Sometimes They Come Back is here to take a look at the horror genre and its love for remakes! We’ll be discussing both the original movie and its remake (sometimes multiple remakes) in detail before deciding who comes out on top! Are the originals always the best? Let’s find out!
As it’s February, I pretty much had to celebrate the month of love with a look at some Valentine’s Day-themed horror movies. Whether you love this holiday or you hate it as much as Harry Warden does, there’s no denying that love is definitely in the air. Because murder is quite a passionate pastime, there’s no shortage of horror movies that are set on Valentine’s Day or at least feature a twisted love story if you’re looking for some seasonal viewing.
To get into the Valentine’s spirit, it felt like the perfect time to compare the classic ’80s slasher My Bloody Valentine (1981) against its gory 3D counterpart from 2009. Read on to find out which version of the murderous miner will win my heart!
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
My Bloody Valentine (1981) saw another entry into the slasher genre that tried to make itself stand out with a fresh new killer, a creepy mask, and a unique murder weapon. In a world where Leatherface, Jason, and Michael Myers already exist, you need to have a killer that offers something a bit different, and My Bloody Valentine definitely does that with a miner who hates Valentine’s Day and is hellbent on revenge.
Set in the town of Valentine Bluffs, Valentine’s Day preparations are in full swing. The town hasn’t celebrated the holiday in twenty years due to a terrible town secret that they have been trying to cover up ever since. On the night of the last Valentine’s Day dance, there was an explosion in the local mines that trapped a group of miners, with it taking six weeks for the rescue crew to reach them. Harry Warden, the only survivor of the group, had gone mad and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Harry was sent to the state hospital to recover, but a year later he came back to town to kill the two supervisors who had caused the explosion which trapped him when they ran off to the dance rather than check the methane levels in the mine. He cut out their hearts, popped them in heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and warned the town never to throw a Valentine’s dance again. He’s become somewhat of an urban legend in the town, with locals believing he hangs around the mines on February 14th, just looking for someone celebrating Valentine’s Day that he can kill.
My Bloody Valentine lets you know what you’re in for right away with its opening scene and its a slice of ’80s horror perfection. There’s sexual tension, glimpses of nudity, a lot of very phallic-suggestive stroking of the pipe on a miner’s mask, and a woman getting pushed onto a pickaxe so it impales her through her heart tattoo. And we’re only about two minutes in at this point.
While some of the violence was toned down quite a bit for its initial release, it doesn’t mean that this movie is lacking in inventive and impressive kills. Aside from the fact a lot of victims get their hearts cut out and delivered in a chocolate box, we also have a town resident who gets boiled in a tumble dryer and a couple who get drilled through when they are on the cusp of getting intimate.
The film does a clever job of making us take it for granted that Harry Warden is the real killer of the piece. He’s obviously got a pretty reason to hate Valentine’s Day, he’s killed on the day before, and no one at the hospital where he’s supposed to be staying even knows who he is. It seems like he’s returned to town to take his final revenge, and so when we get the real killer reveal in the third act, it’s actually a bit of a surprise. If anything, the only person we may have been suspicious of is T.J., the mayor’s son who left town to find a new life for himself, failed, and had to return to work in the mines with his tail between his legs. Not only that, but his friend Axel is now going out with T.J.’s ex-girlfriend Sarah. Valentine Bluffs reeks of a small-town mentality, where people never really seem to leave and are quite happy to work in the mines like their fathers no doubt did before them. T.J.’s rejection of this way of life, and Axel stealing the only thing T.J. seemed to like about the town mean if anyone has taken over the miner’s mask from Harry, it’s likely to be him. However, even this is a double bluff. A double Valentine bluff if you will, because the killer turns out to be Axel, the son of one of the men Harry Warden murdered. Witnessing the whole thing left him a little unhinged, and not so keen on celebrating the holiday that marks the anniversary of the gruesome event.
This is also another typical case of a small town ignoring a curse or local legend, and then being surprised when it comes back to bite them in the ass. They managed to go twenty years without celebrating Valentine’s Day, and it seems the decision to go back on this tradition is what tips Axel over the edge, and probably why he’s been able to live normally in the town for the past two decades. Much like Darkness Falls (2003) or Dead Silence (2007), choosing to ignore a local legend and do someone that will antagonise them is probably going to lead to a lot of people dying. Even seeing the heart tattoo at the start of the film seemed to push him into a murderous rage. Perhaps if the town had heeded Axel’s warning of hearts in boxes quicker, or the young people hadn’t insisted on throwing their own Valentine’s party in the mine, then they could have avoided most of the murders that happen, because there are a lot of them.
Axel makes his escape into the tunnels, with his fate left ambiguous, and leaving the ending wide open for sequel territory, even though we never got one. Finally, My Bloody Valentine ends on a pretty unique note when we’re treated to The Ballad of Harry Warden sung by John McDermott, which makes the film worth watching for this alone.
