This Valentine’s Horror Film Is the Last Great Slasher of the ‘Scream’ Era


The Big Picture

  • Holidays can provide an opportunity for horror movies, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. The pain and darkness associated with the holiday make it a perfect setting for horror.
  • The killer in
    is one of the most sympathetic in horror, with a backstory that evokes empathy and understanding, despite their murderous actions.
  • Valentine
    goes beyond typical slasher movie tropes, exploring themes of love, loneliness, and the corrupting influence of vapid people. It’s a negative and pessimistic film that sets itself apart within the genre.

Horror was in a bad state in the 1990s, but then came Wes Craven‘s Scream in 1996. It rebirthed the slasher, and with its young cast and clever meta premise, made horror cool again. Suddenly, slashers with masked killers and pretty teen actors were everywhere. Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream, also penned I Know What You Did Last Summer, which came out the following year. One of the better Scream ripoffs of the era was director Jamie Blanks‘ fun and underrated Urban Legend from 1998. Over the following few years, there would be two more Scream movies and other horror movies that felt like Scream, while following a different plot, such as Disturbing Behavior and The Faculty.

By the early 2000s, however, the slasher fad was beginning to die off again. When 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out and succeeded, remakes took over the genre. Before they did, one more Scream-era slasher knifed its way in. In 2001, Valentine was released, directed again by Blanks, the same man who gave us Urban Legend just three years earlier. Valentine is often dismissed, but it deserves a second look. Though it came out as slashers were bleeding out, it’s one of the smartest entries into the subgenre you’ll ever see.


Five women are stalked by an unknown assailant while preparing for Valentine’s Day.

Release Date
February 2, 2001

Jamie Blanks

Almost every holiday has a horror movie associated with it these days. Halloween has, well, Halloween and many others. Christmastime is the perfect time for Black Christmas, Christmas Evil, and many more. St. Patrick’s Day has the Leprechaun franchise. You can find horror movies for New Year’s Day, April Fool’s Day, and Independence Day. Last year, Eli Roth corrected the lack of Thanksgiving horror with his slasher Thanksgiving.

Another goldmine for horror has been Valentine’s Day. It makes sense. Holidays are meant to be celebrations, but there can be a lot of pain found in those days for some. Christmas might be about Santa and Jesus and family, but it’s not so fun if you’re alone. Many Christmas-themed horrors, like Krampus, have shown holidays corrupted by consumerism. Thanksgiving did the same thing with an opening Black Friday massacre. What day is more painful for the lonely, and more twisted by the almighty dollar and expectations, than Valentine’s Day? In horror, if a killer is getting their heart ripped out, they’re going to rip out some hearts as well. My Bloody Valentine in 1981 is the best example of this, and though it didn’t take place on the holiday, The Prowler, which came out the same year, plays on the same themes of heartbreak and revenge. There’s the 2009 remake of My Bloody Valentine as well, along with others you might not know were Valentine’s Day movies, such as 2008’s Pontypool. Outside of My Bloody Valentine, no holiday horror film destroys the sweetness of the holiday better than Valentine.

‘Valentine’ Has One of Horror’s Most Sympathetic Killers

One of the most common slasher tropes is the inciting incident for the killer. The entire first Friday the 13th is an inciting incident for Jason Voorhees, who kills anyone who dares cross into Camp Crystal Lake as revenge for those who killed his mother, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), in the 1980 movie. A young girl is accidentally killed in the opening scene of Prom Night, and years later a killer who saw the whole thing happen seeks revenge on those who tried to cover it up. The same thing happened in Urban Legend. When Cropsey is burned in a prank gone wrong in The Burning, he too seeks revenge. Terror Train has a similar kick-off, with the prank leaving emotional but not physical scars on our future killer. Oftentimes, we can have at least a little sympathy for the killer. Maybe retaliating by going on a murder spree is a bit much, but we’d be pissed too if we saw someone decapitate our mother, or if some punk kids set us on fire.


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Valentine‘s inciting incident is an interesting one that might have you rooting for the killer. We start in 1988 when young Jeremy Melton (Joel Palmer) is a nervous but confident kid at the school dance. He’s a nerd with big glasses and goofy hair, but that doesn’t stop him from going up to several girls and asking to dance with them. They are cruel to him in their rejections, and we automatically despise them and feel bad for Jeremy; but we also respect him, as he keeps trying. Jeremy finally gets a yes from Dorothy (Kate Logie), and they go under the school bleachers to make out but are quickly caught by other kids. Ashamed of who she is being seen with, Dorothy says that Jeremy sexually assaulted her and calls him a pervert. The other school kids beat him up and rip his clothes off, causing Jeremy’s nose to bleed from the anxiety of the moment, and later he is expelled and ends up in a mental institution. It’s not a slasher movie if your killer isn’t first in a hospital!

