Fan films are hit and miss in terms of quality, but Valentine Bluffs exceeds expectations with a solid effort from writer/director Tom Smith. The 81-minute tribute movie follows the events from the 1981 cult classic My Bloody Valentine. It pays proper homage to the original mine explosion storyline of Harry Warden, who resorted to cannibalism to survive while trapped in the darkness before going on a killing spree in a miner’s uniform.
Oddly enough, the original My Bloody Valentine, directed by George Mihalka, underwhelmed in theaters, grossing $5.7 million at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo. The film was only a middling hit with movie reviewers and fans, sporting a 56% critic score and 52% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
The 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine, starring Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles, fared better in theaters, earning $100.7 million in ticket sales worldwide, including $51.5 million in North America, according to Box Office Mojo. Critics were a little kinder to the remake with 61% reporting positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, while the audience score dipped to 44%.
And now more than four decades later, we have a fun and inspired sequel from fans of the movie. Released on February 14, 2023, Valentine Bluffs sports a respectable 7.5 stars (out of 10) on IMDb with 61 ratings through March 31. The film is available to watch free on YouTube. Produced by Anthracite Studios LLC and Weez in Hollywood, Valentine Bluffs is a nonprofit project not affiliated with the original film property.
It’s simply created by fans for fans of the 1981 movie, and it certainly brings that fan passion to the project.
Valentine Bluffs opens with a man named TJ leaving his family and introducing the son, Peter, as a child. Flash forward to the funeral of his mother, the now-adult Peter along with his girlfriend Abby decides to return to his hometown to find his dad TJ and deliver the sad news.
However, Peter arrives in town just in time for the annual Valentine’s Day Dance, 40 years after the events of the original film. And the past refuses to die as a pickaxe-wielding miner appears from the shadows to bloody up the festivities. The identity of the killer is a mystery till the end.
In the meantime, the town’s zany Mayor Otterman (played by the even zanier Troma Films legend Lloyd Kaufman) wants to promote the Valentine’s Day Dance alongside a museum themed around the original Harry Warden murders to boost business. This sets the stage for the second-best set piece of the movie, which is the museum. The mine is numero uno, as it should be.
When an angry Peter finally finds the father who left him, the reunion doesn’t go as planned as Peter learns a shocking secret. The scene between Peter and his father TJ is one of the two emotional highlights of the movie. After the revelation, the killings begin 35 minutes into the film. Thankfully, Valentine Bluffs gives fans a meaty kill count over the next 25 minutes before setting the table with a well-directed and tense climax inside the mine.
All the kills are practical effects by Smith and Sick & Twisted FX. They’re efficient and nasty.
A couple of the murders are direct nods to classic horror slashers. There’s a double kill of a couple in mid-coitus using an iron rod a la the Jason Voorhees’ spear scene from Friday the 13th: Part 2. Nightmare Kristy of Nightmare Toys gets the pleasure of an iconic retro-replay kill. She is the victim of a hot tub drowning that looks like a tip of the hat to the Michael Myers scene with Nurse Karen in Halloween II.
Of course, the killer in Valentine Bluffs is a miner, so the pickaxe kills must be top-notch. And they are, none more so than an epic pickaxe through the mouth scene that seemingly never ends!
True to Source Material
After the ninth kill, the sheriff, who already suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, finally discovers the first body. A video surveillance camera shows the killer kidnapping one of the victims. There’s only one place to go at this point, and that’s the mine. It’s also where the tension ramps up for a suspenseful 15 minutes as the sheriff and the kidnap victim’s father search in the underground tunnels.
Smith is at his best directing these scenes inside the mine, using disorientation and darkness to capture the creepy atmosphere. Sound man Brandon Leiphart ensures you hear the crunch of every footstep, the plop of water dripping, and the breathing of the murderer in the mask. It’s all elevated by Guthrie Lowe’s eerie musical score.
In the end, you find out what happens when you bring a shovel to a pickaxe fight. The killer’s identity surprised me but made sense. But the biggest – and saddest – surprise happened directly after the climactic final battle in the mine. It was an interesting decision, but it hit home emotionally.
Of course, Valentine Bluffs wouldn’t be a true horror film without an ending that sets up a sequel. There’s also a funny after-credits outtake worth a look.
A Tip of the Cap
Overall, kudos to the volunteers who made the fan film. They stayed true to the source material and supplied plenty of slasher carnage. There’s some good acting here, too. I think Rachel Keefe, who played TJ’s daughter Kelly, is probably the best of the bunch. She had the advantage of playing the final girl, but she delivers the scream queen vocals in a gut-wrenching scene involving a nail. I mean, you feel it.
As a side note, Keefe appeared as Obnoxious Female Teenager 1 in the 2022 horror hit Terrifier 2, according to IMDb.
I’m sure having Lloyd Kaufman portray the town’s mayor was a fun coup for the director. The septuagenarian has been making movies since the 1960s, and Kaufman looked like a kid in the candy store playing the role. Also, Jeff Swisher as the concerned father TJ and Mike Sutton as the sheriff bring some gravitas to their roles.
The director Smith is better known for his special effects work, but he did a fine job helming his first feature-length film. His second feature film, Town of Evil, is in post-production, according to IMDb. Judging by its trailer, Town of Evil looks like Smith is upping his game for not only fans of My Bloody Valentine, but the slasher genre as a whole.