her arc is about who to trust, her old flame or her husband.

Harry Warden: Harry presents an odd case. He is very clearly the killer in the initial sequence, and dispatches his victims with ruthless efficiency (and a pickaxe). After the ten year jump, its not as clear if he’s back from the supposed grave or has been replaced by a copycat killer. Rather than spoil it, let’s look at how they pull off the villain. Dresses in a dark miner’s suit, with a gas mask and a lamp equipped hardhat. The mask takes away his humanity, leaving him expressionless and with a rasping re-breather as the only sound he makes. The headlamp actually makes some sense, as he operates at night and needs to see where he’s going, and has the added bonus of more or less blinding people that stare into it. It’s a fairly unsettling image that looks practical (unlike, and I hate to compare unrelated movies, ChromeSkull’s shiny face/sport coat combo from Laid To Rest). The pickaxe is also quite nasty looking, and if you’ve ever used one for manual labor, you know that they are quite heavy things that you would not want to be hit with. The blue-collar tool turned to murderin’ is both practical, and unsettling when you think about it.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Oddly enough, I liked it better in 2-D on the small screen. Odd, I know. In 3-D, there were a lot of very, very, very obvious “Ho-ho, look its in 3-D!!” moments, like a gun barrel being slowly panned over the audience. I was expecting those gags to fail on the small screen, but without 3-D, they were just part of the movie, and weren’t all that cheesy.

Which isn’t to say the 3-D effects were bad. They were quite good on the big screen, and provided the movie with the requisite jump cuts and squirms. Eyes get poked out, pistols get thrown at the audience, that sort of thing. One particularly disturbing kill comes when Harry uses a shovel to bisect a head at the mouth, causing the body and lower jaw to fall down and the top of the head to linger around a little. I didn’t exactly enjoy typing that, but it stands out a few days after watching it, nauseating or not. Gory fun for those that love gore. In 2-D, the jumps aren’t scary (disturbing/gruesome yes, scary no), which helped me look at the rest of the film.

Take away the 3-D gimmick and its really more of a suspense/thriller with a serial killer than a slasher flick. The mood is somber, the setting remote enough to feel isolated and the film feels more interested in asking the audience who it thinks is the killer than “what’ll that rascally Harry Warden do next.” The action scenes were also not the overly edited, badly-lit mess that you see in a lot of lesser movies. You see what’s going on and can follow the action. I liked that. I didn’t have any complaints with the visuals either way, but I think, odd as it sounds, that it was better in 2-D.

First the good news. The characters are much more fleshed out than your average slasher flick victim list. Victims get introduced but are played with some subtlety. Nothing like “this is Bob, the douche bag lawyer that you want to see disemboweled.” Nobody’s really “too dumb to live” which adds a little more weight to the deaths. Its nothing particularly gripping or elaborate, but they at least tried to keep the characters from being cardboard cutouts. I can respect that.

The bad news is that I felt they fumbled the reveal at the end. I didn’t have any problems with the actual reveal and acting therein, but there is a scene in the movie that features a character who’s one of the main suspects being clearly shown as not the killer. Since the movie did that, you take him off the list of candidates, but then the movie reveals him as “it was him all along!” That’s cheating. I don’t have any problems with who the killer turns out to be, but they could’ve handled that previous scene better to leave it ambiguous instead. I didn’t like how they did that, and it really pulled me out of the movie.

The sound was fine. The killer’s Darth Vader breathing worked out pretty well. The sound effects were rather good, and I think it actually had a score, as opposed to something you’d expect in a common slasher flick. The reason I say “I think” is that I can’t really remember any of the music, since there were no attention-grabbing themes.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D is an all right slasher flick that had the potential to be actually rather good as a hybrid slasher/mystery. Sadly, that one fumble on the way to the reveal completely took me out of the movie. I’m serious. It’s a competent film completely soured for me by that bungled setup for the twist. I won’t blame you if your mileage may vary, but for me it ended up as a movie that was kind of fun, had some potential, but was ultimately forgettable.

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