Valentine Revisited

Back when Scream was released in 1996, it revitalized the slasher genre formula with its blend of self-referential humor and genuine scares. Once it became a cultural and box office phenomenon, it ushered in a new era of horror films in a similar vein such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Faculty. But then came a slasher pic that was inventive while showcasing the traditional slasher formula. Yet, because it still stuck to tradition and wasn’t entirely in the same vein as Scream, it became instantly underrated. 

When Valentine came out 19 years ago, it received quite a critical bashing. According to the critics consensus on its Rotten Tomatoes page, it is a “formulaic throwback to conventional pre-Scream slasher flicks.” On the one hand, yes, it does follow the traditional slice-and-dice formula that slasher films would have in the pre-Scream era. However, it is both familiar and non formulaic and deserves more praise for how it attempts to stand out from other films within the rather interchangeable genre. 

The story is familiar enough. A group of women: Kate (Marley Shelton), Paige (Denise Richards), Shelley (Katherine Heigl), Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw) and Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), are picked off one by one by a former classmate they tormented in their childhood. Also, the film takes place around Valentine’s Day, hence the title, and opens with a Valentine’s Day Dance from 1988. During that opening sequence, the killer, Jeremy Melton, asks his female classmates to dance with him only for most of them to harshly reject him. Thirteen years after that dance, Jeremy comes back for his revenge. 

Its basic premise, along with the killer’s identity being evident, is what likely results in its reputation of being a copy-and-paste slasher flick. However, while the lack of grand mystery surrounding the antagonist may be true, Valentine is more interested in examining the mistakes made by the main characters. It mainly follows them in their adult years to show whether they’ve learned from the torment they caused Jeremy in middle school. It is hinted that there is a history of Jeremy being bullied outside of the night of the dance. So, the film asks whether some of them realized how wrong their bullying was. 

Additionally, a false reputation that Jeremy was hit with becomes a method to his madness. After being accused of assaulting Dorothy at the aforementioned Valentine’s Day dance, he was sent away and eventually became the psycho that his classmates believed he was. He wasn’t motivated by fame the way some of the Ghostface killers in the Scream series were nor was he driven by the death of a loved one like Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th. Instead, Melton is driven by his indignation over being deprived of an ideal existence due to torment by his classmates and the accusation that shattered his life. 

While Valentine lacks the tongue-in-cheek wit Scream has, it contains a similar pathos to the Scream films which depicted the character of Sidney (Neve Campbell) coping with her deceased mother’s troubled past. In the case of Valentine, it emphasizes the arc of Dorothy, who reflects on the accusation she made and realizes the drastic toll it took on Jeremy once her friends get killed off and they receive menacing Valentine’s Day cards. Given how Dorothy also grapples with her own insecurities since she was a bullying victim like Jeremy, the film is clearly more interested in her character development as opposed to that of Lily, Paige, and Shelley. 

Because Kate was the only one to show compassion towards Jeremy in the film’s opening, she ends up being the prototypical likeable protagonist, which only furthers the picture’s slasher genre machinations. While Valentine offers a change of pace by depicting its protagonists as adults rather than typical teenagers, it still has its characters fall victim to certain archetypes, with Kate being the innocent one of the group, Paige being the promiscuous one, and Dorothy being an eventual red herring. 

However, the film is inventive in other areas, like how the ways that the girls rejected Jeremy at the dance foreshadow their eventual fates. Along with its exploration of the traumatic nature of bullying, the film’s ability to formulate such foreshadowing without spelling it out for the audience is a genius form of screenwriting. 

Valentine certainly isn’t perfect. It falls victim to the traditional slasher formula to the point where certain characters become archetypal. Yet, it still deserves credit for attempting to distinguish itself from other films within a genre that is notorious for reinforcing cliche after cliche. It may not have tried replicating the self-referential wit of Scream in a post-Scream landscape yet even if it did, it might’ve still been accused of being a Scream clone. Given how it’s a slasher film, it’ll be written off as a clone regardless of whether it follows a pre-Scream or post-Scream formula. But in the end, it still deserves a look. 

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