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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Icetastrophe (2014) review

Icetastrophe posterDirector: Jonathan Winfrey

Starring: Victor Webster, Jennifer Spence, Tiera Skovbye, Richard Harmon, Mike Dopud

COP – “We got a meteor strike: how cool is that?”

CHARLIE – “Well, people are dead, so not very.”

I’m a sucker for a cheesy pun-based title – Poltreygeist, The Gingerdead Man and the like – but Icetastrophe is a fairly rubbish one, let’s face it. That isn’t really a pun.

Regardless, what we have here is yet another low-budget made-for-Syfy film dealing with a natural disaster. And as if you can’t tell from its sloppy moniker, this time we’re dealing with ice.

Specifically, it’s ice that’s come from a meteor, which crash-lands in a small mountain town and creates a massive flash freeze for reasons which are never really explained. Continue reading “Icetastrophe (2014) review”

Bloody Birthday (1981) review

Bloody Birthday posterDirector: Ed Hunt

Starring: Lori Lethin, KC Martel, Elizabeth Hoy, Billy Jacoby, Andy Freeman

“Mommy, mommy, come quick! Daddy fell!” (Debbie, Bloody Birthday)

My birthday is coming up soon. I’ll be 32 on 8th April, thanks for asking. Feel free to send me presents.

Even if you don’t, it’s unlikely my birthday will be as grim as that of Debbie, Curtis and Steven, the three 10-year-old villains in Bloody Birthday.

That’s right, I said 10-year-old villains. Bet you’re starting to get interested now. Continue reading “Bloody Birthday (1981) review”

The TWABM Advent Calendar (AKA the 25 best Christmas horror movies)

It’s December, and that can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s Slovenian Independence Day on the 26th.

As a warm-up to that big occasion, there’s also a smaller event on the previous day called Christmas, where families come together and give each other presents and eat food and get fat and get miserable for the next eleven months until they lose the fat then they decide to lose more weight because they know they’re probably going to get fat again next Christmas. It’s good fun.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of the 25 Christmas horror films you should watch to get in the festive mood. Ladies, gentlemen, children with irresponsible parents who let you watch films you’re too young for, I give you the That Was A Bit Mental Shoddily Photoshopped Advent Calendar Of Christmas Horror Films And That. Continue reading “The TWABM Advent Calendar (AKA the 25 best Christmas horror movies)”

My Bloody Valentine (1981) review

My Bloody Valentine posterDirector: George Mihalka

Starring: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Keith Knight, Cynthia Dale, Helene Udy, Alf Humphreys

“Roses are red, violets are blue, one is dead… and so are you.” (killer’s note, My Bloody Valentine)

Valentine’s Day can be a pain in the arse at the best of times.

If you’re single it can be a thoroughly depressing affair as you hear countless tales of lovebirds wooing each other with gifts and other tokens of their adoration.

Meanwhile, being one of said lovebirds is no picnic either, what with the stress of having to buy your partner a present and hoping it’s the right size, or the right colour, or the specific type they asked for.

All of this pales in comparison to the small rural American town of Valentine’s Bluff, though. There Valentine’s Day can be a real killer. Literally. Continue reading “My Bloody Valentine (1981) review”

Black Christmas (1974) review

Black Christmas posterDirector: Bob Clark

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Marian Waldman

Also known as: Silent Night, Evil Night (USA title)

“Little baby bunting, daddy’s went a-hunting, gonna fetch a rabbit skin to wrap his baby Agnes in.” (The Killer, Black Christmas)

Although Halloween is credited as the film that kicked off the slasher genre and Friday The 13th is the considered the one that inspired a slew of imitations, Black Christmas pre-dates them both by nearly half a decade.

This makes it all the more impressive, then, that despite being one of the earliest proper examples of the genre, it remains one of the better slasher movies 40 years after its original release. Continue reading “Black Christmas (1974) review”

Halloween: Resurrection (2002) review

Halloween Resurrection posterDirector: Rick Rosenthal

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Loree, Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Sean Patrick Thomas, Daisy McCrackin

“Trick or treat, muthafucka.” (Freddie Harris, Halloween: Resurrection)

Miramax achieved the impossible by taking the flatlining Halloween series and resurrecting it with the back-to-basics Halloween H20.

