Oh boy. It’s another week where, thanks to the immovable past and my stubbornness to follow my own rules, I sat down, watched a movie, and then immediately upon finishing it thought, “I can’t believe I have now seen that movie twice.” It happened with Big Momma’s House, and now here, in the other half of the Lazy Filmmaker Fallacy, is the cheap-in-every-way horror film Valentine. (The Lazy Filmmaker Fallacy says this: every shitty filmmaker, no matter how incompetent, thinks they can make a good horror film or a good comedy, only to end up contributing to my reluctance to blindly watch a film from either genre.)
Here is a slasher film that pretends Scream never existed, that the clichés weren’t relentlessly mocked and that we’ll still be shocked by bullshit jump scares. The irony is that these films came back into existence because of how good the Scream movies are, and there are certainly more bad ones than good ones. I personally have a great fondness for slasher films. Hell, I’ve even written one. You want to give me the money to produce it? Let’s make a deal, yo.
People think slasher films are lazy, and while a writer or director of a slasher story is often forced to succumb to a few easy tropes to connect the dots and also connect to the audience’s broad knowledge of the genre’s past, there is plenty of room to explore. It’s all in the details, and it really depends on whether or not you want to be ambitious or bold with your choices, if you’re willing to try something new. (And if the studio is willing to follow your ambition and boldness.) It doesn’t have to be wildly out there, but at least try to play with the audience’s expectations. Or, at the very least, don’t create something so by-the-numbers that all the fun has been drained out. You want to use clichés? Fine. But don’t be dull, don’t be forgettable, and don’t lose sight of the reality that you’ve created a character that is out there killing people.
Valentine is dull. It’s a half-baked series of dull characters, dull kills (with two exceptions) and increasingly implausible [and dull] plot twists. It’s so forgettable that, while I distinctly remember seeing it in theatres — I can’t remember what I doubled it up with, because my only explanation is that it fit into a day of moviewatching, otherwise I would have never paid theatre price — I could only remember four things about it:
1. The killer’s mask
2. The hot tub death
3. It was co-written by Donna and Wayne Powers, who after giving us this and the great B-movies of Deep Blue Sea and The Italian Job, created the short-lived but incredible Showtime series Out Of Order, which was a mildly fictionalized story of two married screenwriters with marital troubles
4. Marley Shelton might have been there somewhere with her googly eyes
I have great film recall, and even the worst movies have major sequences that stick in my brain. Maybe that was the problem. This isn’t a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad movie. It just simply sits there, content with being boring.
Is It Better Or Worse Than I Remember?
Technically, it’s a whole lot worse, because now that I have a great deal more knowledge of the slasher genre, and have a good perspective at the group of lazy movies that were released post-Scream, I can see how little this film matters. However, I found it more interesting to watch and consider for the very same reasons. In February of 2001, I could just ignore it. Now, I can study it in the way that I study most lazy movies — how not to do things.
What’s Better About The Film?
The fun part about revisiting slasher films from the mid-1990s to now is that you get a chance to see several vaguely unimportant actors you know now extremely well thanks to their follow-up work, most of which falls into the realm of television shows, especially guilty pleasures. This one here stars a television vampire, two Grey’s Anatomy doctors, Wyleen from Boston Common (pre-Valentine, I know) and a reality television star/tabloid mainstay. Those would be David Boreanaz, Jessica Capshaw, Katherine Heigl, Hedy Burress and Denise Richards.
Yes, David Boreanaz feels wasted here, but I didn’t start watching Angel until fall of 2008, so I felt far more disappointed now than I did then. I’m glad he thought he’d close a two-week hole in his schedule by appearing in a low-rent horror movie, but Angel deserves better.
On the flipside, I used to like Heigl until she started burning bridges bad-mouthing a.) her best movie role and b.) the show that earned her an Emmy, and now she’s making bottom-of-the-barrel “high-concept” comedy dreck. Good job, Heigl. You’ve earned my resentment, and I’m glad you have the Drew Barrymore role in the film where you get killed early in the first act. (Although wouldn’t it be more surprising in a post-Scream world to not kill a fairly well-known actor in the first major sequence?)
Finally, I never realized I had seen Jessica Capshaw in anything until she showed up on Grey’s Anatomy in 2009 as Arizona Robbins, and as good as she is on the show (in my opinion, as I also love the character), it’s kind of devilishly fun to see her wander into scenes, baring her teeth, and then trying her best not to laugh at Denise Richards’ line readings.
The other part I enjoyed perhaps far more than I should have were the Valentine card death threats the major characters received. In 2001, they were lame. In 2011, they’re too giggle-inducing not to print. Here are the three of them in chronological order.
“The journey of love is an arduous trek
My love grows for you as you bleed from your neck”
[that one’s for Heigl, who just kind of makes a stinkface and shrugs]
“Rose are red, violets are blue
They’ll need dental records to identify you”
“‘Tis a well known fact that beauty is skin deep
Savor the taste…you are what you eat”
[and the accompanying chocolates have maggots in them!]
Finally, there are two effective sequences. The first is at an art gallery presenting a multimedia show, and it’s a take-off of the climactic sequence in The Lady From Shanghai, but instead of mirrors, it’s winding hallways of video installations portraying brightly colored moving images of body parts (lips, eyes, torsos, breasts). It’s the only visually stimulating scene in the film. The second is, of course, the hot tub death, which is admittedly ridiculous but still kind of terrifying.
What’s Worse About The Film?
I’ll just throw up some of my notes, which probably explain my brain better than silly little paragraphs. (What? Put my thoughts in a proper format? NEVER!)
-The opening junior high dance sequence is cut into a shitty montage with no flow, like a trailer for the movie you’ve already paid to see. Why not have an actual goddamn scene with a beginning, middle and end?
-Denise Richards is so forgettable in this movie that I thought her character was played by Rebecca Gayheart.
-There’s a massive 30-minute lull of characters dicking around pretending to think about things, walking around a San Francisco that doesn’t look like San Francisco, somebody is bludgeoned with a hot iron, more dicking around, then douchey pretty boy gets an axe in his back, and…oh…we’re at the mansion-set third act already?
-When in doubt, throw all of the characters into the same building (in this case, a mansion) and have them stumble into sharp objects.
-Yes, hide in the sauna.
-If we’re going to talk about slasher laziness, the two-trick ending is probably the film’s biggest fuck-up. A few characters start making no sense whatsoever, and then become brainless, just to service a couple twists that make little to no sense. It’s actually kind of baffling, but I wouldn’t suggest you sit through this entire film just to get to it. (If you have an affinity for Marley Shelton, then maybe we can talk.)
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
Denise Richards is not Rebecca Gayheart.