Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

FEBRUARY 7, 2008


I remember it like it was a year ago today... I decided to start watching a horror movie every day. And I’ve only missed one day ever! (I know, it looks like I missed more than that since I still don’t have all the reviews for LAST February up – I swear I’ll get to it).

Anyway, to celebrate the occasion I figured I’d watch Happy Birthday To Me, which I saw (once) sometime in early 1997 I think. I know it was after Scream came out at any rate, 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 it as one of his influences.

It also stole Scream’s 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 likeable (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; and the producers also made My Bloody Valentine (the best of all the slashers of the era, in my opinion). 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 yesterday’s 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?

Columbia’s choice of trailers for the disc’s sole extra feature is intriguing. We have I Know What You Did Last Summer (which also concerned the effects of trying to bury a secret), Identity (another movie in which they try very hard to convince you that the hero is in fact the killer), and Resident Evil Apocalypse (which... was also filmed in Canada, I guess). I would have liked to have a commentary or maybe a few of the bits that were cut (despite the blood on display, the shish ka bob and dumbbell deaths are cut, and quite noticeably), or an explanation as to why the opening theme is replaced with a song that sounds like “Looking for Trade” from Shock Treatment.

So anyway, here’s to a full year of daily horror movie watching! May 2008 to early 2009 bring us many a good film and 100% less Lionsgate scarecrows. And since all my favorite movies save one have already been remade, we can be assured that unless a Shocker remake is fast tracked, I will be much... calmer this year.

What say you?


  1. Congrats again on another great year! Did you plan on watching this movie before or after I left the trailer on your myspace? lol. Awesome.

    Now I need to run out and rent My Blood Valentine too.

  2. Hahaha I could boost your ego and say after, but given how long it takes them to send these older horror movies, I had to plan ahead, hahaha. I think I top of the queued it in like early January and just finally got it last week.

    I will prob be reviewing MBV this thursday (or maybe wednesday as a sort of 'Valentine Eve' gift).

  3. Congrats!!

    Just watched this one recently On Demand. Kind of a let down.

  4. This blog is great. It's the first thing I read every morning when I get to work. Keep it up!

  5. Congratulations on a year!

    I've got to admit, like you pointed out, there are some flukey moments, and a lot of confusing detritus to sift through. But this movie will always be around the top of my slasher pantheon. It tries too hard to be odd, and as a result, becomes bizarre in a completely different way. Somehow that always endeared it to me.
    That, and the fact that the original movie poster featured the shikabob death. Still one of my favorite deaths ever!

  6. This movie's pretty decent. I actually like the theme song, it's kinda sad, melancholy and melodramatic.

  7. One of my favorite '80s slashers. I remember the classic original video box from the '80s too, with the birthday cake. I never realized it had the same director as the original Cape Fear, though! Kind of a come down...

  8. The recently released version from Anchor Bay restored the quality of this movie a bit. I have to say I do enjoy the movie, but you do have a point about it being too long to retain all your attention to it. Melissa Sue Anderson does have quite a blood-curdling scream. The music is very sad and I have to say the Syreeta song at the end fits the movie quite well.

    All I can say is it really could be much worse.

  9. How could you spoil the ending to "Identity"?!! As a fellow horror fan I'm surprised you spoiled that for countless other fans of "surprise cinema." Shame on you.

    For HPTM, I guess the original version screened in '81 was bloodier and was replaced w/a less graphic version during its release. No idea why. I remember there being a "hype" about this movie ("everyone" was talking about it), and how they'd shot several endings and picked one. I JUST found out that that wasn't true w/in the last month or so. I forget the source, but it was in print and the person said that's why there was no build-up to the end and that everyone knew the ending but said they didn't.

    It's too bad the reissue on DVD doesn't include the cut scenes or anything. Seeing the cut scenes of '81's My Bloody Valentine was interesting were interesting, but all these cut scenes really don't make a good movie...! The lst Friday the 13th made nearly $40 million b/c it was scary (and had Paramount to put it in theaters); those that followed really weren't that great (I think only Prom Night made $14M, and still think it's a snooze, but lots of folks talked about it then, too). Funny thing about these movies: They're copies of older movies! The chase scene from Prom Night is an "update" of a '70s drive-in mainstay called The House that Vanished (lousy movie, so take my word for it). Jason living in a rundown shack for F13Pt2? Right out of Rituals. And all the F13 kills (even some from Halloween, '78), right out of Bay of Blood. And so it goes....

    Glenn Allen
    New Jersey

  10. I wouldn't say I "spoiled" IDENTITY at all - I didn't even hint at the twist, merely pointed out that they try to make the hero (Cusack) seem like he's the killer (not even stating that he is or isn't). And the movie is 7 years old at this point; statute of limitations on spoiling a movie is a year or so at best. The movie 50 First Dates has a running gag that spoils Sixth Sense, for example, and those movies were only 4 years apart.

    I'll have to check out the House That Vanished tho, never heard of it. Not a Prom Night fan, but maybe that one will work for me. Thanks for the heads up!

  11. Man I must be getting old! I saw this on the big screren the year Fright Night came out ( about 1985?). For some reason the reel for Fright Night hadn't turned up so the theatre played this instead.
    This was a good slaher film and one of the best from the 1980's. It is the one I remember most besides all the Friday the Thiteenth films. I always liked the girl who dropped the weight on the guy's memeber causing him to crush his throat with the dumbell.
    God your thread takes me back! I'll have to go to the local video store and rent this one.


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