With all due respect to the Friday the 13th sequels, for years, slasher fans considered an uncut version of 1981's My Bloody Valentine to be their holy grail. While Jason's misadventures were frequently ravaged by the MPAA (with 1988's New Blood getting the worst of it), it was never unclear as to what Jason was doing in those scenes. Maybe we wouldn't see the impact or resulting blood spray, but it was clear that character X just got killed by implementing Y.
But in My Bloody Valentine's case, some of the kills were completely incoherent as a result of the censors' butchering. Howard's death, in particular, was impossible to comprehend, as they cut so much from the scene it wasn't even readily apparent which character was being offed.
In 2009 we finally got an extended look at these scenes thanks to the discovery of some of the excised footage, allowing us to understand after nearly thirty years just exactly what happened to poor Howard (a rope was tied around his neck and his body was dropped from above, with the force decapitating him) and get some of the "Bloody" ness promised in the title.
However, according to director George Mihalka, not all of the footage was located, and about 30% of what was cut along the way (not just censored; other things were cut to keep the movie to 90 minutes per the studio's demand) was never found.
With it already being a miracle they found what they did, it seemed pretty unlikely that we'd ever get a full director's cut. So as a consolation, Stop the Killer teamed with Mihalka and commissioned a novelization of the film, offering fans a complete account of its events courtesy of author Armando Muñoz.
(Shameless plug alert: FANGORIA subscribers should check out issue #18 (Vol 2) for a full rundown of the novel's history, including interviews with Muñoz and Mihalka.)
Fans of this column will recognize Muñoz's name from his similar adaptation work of Silent Night, Deadly Night, but this one isn't as expansive as that. While SNDN's novel offered new kills and a truly whacked-out depiction of the kindly Sr. Margaret, Muñoz sticks mostly to the events and personalities as established by the film.
Not that it's a straight retelling–there's plenty of new material here–but completely new scenes are few and far between as compared to his other contribution to this budding genre of "never too late" novelizations.
Instead, most of the new material is depicted via interior thoughts of the characters, offering insights into their backstories Mihalka probably never would have had time for even if offered carte blanche from the MPAA and studio.
This is apparent right from the opening chapter, as we get a lengthy biography of the blonde woman who is killed in the opening credit sequence, whose bloody heart is served up to the Chief of Police and Mayor a few scenes later. That's her sole purpose in the film; a random victim to give the opening a little jolt and nothing more.
But one thing Muñoz excelled at in SNDN is also apparent here: every minor character was SOMEONE, dammit, and deserves to have their story told.
So now we know that her name was Stella Sagar, and that she was a local beauty who planned to run away to find stardom when she was 18, only to end up stuck in Valentine's Bluff caring for her ailing mother. Now she spends every February 14th hoping to be romanced away, which helps explain why (as we see in the movie) she'd be so willing to go down into a mine to fool around.
It's something he does throughout the novel's 300+ pages, and more often than not, these embellished backstories actually help make a little more sense out of things that happen on-screen.
For example, when Dave is found dead (he's the guy who gets boiled in the hot dog pot and stuffed into the fridge), a previously unseen woman shrieks in a manner that suggests he was her date, but as we never saw her before, it just comes off like an overacting extra.
Per Muñoz, however, her name was Veronica, and she had her sights set on Dave for quite a while, even picturing them walking down the aisle and having a white picket fence and all that. But Dave wasn't interested and, in fact, was gay, something she never picked up on and assumed he was playing hard to get.
The big mystery of the film is also resolved: TJ's time on the West Coast. For those inexplicably reading this without having seen it, when people aren't being murdered, it primarily focuses on a love triangle between TJ, his ex-flame Sarah, and Axel, her current boyfriend and TJ's former best friend. Through a few melodramatic scenes we learn that TJ left town without any warning or communication since, leaving his best pal and his girlfriend to find comfort in each other.
Then TJ returned and expected everything to be the same, which wasn't the case. But at no point is it ever explained what he was up to and why he came back, only that he "really fell on his ass out there."
Muñoz to the rescue! Essentially, TJ started believing his own hype, as he was repeatedly told by the folks in his small town that he had movie star good looks and such. And since he hated his father and resented being part of the Hanniger family that had essentially run the town for decades thanks to owning the local coal mine, TJ decided to give Hollywood a shot and make it on his own, where the name "Hanniger" didn't mean shit.
Unfortunately, what he failed to account for was that there were a million other handsome hopefuls like him in Hollywood, and after a year of blowing auditions and being forced to occasionally beg his father for money to keep his car running, the old man told him he would only give him one final payment: the amount he needed to fix his junker for the last time and use it to drive back home.
