Happy Birthday To Me (1981) review

happy_birthday_to_me_posterDirector: J Lee Thompson

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.

That feeling when you realise there's an entire film crew watching you shower
That feeling when you realise there’s an entire film crew watching you shower

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.

Steve decided that the next time he'd order buffalo wings, he'd probably drop down a heat level
Steve decided that the next time he’d order buffalo wings, he’d probably drop down a heat level

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.

Bruce Forsyth hated being woken up in the mornings
Bruce Forsyth hated being woken up in the mornings

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.

"See this skull? I'm properly fucking out of mine"
“See this skull? I’m properly fucking out of mine”

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.

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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.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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TWABM movie night 1 – Bloody Murder

Way back in 2001, when I started university, my dad bought me a bunch of ex-rental VHS tapes from the local video rental shop to keep me entertained (me being a poor student and all).

One of the films was an unassuming slasher film called Scream Bloody Murder (also known as Bloody Murder in the US). It was one of the worst films I had ever seen.

bloody-murderI fell in love with it.

I became obsessed with this terrible movie. I made all my uni friends watch it. I tried my best to find out what else its actors had been in (not much, it turned out). I even wrote a 12,000-word scene-by-scene analysis for a horror forum I was a member of.

Don’t judge me, it kept me busy.

That was when my love for bad movies started. It’s a love that hasn’t died since that day, and it’s a love that ultimately led to the creation of That Was A Bit Mental.

You see the little masks that appear at the end of all my film reviews on this site? Those aren’t Jason masks. They’re Trevor Moorhouse, the killer in Bloody Murder.

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Why am I telling you this? Because, to get you in the Halloween spirit this year, I’m going to stream Bloody Murder on YouTube and I want you to join me.

What you’ll be getting

For a while I’ve been running live (as in real life, not streaming online) film screenings: first I did them in London then when I moved to Edinburgh I started doing them there instead.

Obviously, not everyone lives close enough to attend so Sunday night’s stream will be in a similar vein to my film screenings.

This means that before the film itself you’ll get about half an hour of other goodies: drive-in style ads, vintage bad trailers and – specially for Sunday – a special little montage video I cooked up for my first Edinburgh screening which has never been shown since.

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I’ll then give a little five-minute introduction to the film and then we’re good to go with the main feature.

The one major difference this time (that doesn’t happen in my screenings) is that I’ll occasionally be commenting throughout the film.

I’m not a fan of comedy ‘riffers’ who do these film commentaries and have a forced ‘witty’ one-liner for every fucking line in a film in order that they’re the star of the show, so my comments will be far less frequent.

Instead, I’ll be giving you facts about the film, pointing out the myriad of mistakes throughout and generally gently taking the piss for your entertainment.

The deets (that’s street talk for ‘details’. I’m hip)

If you fancy watching along, the stream will start on my YouTube channel on Sunday 30 October at 8.30pm UK time (that’s 3pm Eastern Time and noon Pacific Time, if you’re from the US).

If you just want to watch the stream with no fancy shenanigans, you can find it below. It’ll go live when I start. Obviously.

If you want to join in the chat then head to the video’s YouTube page where you can share your thoughts on the majesty you’re experiencing before your very eyes.

Alternatively, if you’d rather enjoy the action in comfort on your dirty big TV (or your mobile or tablet device of choice) you can do it by following these steps:

• Load up your YouTube app of choice (Xbox One, PS4, Android TV, iOS, Roku etc) and sign into your account.

• Find my channel (either by searching ‘Chris Scullion’ or by visiting this link on a computer or mobile) and subscribe to it to find the stream in your subscribed list.

• Alternatively, if you don’t want to subscribe to my channel (you heartless swine), load the video stream in YouTube and add it to your favourites or a playlist, so you can access it from your YouTube app of choice later.

That’s about it. Please do spread the word – the bigger the audience the more entertaining the chat will be, and the more likely I’ll do regular streams and not just ne-off Halloween ones.

* Warning: For copyright reasons I won’t be able to save an archived version of this stream for the purpose of watching it later. Once it’s done it’s done, so please do try to watch it live otherwise you won’t get to watch the repeat.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) review

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children-posterDirector: Tim Burton

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Samuel L Jackson, Terence Stamp, Chris O’Dowd

“Because our abilities don’t fit in the outside world, we live in places like this, where no-one can find us.” (Miss Peregrine, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children)

If you’ve read anything about Tim Burton’s latest film you’ll probably have seen countless comparisons to the X-Men movies, due to the fact it’s set in a school occupied with children with special powers.

But I’m not that lazy.

Instead, I hereby declare that Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is in fact Tim Burton’s version of The Raggy Dolls, the popular British ‘80s and ‘90s cartoon in which a group of wee dudes with abnormalities team up to fight crime or something.

(I don’t know if the Raggy Dolls actually fought crime, I didn’t really watch it. I just liked the theme tune.) Continue reading “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (2016) review”

The House In The Woods (1957) review

the-house-in-the-woods-posterDirector: Maxwell Munden

Starring: Michael Gough, Patricia Roc, Ronald Howard

CAROL: “Spencer’s a lonely man I feel I can help, even if it’s only by letting him paint me. I don’t think I’m able to help my husband no matter how hard I try.”

