By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, and Marley Shelton
Directed by Jamie Blanks
Written by Donna Powers, Wayne Powers, Gretchen J. Berg, and Aaron Harberts
After going to bat last year for URBAN LEGEND with an adoringly stuffed, two-disc special edition set, Shout! Factory has seen fit give its amorous-minded follow-up, VALENTINE treatment that’s just as loving, though not quite as convincing in its retrospective reappraisal of the film.
Director Jamie Blanks showed early promise when, as a recent film school graduate, he utilized some friends and a few thousand dollars to cut a mock trailer in a bid to direct the then in pre-production I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997). Though Jim Gillespie was already attached, the clip caught the attention of producers, who offered him URBAN LEGEND (1998) a mere nine months later. A devoted horror fan, Blanks brought a studied eye and deft hand to the film, and though it suffers from a bad case of post-SCREAM snarkitude and not-quite-there concept, URBAN LEGEND has aged into a nostalgic treat from the Clinton-era teen slasher boom.
VALENTINE (2001) however, could well be considered the final nail in the coffin of that same horror cycle—a film that is “of its time” without real throwback appeal (does anyone really want to re-live the speed-dating fad?), and lacks both the visual panache and genre literacy of its predecessor.
After UCLA medical student Shelley Fisher (Katherine Heigl) is murdered by a mysterious assailant in a cherub mask, longtime friends Kate (Marley Shelton), Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), Paige (Denise Richards), and Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) gather to mourn her death. As each of the girls begin receiving vulgar and threatening valentines from a mysterious sender, they start to fear for their own lives. Could the killer be Jeremy Melton, the young outcast who they each spurned at their Junior High dance so many years ago? What about Kate’s alcoholic boyfriend, Adam (David Boreanaz)? Or could it be one of the girls, themselves?
VALENTINE bears the names of four different writers, and it shows in the product. The script is a far cry from the quippy, reference-heavy scare machines of Kevin Williamson or even URBAN LEGEND scribe Silvio Horta’s overly-caustic approximation of the same. On the disc’s special features, the gregarious Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts (writing partners who were brought in to re-work the original treatment and most recently served as showrunners on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY) talk about taking inspiration from the then-nascent HBO series SEX AND THE CITY and their desire to craft a horror film that “girlfriends could go to together.” They were moderately successful in this endeavor, as VALENTINE does, indeed set itself apart with its focus on female relationships and the endless parade of drooling geeks, lecherous cops, and panty stealers that harry the central foursome, but in the #metoo era, whatever tepid giggles these elements may have coaxed from audiences have turned sour and evaporated. What’s left is a none-too-clever slasher that portrays women as catty stereotypes and is uncomfortably cavalier about sexual harassment—quite the distinction in a subgenre already synonymous with female dismemberment and gratuitous T&A.
Behind the camera, Blanks displays the same proficiency present in his earlier efforts, staging the handful of death scenes with skill and vigor despite their simplicity. Unfortunately, the film had a smaller budget than his feature debut, and the cut corners really hurt it as a whole. The killer’s cherub mask is a memorable image, but Blanks comes up short in the style department without the looming crane shots and chilly color palette of URBAN LEGEND cinematographer James Chressanthis. Fittingly for a film so prominently featuring current and past TV stars, VALENTINE looks and feels like it was made for the small screen.
VALENTINE premiers on Blu-ray with a 2K scan of the original film elements supervised and approved by Jamie Blanks and director of photography, Rick Bota. Aside from some early image flutter, everything is clean and stable, though not quite as stunning as Shout! Factory’s treatment of URBAN LEGEND. The low color contrast allows the reds, pinks, etc (you know, Valentine colors!) to stand out, though most of the photography, as mentioned before, is rather dull. Still, it’s a nice visual upgrade for fans.
New Special Features are bountiful, including interviews with three of the leading ladies, Berg and Harberts, Editor Steve Mirkovich, and Composer Don Davis. The big takeaway here is that Blanks is an endlessly likeable human being and everyone’s memories of making the film are warm and rosy. The disc also comes loaded with two hours of never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage from Blanks’ personal archive and all other features ported over from previous editions. The highlight of the set is a brand new commentary track featuring Blanks, close personal friend/master of horror Don Coscarelli, and moderator Peter Bracke (author of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th) in a must-listen conversation about the biz of getting genre flicks made.
Hitting theaters just as the new millennium was dawning, VALENTINE’s uneasy fusion of HBO sex comedy and Kevin Williamson-lite sardonicism rang a death knell for the post-SCREAM slasher cycle. Unlike the charmingly 90s URBAN LEGEND, Jamie Blanks’ follow-up was late to the party, running on the previous decade’s creative fumes. Still, there’s always room in any horror fan’s watchlist for a seasonal slasher, and Shout! Factory has hit another bullseye with a film that has a small, devoted following. This collector’s edition may not make you reexamine VALENTINE as a cultural artifact or convince you of its unsung greatness, but it presents the movie with enough care and bonus material to warm the cockles. So, whet the arrows and pop the champagne! You’ve got a date with death this Valentine’s Day!