I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Slasher flicks and holidays go together like sharp objects and sexually active teens. And it just so happens to be Valentine’s Day on Friday, which is an opportune time to cuddle up on the couch with a sweetheart and watch movies where bloody chases ensue and twisted love stories unfold.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)
Not rated, 93 minutes.
Director: George Mihalka
Cast: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Alf Humphreys, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Rob Stein, Don Francks, Thomas Kovacs and Peter Cowper
Available today on Blu-ray through Scream Factory.
Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be as much of a treat for horror fans if it weren’t for the 1981 Canadian slasher My Bloody Valentine. The film features a stalking lunatic in mining gear whose damage is done using a pickaxe. Inspired by the 1970s and early ’80s slasher glut (such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and Black Christmas), My Bloody Valentine breaks beyond the surface similarities of its genre brethren. It may have the masked killer and implausible deaths, but it also has complex characters and mystery ingredients that give it a pulse.
Scream Factory has fashioned a two-disc collector’s edition of the film in honor of its upcoming 40th birthday. Before today, it wasn’t the easiest of horror films to find, especially if you’re a physical media advocate. While its 2009 remake takes up more room on the shelf, it doesn’t much improve upon its original. This is mainly due to the first film adding actual stakes by putting its talent in the elements. It was shot in a real mine, which creates a shadowy and remarkably claustrophobic setting.
In the special features, director George Mihalka discusses how extreme the conditions were. They shot inside a mine that was hundreds of feet below the surface. Any sparks from cameras or lighting equipment would have guaranteed a dirt nap. They were forced to purchase cameras that could take in more light (Mihalka believes it was the same equipment filmmaker Stanley Kubrick used in 1975’s Barry Lyndon) and low-watt bulbs.
The undoubtedly dangerous circumstances — which wouldn’t pass muster as easily today — added another layer to the terror. When the actors were asked about the conditions during their retrospective interviews, they said they had to put such worries on the back burner to focus more on their performances.
Fans of the original may be happy to learn that the collector’s edition comes with a new 4K scan of the original negative. Not only do the picture and sound quality look and sound their best, but the release packs both the theatrical and uncut versions. The uncut version contains all the gore and blood that the MPAA had Mihalka remove, such as a toasted victim rotating in a dryer unit and a young lady’s head becoming a shish kabob. As harsh as it may sound, you have to applaud the practical effects. Many of these makeup and prosthetic effects artists’ work went completely unnoticed, but now it can be valued.
The Scream Factory collector’s edition release (available through shoutfactory.com/shop) is packaged with reversible cover art that includes the original design and a newly commissioned illustration by artist Joel Robinson. The cardboard slipcover makes it look official and slick.
Extras: The bonus content includes a theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, a still gallery and a slew of cast and crew interviews. As insightful as the interviews are, they become a bit repetitive after a while because the same questions are asked over and over. The interviews would have played better if they were thrown into one documentary featurette. This was the same issue with Scream Factory’s release of Big Trouble in Little China not too long ago. I’m sure the disc production budget was a significant factor, but merely changing up the questions could have given the interviews more steam.
Overall, Scream Factory’s release is digging through your sofa cushions to round up all the pennies, so you can show off this disc and entertain guests with quality scares.
Not rated, 109 minutes.
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Masataka Kubota, Becky, Takahiro Miura, Jun Murakami, Nao Ohmori, Shôta Sometani, Mami Fujioka, Sakurako Konishi and Chun-hao Tuan
Available today on Blu-ray through Well Go USA.
This Japanese-language romantic-thriller begins as one film and winds up becoming an After Hours-like blood fest. Go figure. It’s a Takashi Miike film — from the director who gave us one of the unsettling and fun movies of all time with 1999’s Audition.
First Love opens up as a story about a young boxer named Leo (13 Assassins‘ Masataka Kubota) who is well on his way to becoming the next great fighter. That’s until the world punches him in the gut with a fatal tumor diagnosis. With all hopes dashed, he plans to coast until his ultimate demise.
That’s when he meets Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a young woman whose life is a never-ending tragedy. She’s a drugged-out, hallucinating prisoner of prostitution. She’s forced to turn tricks by a couple caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme. Things get out of whack when Monica flees. Luckily, Leo intervenes and saves her.
The rest of the film is a Departed-esque crime film filled with characters double-crossing one another, insane complexity and laughter. First Love is a toned-down Miike film, but the fun of his story will cause your heart to beat for it. Miike skillfully balances a tone that could have easily toppled over. He’s one of the most gifted filmmakers working today. He consistently keeps you on your toes and finds amusing ways to reconfigure familiar plot lines. And this is one you simply can’t leave on the store shelf.
Also read our interview: Legendary filmmaker Takashi Miike recognizes cinema as his ‘first love’
Extras: The Well Go USA Entertainment Blu-ray/DVD combo release comes with an English-language version of the films and trailers.