MICHAEL: “I’m sorry darling. But you see, sometimes a man can sense an inner corruption in another man that is hidden from a woman by sentiment and sex.”

CAROL: “Inner corruption in another man! How do you know you’re not fighting it in yourself?”

Michael Gough was a legendary English actor who appeared in over 200 film roles over the course of nearly 60 years.

Perhaps best known to modern and international audiences as Alfred in all four 1990s Batman films, Gough had been a star of British stage and screen for decades before this.

The House In The Woods is one of his earlier roles, and though it’s more or less been forgotten over time it’s still a decent example of his ability to drive a film with his performance. Continue reading “The House In The Woods (1957) review”

Movies to watch on Halloween – The TWABM Guide (updated for 2016)

Given my love of all things horror I’m often asked at this time of year by numerous people – sometimes upwards of three – which scary movies are worth watching.

Rather than go through the minor inconvenience of advising this tiny handful of friends, I’ve instead decided to put myself through a significantly larger inconvenience in the hope it helps out many others with a similar quandary.

Naturally, the issue here is that there’s no catch-all “good horror movie” – everyone likes different things, and one man’s Scream is another man’s Scream 3.

With that in mind, this feature takes the form of thirteen different themed sections, each featuring three movies. A bunch of triple-bills, if you will, ideal for your Halloween evening’s viewing.
Continue reading “Movies to watch on Halloween – The TWABM Guide (updated for 2016)”

Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) review

book-of-shadows-blair-witch-2-posterDirector: Joe Berlinger

Starring: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner

JEFF – “If you don’t believe in the Blair Witch then why the hell did you come along?”

KIM – “I thought the movie was cool.”

After The Blair Witch Project sold out cinemas and soiled boxer shorts around the world, a sequel was quickly greenlit to capitalise on its massive success.

There was one hefty problem, though. Part of what made the first film so successful was the fact it came out of nowhere.

Here was this film about young filmmakers who had gone into the woods and disappeared, and crucially it had this found-footage style that made many cinemagoers question whether what they were seeing was actually fiction.

Realising (perhaps wisely) that lightning probably couldn’t strike twice in the same place, director Joe Berlinger and the rest of the Blair Witch 2 crew instead decided to ditch everything that made the first film a success and go in a completely different direction. Continue reading “Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) review”

Sausage Party (2016) review

sausage-party-posterHead chefs: Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

Ingredients: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader

“We’re the non-perishables, motherfucker.” (Mr Grits, Sausage Party)

Take one hot dog sausage (Rogen) and one hot dog bun (Wiig), destined to be together but forced to sit separate from each other in their packaging prisons on a supermarket shelf.

Pre-heat a premise about a promised land said to lie outside the supermarket’s doors, one in which any foods chosen by ‘the gods’ (humans) will get everything they desire. Keep this premise simmering throughout, regularly adding religious nods to taste.

Add a sub-plot involving two more sausages (Cera and Hill) who find themselves chosen for the promised land but quickly discover that the food paradise they expected is actually a kitchen-based massacre of biblical proportions. Continue reading “Sausage Party (2016) review”

Actium Maximus: War Of The Alien Dinosaurs (2005) review

Actium Maximus posterDirector: Mark Hicks

Writer / Composer / Cinematographer / Casting Agent / Sound Effects Editor / Special Effects: Mark Hicks

Starring: Mark Hicks, John McCuin, Jennifer Hamill

“Qava! I want you to start rounding up all of the Laffrodites off the Boulevards en masse! They will become infamous in the Maximus.” (Polpox, Actium Maximus)

Many amateur filmmakers dream of making the next underground smash, the next low-budget gem that does a Night Of The Living Dead or Clerks and emerges from obscurity to take over the world.

Mark Hicks, who is seemingly some sort of real life Garth Merenghi figure, clearly had this goal in mind when he wrote, directed and acted in Actium Maximus. Unfortunately, during this process he failed to notice his complete lack of writing, directing and acting ability. Continue reading “Actium Maximus: War Of The Alien Dinosaurs (2005) review”

Rollerball (2002) review

Rollerball (2012) posterDirector: John McTiernan

Starring: Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Jean Reno, Rebecca Romijn, Naveen Andrews

“ROLLERBALL!” (Paul Heyman, Rollerball)

As I wrote in my recent review, the original 1975 version of Rollerball is a fantastic, prescient commentary on the way massive corporations suffocate society.

It’s also a superb action movie, with plenty of high-paced and violent sequences with rollerskates, motorbikes, fists and feet flying all over the place.

What a difference 27 years makes, then, because the 2002 remake is one of the biggest piles of vapid cockwash ever committed to celluloid. Continue reading “Rollerball (2002) review”

Rollerball (1975) review

Rollerball 1975 posterDirector: Norman Jewison

Starring: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn

“Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it’s ever asked of anyone ever, is not to interfere with management decisions.” (Mr Bartholomew, Rollerball)

The best futuristic movies are those grounded in reality, the ones that aren’t just flying cars and laser guns but actually feel like they really could happen in the years to come.

Although some elements of Rollerball may not fall under this category – I don’t see a sport in which deaths are considered acceptable coming any time soon – so much of it feels remarkably spot on 40 years after its release. Continue reading “Rollerball (1975) review”