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©1998–2019
Dustin Putman




Valentine  (2001)

Reviewed for TheBluFile.com by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: February 12, 2019) – "Valentine" was not well-received upon its initial theatrical release in February 2001. Arriving near the end of the late-'90s/early-'00s slasher cycle reinvigorated by 1996's "Scream," the film was faced with a critical backlash from reviewers tired of all the "I Know What You Did Last Summer"s and "Urban Legend"s of the world. In lieu of repeating the pattern of a mystery killer offing teenage characters until his/her/their identity is exposed and a motive revealed to the Final Girl, "Valentine" has more in common with '80s slasher flicks wherein a jilted/humiliated/injured outsider seeks revenge years later against those who wronged them—in this case, a group of post-collegiate twenty-something characters whose middle-school sins of the past catch up to them with grisly results over the namesake holiday. A whodunit quality to the proceedings remains, but the payoff is quite different and surprisingly refreshing from the similar genre items which preceded this one. Director Jamie Blanks gave "Valentine" the same slick, handsome style and attention to character as his previous successful effort, 1998's "Urban Legend," but by this point, purely on principle, most horror-weary critics were predisposed to hate it before they set eyes upon it. I was not one of them; having reviewed the film for Rotten Tomatoes back in 2001 (its current rating: a brutal 9%), I was one of the few to defend it with a positive review and a "fresh" tomato. Eighteen years later, I can't escape hearing from viewers who claim to appreciate the film, too. Perhaps they were there all along, but it sure didn't seem like it back in the day.

In a prologue set at a junior high school dance in 1988, a nerdy young boy named Jeremy Melton is severely traumatized when four classmates turn down his invitations to dance, and a fifth—a heavyset girl named Dorothy—falsely accuses him of attacking her in front of other classmates when they are caught kissing under the bleachers. Thirteen years later, four of the now-grown ladies reunite at the funeral of the fifth, Shelley (Katherine Heigl), found brutally murdered while studying for her pre-med final. Immediately afterward, sweet-natured Kate (Marley Shelton), sensual Paige (Denise Richards), playful Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), and the slimmed-down but still insecure Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) begin receiving grisly, threatening Valentine cards signed "JM." Could their former middle-school classmate, whom they haven't seen in years, be out to seek revenge on those who did him wrong? And if so, might he be someone already in their lives?

Very loosely based on the novel by Tom Savage, "Valentine" stands out in 2019 as both an affectionate throwback to the slasher films of old and startlingly ahead of its time, exploring the struggle to find a quality romantic partner amid a sea of lecherous, objectifying men. The female characters can be a bit prickly themselves—some are more empathetic than others to the cruelty they inflicted on Jeremy when they were preteens—but they are also strong, complicated individuals, trying to take control of their young-adult lives while not yet fully aware of the mortal danger lurking in the shadows. Screenwriters Donna Powers & Wayne Powers and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts treat their narrative seriously but aren't shy about introducing natural observational humor to the mix, giving the proceedings and the women at its center a spunky, spiky verve.

The mystery killer's guise, complete with black cloak and rosy cherub mask, is disconcerting in its angelic creepiness. Director Jamie Blanks, aided immeasurably by Rick Bota's lustrously sleek, moody cinematography, prospers with his often thrilling, tension-fraught set-pieces and a certain restraint in the theatrical cut when it comes to its violence and viscera. There's a bit of that, to be sure, but Blanks appears more interested in stylish camera movements, tight editing, and darkly mischievous sequences of mayhem to create a distinct atmosphere of dread. The movie makes no bones about its old-fashioned, "let-me-go-soak-in-the-hot-tub-as-a-killer-lurks-in-the-house" horror conventions, but that is part of the fun.

One of the biggest stars of "Valentine" is its beautifully seasonal production design by Stephen Geaghan—a character all its own—with the entire third act set at a Valentine's Day party at Dorothy's family's mansion decked out in holiday decorations and a fitting interior design (the red-checkered billiard room is especially indelible). The picture's crimson color scheme cleverly foreshadows the holiday throughout, while also serving to underscore the threat of death enshrouding the characters.

