A Trip Through Valentine Bluffs, Horror’s Most Charming Town
It may have a death curse, but I still want to move there.
With a population of under 4,000, you could say that everyone probably knows your name in Valentine Bluffs, the setting of 1981 slasher My Bloody Valentine. A small mining town with a dark past, Valentine Bluffs was actually a real town in Nova Scotia, Canada, but I’ve got a feeling the real one isn’t quite as magical as its fictional counterpart.
After revisiting the two My Bloody Valentine films this past weekend, original and remake, I had a conversation with my girlfriend wherein we compared and contrasted the 1981 classic and its super fun/super gory 2009 makeover. My personal preference, I told her, was the original film, and I realized that my affinity for 1981 over 2009 primarily boiled down to one aspect in particular: the setting, and the overall atmosphere that “Valentine Bluffs” brings to one of the most unique and wholly individual slasher films of the ’80s.
Not only did the My Bloody Valentine remake change the town name from Valentine Bluffs to Harmony, but it also scrubbed away the small town realism that makes the original film such a charming slasher to this day. The town in the ’09 version never quite feels *real*; the town isn’t as much of a character, so to speak, as it is in the ’81 version.
Come to think of it, fictional towns in movies just overall aren’t what they used to be. One of the most beloved, certainly in the horror space, is of course Kingston Falls, the setting of Joe Dante’s Gremlins. Cozy, lived in and well established as a world unto itself, Kingston Falls is a masterclass in creating a fictional movie town; so too, if you ask me, is Valentine Bluffs.
The first hour of My Bloody Valentine (1981) is arguably more enjoyable than the down-in-the-mines final act, which is rare for the slasher sub-genre – after all, it’s often not until the body count really starts to rise that slasher movies begin to hit their stride. That’s all thanks to how much fun it is to simply hang out in Valentine Bluffs with its residents, most of whom are employees of the town’s Hanniger Mining Company. Valentine Bluffs advertises itself as “the little town with a big heart,” and that heart beats at the core of My Bloody Valentine.
We meet up with the ill-fated characters as they’re preparing for the town’s Valentine’s Dance at the U.C.M.B Hall, which is just two days away at the start of the film. The town, playing up its wonderfully on-the-nose name, is littered with reds and pinks; so heavy is the Valentine’s cheer that you’ll even spot a heart on a trash can outside a clothing shop!
Mabel’s decorating committee did one hell of a job that year, that’s for sure.
What really helps flesh Valentine Bluffs out is the fact that we’re taken inside a handful of locations throughout the film, including The Cage, the local watering hole that’s basically a second home to the young miners, the abandoned car park where they hang out after the bar shuts down for the night, and Madame Mabel’s Launderette, where the lovely owner unfortunately finds herself melted alive inside one of her own drying machines.
All of these locations *feel* real, and so too do the lovable characters we meet along the way. Take Mabel, for example. On paper, she’s merely a victim for the masked maniac doing the killing, but the film allows all of its characters to have their own little side stories. Sure, most of the spotlight is on former BFFs Axel Palmer and T.J. Hanniger, who are vying for the heart of the same girl, but it’s ancillary characters like Mabel who really bring to life the local flavor of Valentine Bluffs – same goes for characters like Murray and Mrs. Deagle in Gremlins.
In fact, one of my favorite little things about My Bloody Valentine is a low-key side story about Mabel’s crush on Chief Newby, which is as sweet as it is tragic.
There’s a history to all of the characters in the original My Bloody Valentine, and that personal and shared history bolsters the belief that Valentine Bluffs, even though we know it doesn’t really exist, is actually a real town that we’re invited to hang out in for a little bit. And for me, it’s hanging out in Valentine Bluffs that keeps me coming back year after year.
I know it’s fake, but Valentine Bluffs is still real to me.