The horror genre has movies based around pretty much every holiday, and I like to celebrate holidays by watching movies that have something to do with that date. My required viewing for Valentine's Day is the 1981 slasher MY BLOODY VALENTINE, and I also enjoy its 2009 remake. 2001's VALENTINE has its share of fans... and then there are two other Valentine's Day slashers that have sort of slipped through the cracks. So this year, let's not just give all of our love to the more popular Valentine's slashers. Let's show a little attention to the misfits as well, with a Face-Off between Boaz Davidson's HOSPITAL MASSACRE (1981), which is also known by the title X-RAY, and Jon Ward's LOVERS LANE (2000).
In a sequence set in 1961, young Harold murders his coveted Valentine Susan's playdate after they mock the card he made for her. The kid just gets hung up on a coat rack offscreen, but this opening earns bonus points for featuring two of the child actors from the same year's BLOODY BIRTHDAY - Billy Jacoby gets to act like a creepy little maniac as Harold, while Elizabeth Hoy wields a large knife and cuts into a cake as Susan.
Thirteen years in the past, a parking couple is menaced by a hook-handed killer. In this version of the urban legend, the couple escapes from their vehicle to find the bodies of a man and woman in another car on Lovers Lane. The woman just happens to be the wife of a police officer, who has taken his young daughter on patrol with him, giving the little girl the chance to give her mother's bloody corpse a box of chocolates.
Jump ahead nineteen years and Susan is a divorced mother and career woman played by Playboy regular Barbi Benton. At a hospital just to get the results of a checkup, Susan is put through a whole lot of waiting and weirdness, and it's kind of maddening how compliant she is. Rarely does she show any sign of a personality, but she does show a lot of her body.
Played by Erin J. Dean, the teenage version of Mandy Anderson, that little girl from the crime scene, is a smart, strong-minded young woman who is not very popular in her high school. When the slasher attacks, Mandy proves to be quite capable, doing her best to stay in control, plotting escape, and even playing medic to injured fellow teens.
Lurking around the hospital in a surgeon's gown and medical mask, the killer in this film is quite the prankster, spending a lot of time and energy falsifying Susan's records so the doctors will think she has a terminal disease. Stealthy for the most part, he does have a standout scene where he speed walks down a hallway toward a victim while holding a sheet in front of himself.
Believed to be an escaped mental patient with a hook for a hand, the killer here was not going for innovation in the looks department, wearing a jumpsuit from the hospital, a hooded coat, and a ski mask. Just like the pros that came before, this slasher alternates between calm sneaking and relentless pursuit, between lying in wait and busting down doors. They're nothing special, but get the job done.
Between messing with files, this guy does kill several people, delivering some bloody stabbings, a stethoscope strangulation, a hatchet to the head, and best of all, an acid dousing that leaves the victim's face a pulsating pulp.
The kills here are disappointingly bland for the most part. Even when they're not offscreen, we usually don't get a shot of the sharp implement impacting flesh. The most notable kill isn't because of method or FX, but who is being killed: a then-unknown Anna Faris.
You expect Harold is going to be killing more people as an adult, but there is some mystery about who the grown up Harold may be. There are several suspects, with Susan's ex-husband being so questionable that you wonder if the killer might not be Harold after all. When the killer's face is finally revealed, it has little impact.
The opening murders seem to be solved a little too easily, there's always something off about the explanation. In the film's last 15 minutes, we find out why. LOVERS LANE is very much of the SCREAM era of slashers, which is most obvious when this double whammy of a twist comes up. It works, though. It was at least half surprising to me.
IT'S A TIE!
In the end, I find it tough to choose between HOSPITAL MASSACRE and LOVERS LANE. I did enjoy my viewing of LANE more than I enjoyed MASSACRE, but the latter has the better kills, which are, of course, a very important element when you're watching a slasher movie. Neither film is totally awful, but neither is great. I can definitely see why these two have lapsed into obscurity while other Valentine's Day slashers have become enduring cult classics. They may not be worth seeking out, but if the opportunity to watch one or the other is in front of you... eh, why not give it a chance?
Do you think a tie was the right outcome for the Face-Off, or do you have a clear winner in mind? Let us know by leaving a comment below. As always, I would be happy to hear your suggestions for future Face-Offs, you can send those to CodyHamman@joblo.com.