On Halloween, a slasher film shot in Sydney Mines 4 decades ago is remembered fondly

·3 min read
The Canadian slasher movie My Bloody Valentine was shot in Sydney Mines 40 years ago.  (Source: Rodney Gibbons/Canadian Film Development Corporation - image credit)
The Canadian slasher movie My Bloody Valentine was shot in Sydney Mines 40 years ago. (Source: Rodney Gibbons/Canadian Film Development Corporation - image credit)

It's something Ida Donovan will never forget.

Released in time for Valentine's Day 1981, My Bloody Valentine is a Canadian slasher movie directed by George Mihalka and shot on location in Sydney Mines. Nova Scotia.

In the film, residents of Valentine Bluff — in reality Sydney Mines — attend a Valentine's Day dance and are terrorized by a killer in a gas mask.

Over 40 years later, Glace Bay's Donovan, now 74, has fond memories of the film crew coming to town.

Donovan was an extra along with her husband and her five children.

She said learned from a local theatre director that a horror movie was being shot in town and they were looking for a young boy to play the murderer when he was a child.

Her son was six years old at the time.

"And so we went over there with just him, and they tested him and talked to him, and they fell in love with him and said he was perfect for the part and they didn't interview anybody else after that," Donovan said.

George Donovan
George Donovan

She said when the film's director heard that she was in theatre she was offered a part.

Eventually, her four girls were given parts as extras and, because they were looking for coal miners, her husband — an actual coal miner — was given a part as well.

Children excited

Donovan said the family had a great time, getting to eat with other members of the crew and meeting new people.

Eddie Donovan
Eddie Donovan

She said her children were excited to be involved. Because they were used to being with her backstage when she performed, they knew it wasn't reality.

"They knew that this wasn't a … real sword and all that kind of stuff.," she said. "They weren't actually scared because they knew it was just a movie."

They didn't have much of a sense of the plot while filming, she said, but the family eventually saw the film when it was released and "had a good laugh."

Big deal

According to Donovan, having a film shot in Sydney Mines was a big deal at the time.

Donovan said people came from all over Cape Breton to see what was happening.

"You couldn't get a seat in a restaurant or anything because everything was filled with people buying stuff and eating and walking the streets."

Ida Donovan
Ida Donovan

Donovan and her husband and children went on to have parts in 1984's The Bay Boy, Daniel Petrie's film about growing up in Glace Bay.

She said she has been in about 20 other feature and short films since her debut in My Bloody Valentine.

A classic

Michael MacDonald, a communications professor at Cape Breton University who also played the villain in the 2011 low-budget horror film The Psychotic Forest Ranger, said My Bloody Valentine is a classic that "holds up to the test of time" for many reasons.

He said the character of the killer is never out of costume and could be anyone, and seeing things through the killer's perspective adds to the disconcerting nature of the film.

"The effects were sophisticated for its day," he said. "There were practical effects like a miner's pickaxe coming through someone's eyes and seeing the eyeball and other gross things like that,"

Julie Dakai
Julie Dakai

MacDonald said the film also stood out for introducing things that were not the usual horror movie cliches.

The people killed in the film are not all teenagers, he said, but young adults with jobs.

He said the film is also not as sexist as many other slasher films and only five of the 16 victims are female.

"It's Quentin Tarantino's favourite slasher," MacDonald said. "Some people have said that it's the most criminally underappreciated of the sinister genre."

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