Every once in a while we encounter a film that reinvigorates a genre. That happened in 1988 with Die Hard, and it occurred in 1996 with Scream. Both offered a shot in the arm for their fields, and inevitably, both inspired a slew of imitations, most of which were feeble.
After more than four years of Scream rip-offs, it appears that horror films are finally starting to abandon that pursuit, especially since Scary Movie seems to have put the final nail in the coffin. At least that was the impression I got from Valentine, a new thriller that ignored the hip, self-aware elements of Scream and its copycats and returned to standard “mad anonymous killer” thrills.
Unfortunately, for the most part, all this back to basics move did was remind me how stale the usual slasher flick was until Scream came along. Valentine went back to the Seventies for its inspiration, as the film displayed exceedingly obvious references to Carrie and Halloween within its first few moments. The latter flick appeared to be Valentine’s main inspiration, as the newer flick borrowed heavily from its template.
Valentine starts with a short sequence set in 1988 that intends to establish our characters. At a middle school hop, we see nerdy Jeremy (Joel Palmer) as he unsuccessfully asks some pretty classmates to dance. All of them decline, and most do so in a rude manner; only sweet little Kate (Brittany Mayers) sidesteps the offer politely. After this, Jeremy hooks up with token fat girl Dorothy (Kate Logie) and the two smooch under the bleachers. Unfortunately, the others find them. They taunt Jeremy and - in an attempt to avoid the social stigma attached to the boy - Dorothy insists that Jeremy attacked her.
Flash forward to the present day, and we discover that this crew of girls has remained in contact, at least to a moderate degree. As adults, Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw), Kate (Marley Shelton), Paige (Denise Richards), and Lily (Jessica Cauffiel) seem to be close, but Shelley (Katherine Heigl) interacts with them infrequently. The bonds reintensify, however, when one of the gang gets killed mysteriously. Someone starts to send threatening Valentine’s Day cards to the others, and the race to see who’ll be left alive by the final credits ensues.
For the most part, Valentine religiously adheres the conventions of the modern horror flick, which leaves it out of the post-modern domain filled by Scream and its pretenders. From the very start, Valentine telegraphs the identity of the killer, which means that ultimately it’ll be someone else. Almost any time a movie so strongly touts a prime suspect, it’s inevitable that some twist will develop. I won’t reveal that spin other than to indicate that Valentine’s take wasn’t very satisfying. Like most horror flicks, it tries to have its cake and eat it too, as it gives us an apparent conclusion but also sets up a possible sequel.
Since Valentine only grossed $20 million, I doubt we’ll get that second installment, though since the film featured a very low budget, it’ll probably recoup its costs. Nonetheless, $20 million isn’t the performance on which a franchise is built, so I wouldn’t count on additional explorations of the theme.
Although the movie generally revolves around the Valentine’s Day idea, it does little with this concept. However, I will admit that it became moderately interesting due to the way it dealt with modern-day dating. Most slasher flicks follow the Halloween/Scream/A Nightmare On Elm Street model and provide characters who are in high school. Valentine, on the other hand, went with adults in their mid-twenties, which meant it could more seriously examine relationships and their pitfalls. Granted, “serious” may be too strong a term to use for this superficial glimpse at these concerns, but I felt that this minor emphasis gave Valentine a moderately unique slant.
Otherwise, this was Slasher 101. There’s very little to make the film stand out, although it does offer a decent young cast. Marley Shelton seems stuck in clunkers; from Sugar & Spice to Lured Innocence, she appears unable to break out from the “B”-movie ghetto. However, the more I see of her, the more she impresses me. I can’t claim that Shelton shows terrific skills, but I’ve been pleased by her range; throughout her modest roster of roles, she’s demonstrated a nice ability to richly inhabit a mix of character types. The parts themselves have been thin and underwritten, but Shelton loses herself in them with skill.
The acting skills of the remaining cast didn’t do much for me, though they sure were a pretty bunch. Probably worst of the bunch was David Boreanaz as Adam, best known for his TV work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel. He seemed extremely flat and leaden throughout the movie. At least his presence inspired the one apparently self-referential line in the movie, when Kate states that Adam’s “no angel”. Badabing!
Unfortunately, the attractiveness of the film actors points out Valentine’s gravest flaw: no skin! Granted, I didn’t expect nudity from this crew; they’ve all seemed to avoid baring their flesh in the past, and I don’t think they’ll start now. Nonetheless, it was darned frustrating to have Richards, Shelton and Heigl - especially Heigl - paraded in front of me and know that their appearances would never result in satisfaction.