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
If you were lucky enough to see My Bloody Valentine (2009) in the cinema, then you will know that it was released in 3D, and on the big screen, it was terrific. For a lot of movies, especially in the horror genre, 3D can feel like an afterthought, but My Bloody Valentine is definitely my favourite 3D experience ever. Even when I rewatched the 2D version in the comfort of my own home (though the DVD does come with the 3D version and 3D glasses included), the 3D moments really stood out, added to the scares, and enhanced the whole experience. The 3D adds a whole extra layer to the scary bits and the murders themselves and is definitely a positive addition to the film.
This time around we jump right into the backstory of the town, with the movie opening on the mine explosion. In this version, it was Tom, the son of the mine’s owner, who forgot to check if the mine was safe enough, which leads to the explosion. When the rescue team finally finds the trapped miners, they are all dead apart from Harry Warden, but it seems as though Harry is responsible for his workmates’ deaths as he needed to conserve air so he could survive. Harry ends up in a coma, but a year later he wakes up and basically murders everyone he comes across. He then heads to the mine, kills most of the town’s young population, and tries to get his revenge on Tom before the police swoop in, and Harry has to make his escape into the tunnels.
The bulk of the movie is set ten years later when Tom returns to town after his father has died. He plans to sell the mines, which is understandably rubbing the townsfolk up the wrong way as he’s pretty much stripping them of their entire livelihood. Tom’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah, is now going out with the town sheriff Axel, whom Tom has never liked. Axel is already pretty pissed off by Tom’s return, so when people start getting murdered by a miner on the same night Tom checks into a local motel, he’s pretty far down on Axel’s list of favourite people.
This time around the identity of the miner is set up as more of a murder mystery. At first, it seems like it could be Harry Warden returning to town for revenge, but we quickly find out that he was murdered by the old sheriff and a couple of men from town, including Axel’s father, when he finally made it out of the mine through an escape hatch. It also seems like it could be Tom, as the timing is pretty coincidental, but when another miner is attacked and killed in the mines, Tom is locked in a nearby cage and has to watch on hopelessly. So it can’t be him, right? Finally, it seems like Axel could be the prime suspect. His ex-girlfriend Irene is one of the first to die, and he would have every reason to try and frame Tom to get him out of the picture. Megan, the woman Axel is having an affair with and has just told him she is pregnant, is one of the next to die, which seems like a convenient way of covering up the relationship and the baby. Tom thinks it’s Axel, while Axel thinks it’s Tom, and Sarah is caught in the middle trying to figure out which one of the men in her life could be a ruthless killer.
While the Valentine’s Day dance isn’t central to the plot of this version of the film, and the town has been renamed Harmony instead of Valentine Bluffs, there’s still a lot of lovely heart imagery on the go. From the classic heart in a chocolate box to Irene getting her heart carved out as she lies in a heart-shaped motel tub, there’s no forgetting that this is a Valentine’ s-themed horror movie.
Eventually, Axel finds out that Tom has spent that last seven years in a mental institution, and chances are everything he’s saying might not be the truth. However, when Sarah escapes Tom’s clutches and ends up at Axel’s dad’s old cabin, she finds the place stacked with heart-shaped chocolate boxes and doesn’t know what to believe. The miner attacks, Sarah flees and ends up hiding in the mines. When both Axel and Tom show up, Tom fervently tries to convince Sarah than she should shoot Axel as he’s the killer. However, Alex has possibly the best moment of horror movie logic ever and tells Sarah that she needs to shoot both of them as it’s the only way she’ll be sure she’s made the right decision. Touche, Axel.
However, it seems that Tom has given himself away as he reveals details of a crime scene that only the killer would know when the miner appears in the background. Just when it looks like Tom is off the hook, Sarah assures him there is no one there, and we find out through flashbacks that Tom is the real killer. Tom discovered Harry’s makeshift grave, snatched his helmet and pickaxe, and inherited a split personality of Harry Warden. While it seems that Tom has perished in the tunnels, we see him escape dressed as one of the rescue workers he murdered, once again leaving the tale of the murdering miner open.
My Bloody Valentine (1981) vs My Bloody Valentine (2009) – The Final Verdict
When it comes to a backstory for our presumed killer Harry Warden, I appreciate the fact that both versions of the film did it slightly differently, with both stories making complete sense for what would push a man over the edge. In the 1981 version, Harry’s prolonged period underground is what drives him to madness. It seems as if the rest of the miners died because they were trapped and Harry merely turned into a cannibal after they died. His decision to come back for revenge on the two men who would rather party at the Valentine’s Day dance than do their job and make sure their co-workers were safe is also completely logical. In Harry’s eyes, those two men deserved to die, and his request for the town never to hold a dance again was a way for the town to remember what had happened to him and his fellow miners.
2009 Harry, however, clearly has some anger issues before the events in the mine even take place. He straight-up murders all the other miners to conserve air pretty much the minute they get trapped, and when he awakens from his coma a year later, his rage levels haven’t subsided. Rather than taking revenge directly on the person who wronged him, which in this case was Tom, he just murders everyone he comes across.