This paves the way to explaining more about his friendship with Axel, who was more like a brother to him growing up. The movie doesn't explain that Axel's own father is dead until the very end, because it ties into its reveal (which, again, I assume anyone reading this is aware of by now). But Muñoz is free to mention it via internal thought, and then explain that their father issues (Axel's being dead and TJ merely wishing his was) were part of what bonded them as youngsters and kept them inseparable until TJ's desertion.
One example of their closeness even suggests a deeper love between the two men. At one point, TJ recalls a time when the two of them took dates (not Sarah) to the drive-in, with one couple in the back and one in the front. And as their respective dates went down on them in the darkened drive-in lot, the two men looked into each others' eyes the entire time.
In the same train of thought, he remembers a time when the two of them were teenagers engaged in a masturbation contest "that had no losers." Reading these passages, I couldn't help but think of what a field day Muñoz (who seems to relish exploring his characters' sexual histories–wait til you find out how Howard the goofball lost his virginity) would have with fellow Canadian slasher Terror Train if he got the chance to tackle that, as the homoerotic subtext between Doc and Mo becomes borderline text at times.
Naturally, we also get more insight into Sarah's place in all this. In the movie, she's clearly torn between the two but also more or less fills a damsel in distress role, but here she gets more agency. It doesn't take long for her to realize that neither man cares about her as a person as much as she would like, and merely serves as another example of their never-ending rivalry.
To be fair, it does get a bit repetitive as she constantly thinks to herself variations of "Don't they realize they're annoying me?" but along with her own added history (much like Axel, her own father died when she was young), it's certainly a meatier role than Lori Hallier was given in the final cut.
As for the completely new scenes, there are really only two. One involves Happy, the grouchy bartender who is on the receiving end of Harry's pickaxe in what is probably the movie's best jump scare (when the real McCoy replaces his mock Harry puppet).
As he mentions in a lengthy bout of exposition, he was the one to find Harry Warden down in the mines all those years ago, but here we get more to this story, and a full-on scene of Happy visiting Harry in the institution about a year later, painfully discovering Harry hasn't shed himself of his cannibalistic tendencies.
Along with the standard fleshing out of his backstory, I'd say Happy gets the most extra time in the novel vs. his film counterpart, as Muñoz even adds a touch of sympathy for this otherwise generic Harbinger of Doom character.
The other big addition (again, outside of personal histories that are confined to thought) comes near the end, when Sarah has been separated from TJ and is trying to find her way out of the mine alone. She finally sees an exit, only to be blocked by Biter. "Who's Biter?" you might ask, and I am happy to be the one to tell you that he's the dog that chases the Chief's car after he pulls a U-turn and heads back to town after the Mayor opens the bloody heart.
It's a delightfully odd moment in the film, as this dog seemingly just wandered onto the set and was nearly run over by the speeding truck, but once again, Muñoz has taken it upon himself to explain who this dog is and where he came from.
Turns out Biter was a local family's dog that abandoned him after he bit one of their children, and is now just roaming around town much like Harry Warden, looking for scraps — including human ones.
He pops up with some frequency throughout the book, making me laugh every time at how random it was (Muñoz even notes he's NOT one of the dogs that the Chief shoos away when he finds another bloody valentine later, because he's doing something else at the time!), but this scene provides the payoff, as Sarah is stuck between Harry and this potentially equally murderous dog.
Luckily for her, he sets his sights on the dying Patty instead, eating her exposed intestines and giving Sarah a chance to run off without alerting him.
Did we NEED a backstory for the random dog seen in one shot of the movie? Of course not, but in a way, this material perfectly encapsulates how much the author clearly knows these movies inside and out, and also why the idea of writing a novel based on the finished film (as opposed to a screenplay while the movie is still in production) can be just as rewarding to fans.
I sincerely doubt the script had "a dog runs up to the car" written for that scene, and it was just something that happened while filming. By using the final cut we all know and love as his guide, Muñoz is able to not only restore some of the scenes and lines that were cut for time or censorship but also create new material based on observation of little idiosyncrasies that occurred on camera.
And in turn, we can watch the movie for our millionth time with new insight into the characters (and dogs). For decades, I have wondered why that woman got so particularly upset when Dave was found dead, and now I have an answer that no deleted scene would have ever provided.
As of this writing, My Blood Valentine: The Novel is sold out, but you can still get a poster of Gary Pullin's awesome cover art. Watch My Bloody Valentine on Pluto TV or rent/buy it on VOD.