Starring: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Tracey Bregman
“You’d be proud of me now, mother. All the kids like me.” – Virginia, Happy Birthday To Me
After the success of Halloween, film studios went out of their way to ensure every other major calendar date was covered by a slasher film.
Graduation Day, My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas, Friday The 13th – it’s safe to say that if Shrove Tuesday existed in America someone would have made a movie about a killer jamming poisoned shroves up hapless victims’ shitepipes.
It went without saying, then, that someone would eventually make a slasher based on birthdays. After all, everyone celebrates their birthday, so everyone can relate.
Cue Columbia Pictures with Happy Birthday To Me, a Canadian horror film that’s actually a little more left-field than you may expect.
It tells the story of Virginia (played by Little House On The Prairie star Melissa Sue Anderson), a troubled teen with more than her fair share of bad luck.
Her mum’s pegged it. Her dad’s a jet-setting businessman and isn’t great at being there for her. And though she’s made it into the exclusive ‘Top Ten’ clique at school, her friends are all snobby wanks.
Oh, and someone’s started murdering them one at a time too. I knew there was a bit I’d forgotten.
Initially you’re led to believe that Virginia might be the one behind the killings. She’s always around when it happens, she’s got a concerned psychiatrist and as you start to see more flashbacks of her past you start to realise she’s a few candles short of a birthday cake.
There’s just one issue, though. Virginia doesn’t have any memory of killing her chums. She keeps blacking out and when she comes to they’re either dead or missing.
Is she really the killer, or is something else going on? I’m not telling because that would be a proper wanky move.
I enjoyed Happy Birthday To Me more than I thought I would. It’s even more of a surprise when you consider the relative production hell it went through.
It’s said that all the deaths were originally far gorier, with director J Lee Thompson (who’d previously directed the original Cape Fear and The Guns Of Navarone) literally chucking buckets of fake blood around the set to the extent that the cameramen were complaining about it covering their lenses.
If this is the case, they were substantially toned down for the final movie, which is relatively light on the red stuff.
That’s not to say the deaths aren’t entertaining though. The promotional material for the film got a little carried away when it promised “six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see”, given it opens with someone getting their throat slit which – in horror movie terms – is about as bizarre as a dog licking its own balls.
However, there are some other interesting offings on offer, including a nasty incident involving a loose scarf and a motorbike, and another particularly gruesome scene which will ensure you never really trust shish kebabs again.
Performances are by and large passable. Melissa Sue Anderson does her best to appear unhinged throughout, which often consists of her hysterically screaming at her psychiatrist (and in fairness, she’s got a hell of a scream on her).
Meanwhile, screen icon Glenn Ford (better known by some as Clark Kent’s dad in Superman) does an okay job as her psychiatrist, which in itself is an accomplishment considering he was reportedly smashed out of his fucking mind most of the time on set.
The whole thing culminates in a truly bizarre twist ending, one that practically comes out of nowhere and opens up plot holes big enough to hold entire birthday parties inside.
It’s said there was no ending in place when the film started shooting, which goes some way to explaining why it feels like it was just pulled out of someone’s arse on the fly.
That said, there’s something I like about just how daft it is, and it ends the movie on a brilliantly strange note that leaves you wondering what the fuck just happened as the credits roll.
As far as seasonal slashers from the early ‘80s go, Happy Birthday To Me is a fun little contribution. At 110 minutes it certainly goes on a bit too long, but you’ll still have a fun time with it if you watch it in a group.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Happy Birthday To Me was recently given the fancy remaster treatment in the UK by new publisher Powerhouse Films. You can buy the dual-format Blu-ray and DVD (which this review was based on) via Amazon UK.
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