I wish that this lack of nudity was the only flaw I found in Valentine, but unfortunately the movie had many other flaws. Actually, I can’t truly state that Valentine was a bad film. However, it seemed to be awfully ordinary and bland, with little to recommend it above other horror thrillers. Valentine managed to offer a very ordinary experience that showed little spark.
Valentine appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one might expect from a recent release, the movie looked quite good and it provided a fine visual presentation.
Sharpness appeared to be uniformly excellent. Throughout the film, the picture seemed crisp and detailed, and I discerned no signs of soft or hazy images. Moiré effects and jagged edges also offered no concerns. Print flaws seemed to be virtually non-existent. I saw a speckle or two, but that was it. Otherwise the picture lacked any grain, scratches, blotches, or other issues to mar the image.
Colors appeared nicely vibrant and accurate. Given the Valentine’s Day theme and the violence, reds dominated the image, and they showed solidly dense tones that lacked bleeding, smearing or other concerns; even the heavy red lighting viewed in a few scenes came across clearly. The remainder of the palette also was well-represented throughout the movie. Black levels seemed to be deep and dark, and shadow detailed looked clear and appropriately opaque. Low-light situations abounded in Valentine, and they always displayed fine delineation. Especially positive were the nighttime street scenes, but interiors also offered clean shadows. Ultimately, Valentine presented a strong visual experience.
Also quite good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Valentine. The soundfield featured a nicely-encompassing scope that helped make the movie’s scares more effective. During non-thrill scenes, the mix tended to stay fairly heavily anchored to the front channels, and general ambience dominated those sequences. Music also showed fine stereo separation, though the split may have been too strong; at times, instrumentation seemed to be excessively speaker-specific and the elements didn’t mesh together especially well.
Nonetheless, the overall package appeared to be vivid and clearly spaced, and this paid off during the spookier scenes. Lots of effects elements cropped up from all five speakers, and this created a sense of menace that helped make the movie more involving. Of particular note was the scene at the performance art show maze; at that time, the audio really kicked into overdrive and forced the viewer to inhabit the sequence. Not all of Valentine seemed to be so engrossing, but the soundfield remained well defined for most of the film.
Audio quality was consistently good. Some dialogue sounded slightly metallic and trebly, but most of the speech appeared acceptably natural and distinct, and I detected no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music showed nice fidelity, and the score and songs sounded bright and demonstrated very good low-end at times. Effects were also clean and dynamic, and they added nicely to the experience. The audio for Valentine created an appropriately creepy and active environment that worked well for the film.
Valentine won’t qualify as a special edition release, but the DVD offers a few supplements. Of primary interest is an audio commentary from director Jamie Blanks. For the most part, Blanks avoided the self-congratulatory praise that ruins many of these kinds of tracks; while he definitely had nice things to say about cast and crew, these didn’t dominate the piece, and he was occasionally willing to indicate parts of the film with which he wasn’t terribly satisfied.
As a whole, Blanks offers a nice discussion of Valentine as he hits upon a variety of topics. Mainly he covers technical issues, changes made from script to screen, and anecdotes from the set. He even recognizes some aspects of the movie that resembled Halloween and Carrie and mentions some discomfort with the similarities. Ultimately, Blanks provides an interesting and informative tour of Valentine.
Next is a featurette under the name of Studio Extras. This eight-minute behind-the-scenes program offers a superficial but decent look at the film. It involves interviews from some of the actors and crew plus shots from the set and a few movie clips. We hear discussions of the characters and the production design, plus some real-life stories of phobias, such as Boreanaz’s fear of birds. It was far too short to be terribly informative, but for the format, it was mildly interesting.
Note that if you haven’t watched Valentine yet, do not check out “Studio Extras” first. The program gives away many plots point and events that occur in the film. As such, it should be left until after you’ve viewed the movie.
A few more ordinary extras round out the DVD. The Club Reel is actually a glorified music video. Orgy’s “Opticon” plays with accompaniment from movie images. In addition, we get the movie’s trailer - actually a teaser clip - and “Filmographies” for director Blanks and actors Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, and Katherine Heigl; as often occurs with Warner Bros. DVDs, additional participants are listed, but you cannot access entries for them.
While there are many worse horror films on the market - hello, Sleepaway Camp! - there are also many efforts superior to Valentine. Overall, this was a very ordinary offering that did little to stand out among its slasher siblings. The DVD provided very strong picture and sound, and it also included a few decent extras. While Valentine seemed like a flat and disappointing movie to me, fans of the genre may enjoy it.