All good slashers then move decades into the future and Valentine follows suit. All the kids involved are now in their 20s. One of them, Shelley (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Katherine Heigl), works in a morgue, where she is attacked by a trench coat-wearing killer in a cherub mask. The villain stabs her to death as his nose bleeds through the mask. Jeremy Melton is back. Valentine becomes a whodunit, but it’s also a terrifying slasher (and the identity of the killer is pretty obvious). The stalking scenes are pulse-pounding, and the kills aren’t over-the-top gory, but more realistic. A simple slashed throat will always be more effective when fear is the objective, rather than going the Terrifier route of gore for gore’s sake. It’s the killer in Valentine who demands our attention, for Jeremy Melton is scary as hell, with his blank, emotionless cherub face a tribute to the past of blank-faced killers who say nothing. He’s more than those icons from decades before though, coming across as a real person bent on revenge, which is always more chilling than some lifeless supernatural presence that can’t be stopped.

‘Valentine’ Shows the Horrors of Dating and Vapid People

Valentine checks all the boxes of an effective slasher, providing a killer with an unforgettable look, along with suspenseful chase scenes and plenty of dead bodies. Still, any average slasher movie can do that. To truly set itself apart within the subgenre, a slasher should have something to say beyond the tropes — and Valentine has a lot on its mind. It’s a negative and pessimistic film, but that is not an error from bad and clichéd writing. There is just one decent character — our final girl, Kate (the later Scream installment’s Marley Shelton) — who was the only girl who respected Jeremy Melton back in 1988. She may have rejected him just like her friends did, but she respected Jeremy, treating him like a human being, which goes a long way for a psychopath.

The other protagonists in Valentine are mostly horrible, biting, self-centered people. They are obsessed with the idea of love, but they make fun of the flaws of men when they go speed dating, like when Denise Richards‘ Paige ridicules short men. They even make fun of the buck-toothed Jeremy Melton they used to know, despite being aware of his mental issues. That doesn’t mean this is an anti-woman movie, for men are portrayed as idiots with their own issues. Valentine makes the idea of dating in the early 2000s look way more terrifying than running into a masked killer holding a knife, which was maybe the whole point. There is so much hopelessness and sadness in how these vapid characters look at love, while young Jeremy Melton was a dorky kid who had courage and wanted to be loved for who he was. Valentine uses that to blur the lines between who is good and who is evil and also shows how good people can be corrupted by that evil.

‘Valentine’ Was Unfairly Dismissed Upon Its Release

The killer in a morgue in 'Valentine'
Image via Warner Bros. 

Valentine has all that going for it, yet it was roasted in reviews when it came out (it only gets an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes). It was hated because it wasn’t Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or Urban Legend. The killer may have had a great look, but his kills weren’t gory, and the characters weren’t likable enough. That’s because director Jamie Blanks wasn’t trying to make a Scream clone with meta influences and witty one-liners. We’re comparing it to the wrong movies! As Blanks told The Fright Night Club NI: “Valentine was intended as a straight throwback to the ’80s slashers I loved. Urban Legend was much more in the mold of Scream in terms of its self-awareness. I didn’t want to do that again with Valentine.”

Therein lies why Valentine didn’t work in 2001. It was too glossy when it should have been gritty, and it came out in the wrong era. The best ’80s slasher movies, beneath the boobs and gore, had something bigger to say. For example, look at The Slumber Party Massacre. There is a lot more going on than a man with a drill slaughtering teenage girls on a sleepover. It is a movie about the sickening obsession of women, and how women have to fight back together. Films like this, The Prowler, and especially Prom Night have powerfully sad endings, even when the final girl wins.

Slashers of the Scream era have the final girl forgetting her dead friends as she walks off-screen to a rock song, readying herself for a sequel. Valentine wasn’t interested in creating a franchise or cathartic endings. It wanted to say something about love and loneliness and how our actions come back to get us. When the killer strikes, it’s not because he saw teens doing drugs or having sex, or because he’s obsessed with horror movies, but because he is heartbroken and angry and lashing out at those who hurt him. That’s way more terrifying, because it gives the killer an understandable motivation, turning him from caricature to real. When he strikes, Jeremy Melton may or may not get his revenge, and whether he lives or dies, the past isn’t undone and made right. Still, his story is told, and it’s one that deserves to be rediscovered. It will make your heart beat faster as it breaks it.

Valentine is available to rent on Prime Video.



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