OCTOBER 13, 2009
(This is a composite DVD review, compiled from my previous review of the film from February of 2008, and my thoughts on this new edition).
I didn’t remember much about Happy Birthday To Me, which I saw (once) sometime in early 1997. I know it was after Scream came out, because the only thing I COULD recall about the movie was that Scream had more or less stolen the killer’s backstory, but Kevin Williamson never mentioned HBTM as one of his influences.
Scream also stole its running time. There should be a rule that a slasher film should never run more than 95 minutes unless it has more killings to make up for it. But that is certainly not the case here, the killer’s official body count is only 6, for a 110 minute film! Granted, the movie’s tagline sort of tells you right up front that it’s “6 of the most bizarre deaths you’ll ever see”, but that could also mean 6 weird deaths and maybe a dozen straight up throat slashings or what have you! In fact, only 3 of the deaths are in any way unique, the other 3 are in fact just stabbings.
Luckily, the characters are pretty likable (Matt Craven’s always a welcome addition to a film) and unlike some of the other big studio slasher movies of the era, the MPAA allowed a few gory bits (Glenn Ford’s death is particularly splattery). And the story far more developed than the other ‘holiday’ slashers of the time. Plus it was directed by J. Lee Thompson who made the original Cape Fear. It’s obvious that great lengths were taken to make this one a step above the others, combining standard slasher fare with a genuine character driven psychological thriller, but it’s a shame they couldn’t have tightened the pace a bit while they were at it, as it does get a bit long at times (a dirt bike race is fine since it sets up the bike death, but no one is killed with a soccer ball, so we can do without the 5 minutes of soccer game).
Lots of folks have issues with the ending, particular the total lack of buildup to it. Apparently the original ending had Ginny indeed being the killer, but this was changed at the last minute. As a result, there’s no indication or foreshadowing of any of this, and, like the Tale Of Two Sisters remake, this also results in some of the earlier actions of both the actual killer and the main suspect making absolutely no sense in retrospect. But this doesn’t bug me as much as the batshittedness of it all. Why is that one spooky looking blond friend standing out in the rain holding a box? Where are the other 2 friends? Why didn’t anyone ever notice that the fake Ginny has a totally different rack than the real one?
This is a new DVD from Anchor Bay (previous disc was from Sony, the film’s original distributor). There aren’t any extras per se (just the trailer, which I don’t think was on the previous release), which is odd considering that Anchor Bay will put together a special edition for even the most unnecessary titles. But what it DOES have is the original score that was replaced on the old disc with some pop songs (the creepy theme song over the closing credits remains intact - that was always there). It’s a good score, and it is perhaps even more important to have the film presented in the way its creators intended than it is to have bonus features anyway. The picture has been re-mastered, but it’s still a low-budget slasher movie from nearly 30 years ago - it’s never going to be demo material for anyone’s home theater (the sound remains 2.0 stereo). Also I kind of miss the song from the opening titles. I wish they had simply presented both tracks so you could choose, which would make this an easier choice for previous owners. Basically, if you already own it, it’s a definite improvement all around, but whether or not it’s worth the 15 bucks or whatever depends on your DVD buying budget. However, if you don’t own it yet - this is the one to get (plus it has a better cover).
I would also like to take time to give a shout out to Anchor Bay for following Sony’s lead and adapting the newer enviro-friendly DVD Amaray cases (see a photo here). The great thing about these cases is that they use less plastic without changing the outer shape of the case at all - they will fit on your shelf same as any other movie. I’m not a big fan of, for example, the new water bottle shapes that lessen their integrity (they tip over far too easily). Kudos to whoever designed this case for figuring out a way to use less plastic but retain 100% of their durability. And another kudos to AB, Sony, and whatever other companies for using them.
What say you?