I am more than willing to admit that I have what some people may call a questionable taste is horror films. A quick glance of my DVD shelf is more than enough confirmation of that, but I think the fact that horror and what people find scary is terribly subjective, you can’t really give me too hard a time (please, don’t give me too hard a time).
However, there is one film which I love which I feel gets an unfairly harsh critique, and I always find myself defending it whenever it comes up in conversation. Apart from my best friend from high school (and this may be because most of the 317 times I have watched it were in her presence), I have never met anyone who doesn’t actively hate this film, and that film is Valentine (2001).
Valentine is one of the many slashers that tried to make a splash in the market after Scream (1996) was released at the end of the ‘90s/start of the ’00s. Along with other titles such as Cherry Falls (2000), Urban Legend (1998), and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Valentine was determined to cash in on the resurgence of the slasher genre and bring a new horror villain into the ranks. But the real question is, what went so wrong with Valentine that it has ended up being seen as the dud of the post-Scream period?
What It’s About
Valentine tells the story of a group of five female friends who have been pals since their school days – Kate, Dorothy, Paige, Lily, and Shelley. The story opens with the girls at a Valentine’s Day dance, where each of them is approached in turn by Jeremy Melton, the school outcast complete with ache and Milhouse-style glasses.
While Paige, Lily, and Shelley are all a little mean to Jeremy when he asks them to dance, Kate is more polite and suggests maybe they could have a dance later. Dorothy, meanwhile, agrees to dance with Jeremy, but when they are subsequently caught kissing under the bleachers, she lies to a group of boys that Jeremy attacked her to avoid the embarrassment of admitting she was with him of her own free will. The boys beat Jeremy up in front of their assembled classmates, and Jeremy’s nose begins to bleed due to the stress.
In the present day, the group of friends begin to get harassed by a mysterious stranger as Valentine’s Day approaches. Shelley gets offed in the opening kill of the movie after receiving a threatening Valentine’s card and then being stalked through her medical school by an unknown assailant in a Cupid mask. Her attempts to hide in a body bag fail, and she promptly gets her throat slit.
The police are on the case, and after attending Shelley’s funeral, other members of the group begin to receive similar cards, which while beautifully made, more often than not threaten bodily harm against the women.
It’s pretty clear the person harassing the women is Jeremy Melton, considering we see the killer’s nose bleed every time he successfully murders someone. Jeremy is taking the standard ‘male entitlement’ approach of being raging at women who slighted him 13 years ago but trying to figure out who Jeremy actually is these days is what proves difficult for the friends and the police. Just don’t read the back of the DVD box, because it fully gives the plot away. It’s revealed that Jeremy was sent to reform school after Dorothy lied about their teenage encounter, which does give him a reasonable motive to be after Dorothy, though perhaps the grudge he holds against the rest of the group is a little more questionable.
The movie culminates at a party (as most good slasher movies usually do) to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and with only Kate and Dorothy left alive by the closing 10 minutes of the film, it looks like Kate’s boyfriend Adam might be the killer. However, as Kate tries to make her escape from Adam, the Cupid-faced killer enters the room, is promptly shot dead, and is revealed to be none other than Dorothy.
As the movie closes, it seems like everything is going to be alright for Kate, even though all her pals are dead, as she sits cuddling Adam. However, as we pan up to Adam’s face while the couple waits for the police, Adam is sporting a pretty impressive nosebleed, as well as a facial expression which I’m sure is meant to convey ‘psychopath bubbling under the surface’, but somewhat misses the mark.
What Went Wrong
Well first up, for a slasher film, Valentine doesn’t actually have a lot of deaths in it – well not that many that happen on-screen anyway. Detective Vaughn, Dorothy’s maid, and to some extend Kate’s creepy neighbour Gary are all killed off-screen. Gary’s death especially is a real shame, because he gets beaten to death with an iron, and a hot iron at that, and that is something I would have been keen to see. Detective Vaughn and Dorothy’s maid’s bodies pop up later in the Halloween-style (1978) climax of having dead people littered all over the house, but denying us the chance to see these deaths when we have to watch multiple scenes of Dorothy complaining about how she doesn’t have a boyfriend like Adam is a bit of a punch in the face.
Shelley, Lily, and Paige all meet their ends in quite cool ways, but the rest of the characters who die are all characters who we’re not supposed to like anyway, so, therefore, it’s sort of hard to care about them. In amongst the dead, we have a pervy police officer, a creepy rhyming neighbour, a scamming boyfriend and his equally pleasant ex, and a maid we’ve only seen on-screen for about 30 seconds (and she was dead for about 20 of them).