Marley Shelton ably provides the honest center for the film as put-upon journalist Kate, grappling with her on-again/off-again relationship with alcoholic boyfriend Adam (David Boreanaz). Denise Richards brings a vivacious spirit and sly comic timing to Paige, finding power in her sexuality and unafraid to stand up for herself. Jessica Capshaw poignantly plays Dorothy with the complex shades the role requires, unable to shed feelings of self-doubt even as she has shed the pounds of her overweight childhood. Katherine Heigl is memorable with only ten minutes of screen time as Shelley, trapped after-hours in her lonesome med school with the cherub slayer. Of the cast, only David Boreanaz doesn't fully sell his part; he shares a few charismatic moments with Shelton's Kate, but stands apart from most of the goings-on and has trouble getting to the heart of who Adam is.

"Valentine" does not attempt to reinvent its genre, but understands—and delivers—upon providing nail-biting entertainment, solid characters, and imaginative stalk-and-slash sequences. The double-twist ending, too, finds a certain logic in its grim suggestions. Full of visual flair and a heartful mix of suspense, portent, and romance (most, alas, of the failed variety), the film worked well in 2001, naysayers be damned, and perhaps is even more at home when seen with a modern, altogether more woke 2019 lens. It may have taken a while to garner the cult following it deserves, but there's a reason "Valentine" continues to gain fans: it's an unapologetically feminist slasher tale, its style and personality a cut above most.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
 A/A-

At long last, "Valentine" has arrived on the Blu-ray format, and seeing its 1080p transfer—a new 2K scan of the original film elements—is like receiving a shot through the heart from Cupid. This is a tremendously pleasing visual presentation, one with inky blacks and lush shadow detail, healthy colors, a beautifully fine and even layer of grain, and a sizable uptick in detail and clarity over the archaic 2001 DVD release. To my eyes, I saw absolutely no damage or age-related dirt or speckling on the image. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is mixed a little on the low side; I had to raise the volume higher than normal for it to reach my desired level. Once I did this, it sounded pretty great, full of active surrounds, clean and clear dialogue, and a showcase for Don Davis' eerie, elegant music score.

Blu-ray Features
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Director Jamie Blanks and Filmmaker Don Coscarelli, Moderated by Author Peter Bracke
  • Audio Commentary with Director Jamie Blanks
  • NEW "Thrill of the Drill: An Interview with Denise Richards" Featurette (9:41, HD) - Richards has an obvious appreciation for "Valentine," discussing the fun she had on set, the strength of the female characters, and her love of shooting death scenes
  • NEW "The Final Girl: An Interview with Marley Shelton" Featurette (13:54, HD) - Shelton wastes no time discussing her pride in being a "Final Girl" in a horror film, her appreciation of the genre, the communal atmosphere on set, and the ahead-of-its-time parallels with the present-day #MeToo movement
  • NEW "Shot Through the Heart: An Interview with Jessica Cauffiel" (23:03, HD) - Cauffiel's enthusiasm for "Valentine" is utterly infectious in this super-fun interview where she discusses all facets of the production, the fun she had with the cast members, her joy in working with director Jamie Blanks, the unorthodox and collaborative creation of her character, her acclaimed death scene, and the cult legacy the film has earned nearly twenty years later
  • NEW "Writing Valentine: An Interview with Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts" Featurette (1:04:33, HD) - An outstanding hour-plus sit-down with co-writing partners Berg and Harberts, delving in-depth into the writing process and the multiple permutations of the screenplay; this is a must-watch for writers and those interested in the ins and outs of crafting characters and the process of developing story and motivations
  • NEW "Editing Valentine: An Interview with Steve Mirkovich" Featurette (27:50, HD)
  • NEW "Scoring Valentine: An Interview with Don Davis" Featurette (11:53, HD)
  • NEW Behind-the-Scenes (1:54:21, SD) - An exhaustive chronological look at the making of the film, taken from more than 10 hours of video shot during principal photography
  • Vintage Featurette (8:18, SD)
  • Press Kit (17:21, SD)
  • Deleted Scenes (8:40, SD)
  • Club Reel Music Video - "Opticon" by Orgy (2:53, HD)
  • Teaser Trailer (0:40, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:27, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:23, SD)
  • Still Gallery (4:12, HD)
Bottom Line
It has been a long wait for the sorely underrated, ahead-of-its-time "Valentine" to receive a home entertainment HD release, and the Collector's Edition Blu-ray Scream Factory has cooked up is destined to exceed the wildest dreams of fans. A gorgeous new 2K scan is without fault, while the bonus content includes a wealth of material—nearly 8 hours' worth! It may only be January as of this writing, but "Valentine" is certain to go down as one of my favorite Blu-rays releases of 2019. A must-own.

Buy Now at Amazon

© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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