Director – Jamie Blanks, Screenplay – Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Haberts & Donna & Wayne Powers, Based on the Novel by Tom Savage, Producer – Dylan Sellers, Photography – Rick Bota, Music – Don Davis, Visual Effects Supervisor – Jim Finn, Digital Effects – Rainmaker Productions, Makeup Effects – KNB EFX Group Inc & SFX Studios Inc, Production Design – Stephen Geaghan. Production Company – Village Roadshow Pictures/Warner Bros/NPV Entertainment
Denise Richards (Paige Prescott), Marley Shelton (Kate Davies), David Boreanaz (Adam Carr), Jessica Capshaw (Dorothy Wheeler), Fulvio Cecere (Detective Leo Vaughn), Jessica Cauffiel (Lily), Daniel Cosgrove (Campbell), Katherine Heigl (Shelley Fisher), Woody Jeffries (Brian), Hedy Buress (Ruthie), Johnny Whitworth (Max Remy), Adam Harrington (Jason), Claude Duhamel (Gary)
At a high-school dance in 1988, nerdish Jeremy Melton is cruelly rejected by a number of girls, before finally being accepted and making out with Dorothy Wheeler. When they are found, she turns and says he forced himself on her, whereupon he is beaten up and then placed in an institution. Thirteen years later, the girls who were present at the dance start receiving vicious Valentine’s cards and presents before they are killed. They realize that it is the now-grown Jeremy. However, the police discover that Jeremy has had plastic surgery and could be any one of the men in their lives.
Valentine is another entry in the 90s/00s trend of slasher film revivals that began with the success of Scream (1996). Valentine director Jamie Blanks made his directorial debut with another Scream-inspired teen slasher film Urban Legend (1998). Urban Legend was an effort where Blanks’ style triumphed over a gimmicky premise. Valentine has a similarly gimmicky premise – a killer who sends his victims nasty Valentine’s cards and presents. With Jamie Blanks (who showed much promise on Urban Legend) at the helm, Valentine seemed like it could have been potentially quite good.
Unfortunately it isn’t. Valentine seems to miss the target on all essential angles. Jamie Blanks’ direction is adequately stylish, offering some occasionally imaginative set-ups such as a stalking that occurs inside a maze made up of video screens filled with closeups on faces, lips and eyes, and especially the attack on Denise Richards as she is trapped inside a jacuzzi with the killer jabbing at her through the cover with a powerdrill. However, the Valentine motif proves a slim gimmick – the film fails to play the Valentine cards angle up very well and only half-heartedly develops the Valentine-related novelty deaths angle.
The film’s greater failing is when it comes to the premise of a humiliated nerd who is getting revenge on the women who belittled him at the school dance. This is solid enough slasher movie motivation but then when it suits the film – basically in order to pack in more slash and stalk sequences – it has the killer not just targeting the people he is after but anybody else – boyfriends, witnesses, even someone found inside one girls’ apartment.
And then there is the dud ending. [PLOT SPOILERS]. In the first of its double twists, the film contrarily reveals the person behind the mask as one of the girls. The script offers scanty motivation for her actions before then pulling another twist and revealing that the nerd is still alive. All that this serves to do is leave the audience going out the theatre puzzling over a morass of motivational muddles – was the girl the real killer or just a dupe? If the latter, as seems to be the case, what possessed her to suddenly put on the mask and stalk the remaining heroine?
When it is stripped down to its basics, Valentine sits astride the two basic fantasies the 80s slasher film played on – the cod psychological motivation of the underdog who is driven to psychopathology by a particularly brutal humiliation; and the prurient appeal of seeing scantily clad girls and/or jerks getting dispatched. The fact that Valentine is being made as a well-budgeted slasher with a moderately well-known twentysomething cast rather than as a B-budgeted ripoff/sequel of Friday the 13th (1980) with a cast that no-one has heard of then or since has forced some interesting changes on it as a slasher film. One is that it is a much more censored film. There are six female victims set up. Where in the 1980s the film would be filled with gratuitous topless/shower sequences, these have been replaced by a parade of eminently nubile and beautiful current teen stars but not a single undressed scene. The film however takes every opportunity to tease us with their availability – outfitting them in a parade of vests, bikinis and getting out of showers clad in bath-towels – but ultimately withholds anything more from us.
Equally interestingly, Valentine spends almost as much time focusing on the girls dealing with the men in their lives as it does on the stalking sequences. Every single man in the film is portrayed as a sleaze, as a confidence artist or having major personality problems. Contrarily the women are portrayed as the only evenly balanced ones and above all as being sexually in charge. There are a number of scenes set up for the express purpose of having in particular Denise Richards (who shines in the role of a sultry sexpot) putting guys down. Why, is a good question. You are not sure whether Valentine is trying to create tough in-control women instead of the usual helpless slasher movie victims (in which case it has mistaken sexually desirable and manipulative for in-control) or else it has simply set the women up to be seen as manipulative bitches by their audience and have their demise cheered on. Either way it comes out as confused.