I feel like another huge problem people have with this film is the twist of who the killer is, because, well it’s not really that much of a shock when we find out it has been Adam all along. As I said above, we know from the minute the killer gets a nosebleed after killing Shelley that the killer is Jeremy Melton, but it’s just a case of figuring out who Jeremy could be as an adult. The obvious choice for the killer is Kate’s ‘too good to be true’ boyfriend, but the film also tries to shove a whole bouquet of trash men at us to take the suspicion off Adam. Aside from the creeps we’ve already mentioned, we have the blind date who refers to himself in the third-person (who also has the initials JM…they were trying here, guys), the speed dating guy who thinks taking Paige upstairs to show her his penis is enough to sweep her off her feet, Lily’s boyfriend who assumes she’ll want to have a threesome in the middle of his art installation, and Dorothy’s new man Parker who is basically trying to scam her out of all her money. Seriously, the only nice guy in this entire movie is Chad, and he is the corpse Shelley is practising her surgery skills on at the start of the film. Though, you never know, Chad probably had an anti-feminist Twitter account before he died or something.
So, it is briefly suggested that any of these awful men could be the killer, but we all pretty much know it’s going to be Adam. I mean, why would anyone else murder Gary the creepy neighbour while he’s in the middle of trying on Kate’s underwear?
Finally, not that I ever think there is a justified reason to go around murdering folk, but I do find Jeremy’s approach to murder a little worrying. First of all, Dorothy is the only person who really did anything awful to him. Her lies affected the rest of his life negatively, so I can see why he would want to murder her and then frame everything on her for that double beatdown. However, if I killed everyone who told me to get lost at a school disco, I’d probably be up there with Jason or Leatherface in the murder league tables.
Jeremy is a creep himself, and just one of the long line of deplorable men that these five friends have to put up in their lives. They have enough shit to deal with without some butthurt guy they knew at school sending them chocolates full of maggots. Dorothy literally gets the least traumatic experience out of all the characters, which just seems a bit backwards considering she’s the real target of his hate. I feel like if they were going to target Dorothy appropriately, he should have spent the movie making her life a total hell before finally killing her, and there was no reason all her mates needed to get killed in the process.
The fact that Jeremy has always been in love with Kate because she didn’t show outright disgust towards him is also a sore point and gives me the major ick. The lesson here seems to be if you are horrible to men they will murder you, but if you’re nice to them, they will stalk you and kill all your pals so they can get you to themselves. No thanks!
Why It Deserves Another Chance
I know we’ve just talked about how the ending has a few problems, but personally, I love the ending. When I watched this for the first time in high school, I definitely had no idea the old double switcharoo was coming, and I’m entirely sure it blew my mind. So maybe keeping a grasp on that youthful innocence/stupidity is what helps me enjoy the ending to this day.
It doesn’t make any real amount of sense that Dorothy would be the killer, just because she was overweight as a child and is now quite jealous of Kate’s dreamboat boyfriend – especially when you consider the nosebleed element. However, no one knows about the nosebleed thing apart from the audience, and I think that’s what makes the ending so good. Even if you don’t believe for a second that Dorothy is the killer and know the Adam has framed her before that final shot reveal, you’re still left with the knowledge that we know Adam is the killer, but Kate has no idea, and probably never will. Well, unless she breaks up with him, in which case I’m entirely sure he’ll don the Cupid mask one last time to take her out. Ignoring David Boreanaz’s awful acting in that last facial expression, it’s still quite an eerie ending. When does a slasher ever finish with the killer just getting away with it because they’ve framed someone else?
I also love how we never have the final showdown chat that frequently comes in horror films when the killer has to reveal themselves. We never find out what happened to Adam/Jeremy in the intervening 13 years. How did he change his appearance? Did he train as a journalist just to get closer to Kate? Was he ever really an alcoholic or was that all part of his cover story? We don’t really need an explanation, and I think it’s quite refreshing to leave a lot of stuff unanswered. We don’t need everything over-explained to us, and it’s quite creepy not to know what’s going on in Adam’s head. Maybe he’s about to murder Kate before the police arrive. Who knows?
We’ve touched on the whole awful cast of men point above, but I appreciate how little of a shit the women in this film care about denting those fragile male egos. Paige pouring wax on a guy’s dick when he turns out to be a complete toolbag is a personal highlight, and we never see what happens to him in the aftermath. I like to think the police turned up at the house to investigate all the murder and find him butt naked, like a human candle. It’s also fun to see Dorothy’s overly-cocky boyfriend strut around like he owns the place and then be shite in bed. Well, not so fun for Dorothy – she deserved better considering she dies like a day later.
Is Valentine the best slasher movie out there? Well no, of course not, but I do think it gets a far harsher critique that it deserves. There are loads of horror films out there with confusing backstories and questionable acting that plenty of people love, so maybe take some time to give Valentine a second chance (and then you can tell me you still hate it).