Color, 2000, 95 mins. / Directed by Jamie Blanks / Starring David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Jessica Capshaw, Denise Richards, Jessica Cauffiel / Music by Don Davis

Format: DVD - Warner (MSRP $19.98) / Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1


Critically lambasted and virtually ignored at the box office, Valentine proved to be a late and unwelcome addition to the rapidly dying neo-slasher revival. Taking a less grotesque angle on the romantic holiday than its less gimmicky '80s counterpart, My Bloody Valentine, this workmanlike yarn from director Jamie Blanks (who perpetrated the even more absurd Urban Legends) attempts to drag the straightfaced slasher/holiday formula into the modern age by injecting it with picture perfect young actors, glossy but uninspired photography, and a politically correct lack of gore or intense scares, coming up with a film that could have been interesting in another age but now comes out satisfying very few indeed.

Our story begins with a nerdy high school boy, Jeremy Melton, being brutally rejected by four girls at a dance before being humiliated under the bleachers with a trumped up claim of attempted rape. Faster than you can say Prom Night, all of the characters have now grown up, and each girl receives a sinister greeting for Valentine's Day (which somehow manages to actually stretch out for about three days, but never mind). Rich girl Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) hates her new stepmom and allows her new boyfriend of one month to shack up in her house, while bitchy Paige (Denise Richards), Kate (Marley Shelton), and Lily (Jessica Cauffiel) spend most of their time blithely ignoring their nasty Valentine cards and attending pretentious art installations where one of them winds up harpooned by an arrow-wielding killer in a Cupid mask. The murderer also suffers from nosebleeds during moments of intense stress, a trait confined to poor Jeremy. As the body count climbs, the survivors must figure out which of the men in their lives could be the spurned boy, now grown up and desperate to avenge his broken heart.

Though Valentine is an abject failure as a horror film, it misfires for some very interesting reasons. The problem of adapting Tom Savage's complex novel was solved by tossing out the story wholesale, focusing instead on a Cupid-faced killer and some inexplicable plotting that makes Joe Eszterhas look almost competent. Some early sequences establishing the lead female characters are actually written and performed with a reasonable degree of snap; in fact, this might have been better as a dark comedy about the murderous perils on modern dating instead of a straight horror film. The top billed, underused David Boreanaz displays all of the vitality and emotional range he possesses on Angel, meaning his acting abilities are still anyone's guess, but Richards (a guilty pleasure actress to be sure) diverts one's attention with some tart one liners. The rest of the cast is bland and fails to make an impression, while Don Davis' score sounds like a more muted spin on his earlier work for House on Haunted Hill. The twist ending in the final shot is executed with some degree of panache and would actually be impressive if it weren't blatantly cribbed from Jack Sholder's superior Alone in the Dark.

As with most newer releases, Valentine contains the standard extras you would expect, including a commentary from Blanks which goes through the mechanics of each suspense sequence and elaborates on the oft-reported story about how Warner ordered the digital removal of any gore that might have made the film interesting even on a visceral level. (However, the trite account of one victim's blood pooling out into the shape of a heart indicates these changes might not be such a bad thing after all.) The other supplements include the moody theatrical teaser, a video montage to a song from Orgy, and some disposable studio PR pieces passed off as a featurette. Not a bad deal considering the price it carries at most retailers, but it's too bad the main feature barely cuts it as a late night freebie on cable.


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