Monday, February 14, 2011


Mad Doctor
The poster
Warning: If you have not previously viewed this movie, there may be spoilers.

I hate Valentine's Day.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm OK with love, statements and expressions thereof, chocolate, and so forth.  But I despise completely the idea that there should be one single day where all of this should be ramped up to outrageous proportions when we're supposed to be showing love to significant people all the time anyway.  So with this in mind, I shall examine the horror movie Valentine for today's Tales From The Monster Shop installment.

Valentine showed up in 2001, and came dragging in at the end of the post-Scream revival of the teen slasher movie genre, which consisted largely of the Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend franchises, and to some extent the Halloween H20 film.  Directed by Jamie Blanks (who had also directed Urban Legend), Valentine was a slasher film with a Valentine's Day theme, and was poorly received by moviegoers despite the participation of David Boreanaz (of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Bones fame) and Denise Richards, both of whom were popular stars among its target audience.  Compared to the continuous self-referencing of the Scream series, Valentine was seen as a poorly executed throwback to a more conventional mode of slasher film.

The bad little girl and the good little girl
Despite the flaws in the movie, the core idea is a good one.  At a school dance in 1998, the geeky and socially inept Jeremy Melton is spurned by four girls: Paige (who grows up to be Denise Richards later), Kate (Marley Shelton, who is the only kind one), Shelley (Katherine Heigl), and Lily (Jessica Cauffiel).  He momentarily seems to connect with Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw), a chubby-but-cute girl who betrays him when they are discovered making out underneath the bleachers by a group of bullies.  Dorothy accuses Jeremy of forcing himself on her, and Jeremy is dragged out, stripped and beaten up in front of the school, which causes him to have a heavy nosebleed.  (Later it is revealed that Jeremy was wrongfully sent away to reform school because of Dorothy's accusation.)

Seeing Shelley off
Fast-forward thirteen years later.  The girls from the dance have grown up and are all fairly well-to-do, but they are still largely the same people they were in 1998: Kate is still nice and kind, Lily is still silly and outgoing, Dorothy still has issues about her weight and size despite having grown up to be rich, pretty and sophisticated, and Paige is still bitchy and promiscuous.  All of them are suffering from boyfriend troubles (one can hardly wonder why) and Shelley, who is the first victim, is killed in the morgue of the hospital where she is studying medicine shortly after an unpleasant first date.  Before her death, Shelley receives an ugly, horrific Valentine card and is pursued by a killer wearing a Cupid mask, who suffers a massive nosebleed shortly after.  This and the signature "JM" on the card (which is also on subsequent cards sent to other victims), rather strongly assure the viewer that the killer is a returned and vengeful Jeremy Melton, and the rest of the film is merely about watching the other girls become victims or try to figure out (in a somewhat goggle-eyed mixture of Grand Guignol and Scooby-Doo) who in the movie is really Jeremy Melton, and watching the story, or lack thereof, unfold.

Is that you, Jeremy?
Of course, I cannot say with a straight face that this is a four-star movie; like other slasher movies that came out during the Scream era (which itself was a rather poorly executed parody of slasher movies, which led to the even more poorly executed parody of a parody known as Scary Movie, and its subsequent putrid brethren), it suffers from an almost suffocating blandness that is not present in other "slasher genre" films, even the low-budget ones.  Valentine is curiously a bloodless film, despite the Cupid Killer's escalating proficiency with weapons beginning with the simple kitchen knife and proceeding to utilize a bow and arrow before creating the customary Horrid Gore Scene by impaling one victim on a spike of broken shower glass.  It can't even seem to muster horror out of his cavalier attitude towards collateral damage: in this film, if a secondary character steps in the way of the Master Plan, they are killed even though they were not part of the Terrible Past Event That Led To This Horror.  These victims include Campbell (Daniel Cosgrove), Dorothy's ne'er-do-well boyfriend who is trying to con her out of her inheritance; Ruthie (Hedy Burress), Campbell's bitter ex-girlfriend who tries to tip off the Scoobyless Gang to Campbell's plans; and Detective Leon Vaughn (a rather wooden Fulvio Cecere), who sets the whole mess in further motion by investigating the death of Shelley.  There are even fewer prizes for its acting: David Boreanaz, who turns up as Kate's sort-of-alcoholic boyfriend Adam (it is never clearly explained if Adam is a recovering alcoholic or just a guy who likes to drink too much), mostly does a slightly sunnier version of his tortured-schlub shtick from Angel.

And soon the screaming starts...
Despite all these flaws, I find myself rather liking this movie.  The core idea behind this, as I said, was a quite good one, and it does not veer into true self-referentialism as Scream did.  Plus, the movie tries too hard to create a sense of true horror to be viewed as a parody, and Blanks introduces a few subtle foreshadowing touches into the movie (red is a recurring color scheme throughout, and each girl meets her end in pretty much the manner she insulted Jeremy at the beginning of the movie).  If the slasher snobs and saber-rattlers among horrordom can relax long enough to truly enjoy the utter silliness of this movie, Valentine might just wind up being the Scream Generation's version of Plan Nine From Outer Space.  So if you have no sweetie for Valentine's, or even if you do, curl up and enjoy.

MAD DOCTOR'S NOTE: Valentine is available from most preferred video rental outlets, or you may buy it here at  Caveat emptor.