The second version of Harry is definitely more menacing because there is very little logic to his killing spree. In contrast, you can sort of sympathise with the original version of Harry for what he’s been through. However, in both cases it seems quite logical that they would have returned to town years later for their revenge, only in both cases it’s a red herring.
The Love Triangle
The central characters of both stories are those involved in the love triangle. Both T.J. and Tom are clearly still in love with Sarah, regret leaving her, and have a poor relationship with Axel.
In the original movie, T.J. is definitely an easier character to relate to that Tom is in the remake. T.J. left the small town, where it was likely he would have to work in the mine, to try and find a better life for himself. When it failed, he ended up back in town and was stuck in the job he was trying to avoid the whole time. He seemingly abandoned Sarah because he wanted to make something of himself first, and then reconnect with her.
1981 Axel, however, is incredibly unlikeable. He screwed over his friend by immediately swooping in on his girlfriend, and never misses a chance to rub this in T.J.’s face. He’s always looking for an argument, and so when he’s revealed as the killer, you’re not too bothered. In the remake, they tried to make Axel more hateable by having him cheat on his wife with her younger co-worker. This obviously makes him a horrible human being, but remake Axel still comes off preferable to the original version. He seems to have more human flaws rather than just coming across as angry about everything. Obviously, we find out Axel in the original movie watched his father’s murder, which may account for his personality. But we don’t find that out until the end, and before that, we’re supposed to be rooting for him.
In the remake it’s been ten years since Tom left town, so Axel didn’t immediately swoop in on Sarah. Axel and Sarah built a bond when Harry Warden attacked them in the mine because Axel saved Sarah from certain death, while Tom cowered in the corner. Sarah knows about his affair, but they still clearly love each other. Axel loves her so much he’s willing to die with Tom just to ensure she’s safe. When they leave the mine together at the end, you’re hopeful for the future of their relationship.
Overall, it seems like we get to know the three main characters in the remake much better. We spent more time with each of them, especially Sarah, who gets very little screen time without the two men in the original, and therefore we feel a stronger connection with them.
In both the 1981 and 2009 version, it turns out that the killer isn’t Harry Warden, because he has died years earlier, and is, in fact, another towns-person who fancied a shot of the pickaxe. In the original version, we’re quite late on in the movie before we realise the real Harry is dead, and therefore someone else must be behind the mask. In the remake, however, we find out quite quickly that Harry has been dead for the past ten years, and that turns the rest of the film into a bit of a murder mystery as we try to figure out who has taken over from Harry.
I feel like the reveal in the original movie is quite weak in comparison to other slasher movies. It’s pretty apparent the killer is either T.J. or Axel, and Axel’s revenge for his father storyline is quite weak. It doesn’t really make sense for him to want revenge on the town, because the only people that were at fault in the only situation were the two careless supervisors and Harry Warden himself.
In the 2009 remake, they do quite a good job of hiding the killer in plain sight. All the clues point to it being Tom, but it seems just too obvious. Then the scene where we see Tom and the miner face off with each other seems to confirm his innocence. However, a second watch shows the miner and Tom mirroring each other’s movement perfectly through the wire of the cage as they state at each other, suggesting that something is amiss.
Even though we’re still pretty sure that Tom is the killer, the double reveal that he’s a split personality with Harry Warden is amazing. Echoing a beautiful shot from the original movie, Tom moves down the tunnels, smashing light bulbs with his pickaxe as he goes. As the lights go brighter right before they go out, we see Tom turn into Harry Warden in the flashes. It’s a beautiful shot that helps keep up the tension in the final act.
I think the remake of My Bloody Valentine is one of the best examples of why we should remake horror movies and not immediately think they’re going to be terrible. The original film is a good slasher movie in its own right, but it does feel like it could be improved on. There’s a good backstory, an excellent premise, graphic kills, and a cool new killer, but something about the story just seemed to drag on a little for me. The third act felt very slow, and once they headed down into the mines, it felt like a much longer movie than it actually was.
The remake takes all the best bits of the original movie and ramps them up in the best way possible. The kills are just as gory, perhaps more so when you consider the 3D element. I guess there’s really no nice way to kill someone with a pickaxe. The same relationships are in place, but in the remake, I think you care about everyone a little bit more. We get to know everyone better, and even getting to see a bit of the history between Tom, Sarah, and Axel gives us a clearer picture of their dynamic as the story moves on.
I also love that they switched up the killer, meaning even if you’ve seen the original, you go into this film not really sure what’s going on. It looks like they could be going the same way and have the killer be Axel, but the double-layer reveal of the real killer is so much more fun.
The remake also pays homage to the original with little touches such as the recreation of the dryer death and the miner smashing the lightbulbs in the mines but makes its mark as a standalone movie.
The original film is great if you’re looking for some classic slasher action, as nothing beats the ’80s for some of the best slashers around. However, if you’re looking for a slicker version, with better character development, a fun killer twist, and the added bonus of fantastic 3D effects, then I highly recommend the remake.
Winner: My Bloody Valentine (2009)
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