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Director: Jamie Blanks
review by Ellen Cheshire [SPOILER ALERT!]
Stalk 'n' slash has been a genre staple since its inception in the 1970s. The rules are simple: the killer, usually male, has had a traumatic past experience, which he re-enacts within the narrative. The victims are usually female, and their deaths are prolonged through sequences of stalking and chasing culminating in a violent and bloody death. Men, if killed at all, are usually killed quickly and often off-screen. The killer is often disguised or masked and this hidden identity is further enhanced through the use of point-of-view shots from the killer's perspective. There is often a 'final girl' who survives and kills the killer (unless of course the filmmakers want a movie franchise and the killer will survive at the end of the film ready to stalk and kill in the sequel).
In the 1990s this tried and tested formula was re-worked for a new hip audience, most notably by Kevin Williamson in the Scream trilogy. His knowing tongue in cheek scripts brought this tired genre back to life once again, albeit briefly.
In Valentine director Jamie Banks seems determined to bring the stalk 'n' slash, or in his case stalk 'n' stab 'n' slash 'n' drown 'n' electrocute 'n' shoot back to its roots. Back to a more innocent time when girls ran around in bikinis, were unable to defend themselves, become trapped in locked rooms and relied on their boyfriends to save the day.
The film opens at a sixth-grade Valentine dance in 1988, where four beautiful and vain teenage girls mock the nerdy Jeremy Melton who asks them to dance with him. He finally finds solace in the arms of the tubby and plain Dorothy. They are soon discovered and he is beaten up by a group of young thugs. Thirteen years later, the four girls Kate (Marley Shelton), Paige (Denise Roberts), Lily (Jessica Caulfield) and Shelley (Katherine Heigl) are just as beautiful, still obsessed with their looks, but are now also troubled by the lack of eligible bachelors. Having just had another disastrous date, Shelley, a medical student, returns late at night to an empty mortuary to conduct a late-night autopsy, and strange noises lure her out of the room where she finds a card pinned to her locker. Upon opening it she discovers that what at first appears to be old-fashioned Valentine card has a more disturbing message - she is about to die. Returning to the safety of her cadaver, she begins again only to find that her cadaver is now breathing. So off she runs with her 'corpse' in hot pursuit. Dressed entirely in black and wearing a cupid doll mask, the killer finally tracks her down and after being stabbed and then having her throat slashed the lovely Shelley is now just another corpse in the mortuary.
At the funeral Kate, Paige and Lily reunite with the no-longer tubby Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw), and they are questioned by Detective Vaughan (Fulvio Cecere). It soon becomes clear that they are looking for a killer with the initials JM, as he conveniently signs his name to the cards. Could this be the Jason with whom Shelley had had a date with on the night she died, or could it be the nerdy Jeremy Melton who, like our cupid killer, gets nosebleeds in times of stress. But no one has heard from Jeremy since he was shipped off to reform school 13 years earlier. Could it be Max (Johnny Whitworth), an installation artist, who has the hots for Lily. Could it be Campbell (Daniel Cosgrove), who has moved in with Dorothy only a month after meeting her, or could it be the gorgeous Adam (David Boreanaz) who although 'no angel' (being an alcoholic) has being dating Kate on and off over the last couple of years?
The premise is a good one, a Valentine killer stalking those who taunted him at school, but it is poorly executed. The girls remain just as cruel in their mid-twenties as they were in their early teens. They are dull, vacuous women entirely motivated by their own looks and attraction to the opposite sex. The characters and the situations they find themselves in are trite and two-dimensional. Most notable is Kate, the film's ostensible 'final girl' for instead of fighting to the end needs to be rescued. The boys who bullied and beat Jeremy up are omitted from the equation entirely. And the current crop of 'boys' in their life includes a con man, a leach and an alcoholic.
What could have been a refreshing return to the traditional stalk 'n' slash where the victim triumphs over the killer is, instead, a misogynistic mess with the notional heroine, Kate, resting in the arms of her heroic boyfriend, Adam, who having murdered a masked killer, cradles his beloved as drops of blood fall from his nose onto her cheek.
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