With Michael Myers relevant and scary again, it was therefore inevitable that another Halloween would come, even though it seemed Myers was well and truly dead after the last film.

How did they manage to bring the pale pursuer back then? Well, I’ll tell you, because I’m nice like that. Continue reading “Halloween: Resurrection (2002) review”

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) review

Halloween H20 posterDirector: Steve Miner

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Adam Arkin, LL Cool J, Janet Leigh, Chris Durand

JOHN – It just occurred to me today that I’ve never celebrated Halloween before.

MOLLY – And why’s that?

JOHN – Oh, we’ve got a psychotic serial killer in the family who loves to butcher people on Halloween, and I just thought it in bad taste to celebrate.

After the train wreck that was Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers I’m surprised Dimension Films and Miramax had the gall to bring ol’ paleface back yet again.

Still, bring him back they did, in a film made to mark the 20th anniversary of the original Halloween. And you know something? They actually did a decent job this time.

Perhaps realising the previous film had become a confusing mess with a plot consisting of evil cults, a convoluted bloodline, adopted children and Paul Rudd, Halloween H20 scraps it all and instead provides an alternative timeline in which the events of Halloween 4, Halloween 5 and Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers never happened. Continue reading “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) review”

Halloween II (1981) review

Halloween IIDirector: Rick Rosenthal

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Charles Cyphers, Dick Warlock

“He was my patient for fifteen years. He became an obsession with me until I realised there was neither reason nor conscience or anything about him that was even remotely human. An hour ago I stood up and fired six shots into him and he just got up and walked away. I am talking about the real possibility that he is still out there.” (Dr Loomis, Halloween II)

Everyone (including me) always goes on about how incredible the first Halloween was, and with good reason. It was a landmark in horror history and one of the first true pioneers of the slasher genre. It’s understandable then that its sequel doesn’t get quite as much recognition but it’s a shame because while it isn’t quite as innovative or genre-defining as its predecessor it’s still a strong slasher and a decent conclusion to what John Carpenter had only ever intended to be a two-film story.

Halloween II
“Sorry? In my beard? Oh, it’s a bit of bread. I was eating soup earlier”

Carpenter only wrote Halloween II, this time passing the directing duties to newcomer Rick Rosenthal. The film’s first five minutes are a recap of the last five minutes of its predecessor, reminding us of the final confrontation between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers, and the eventual saving of the day courtesy of Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). After the original film’s ending, with Loomis firing six shots into Myers (though some dodgy editing means this time he actually shoots him seven times) and “the Shape” legging it, the rest of the film then takes place from that immediate point on and shows what happens over the rest of the night.

As Laurie is taken to the nearby hospital to be treated for her injuries from her scrap with Myers, Dr Loomis and the Haddonfield rozzers continue their search for him. While in theory this shouldn’t be too hard – after all, they just have to look for the guy with six or seven gunshot wounds – it turns out they’re wasting their time, because Myers is actually at the hospital, trying to find Laurie and kill her. Continue reading “Halloween II (1981) review”

Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers (1989) review

Halloween 5 posterDirector: Dominique Othenin-Girard

Starring: Donald Pleasance, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Wendy Foxworth, Don Shanks

“I prayed that he would burn in Hell, but in my heart I knew that Hell would not have him.” (Dr Sam Loomis, Halloween 5)

While Halloween 4 wasn’t the greatest slasher ever made, it did at least have a cracking ending that suggested the inevitable fifth film would take the series in a twisted new direction. This makes Halloween 5 all the more frustrating then, because not only is it a pile of pish but its predecessor had practically spelled out how it could have done it better.

(spoiler alert for Halloween 4 in the next paragraph, folks)

Halloween 5
“Don’t worry, I’m sure he won’t stab me. No, I haven’t seen the other Halloween films. Why do you ask?”

Halloween 4 ended with young Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) going a tad mental and stabbing her foster mother while dressed up in a clown outfit, much like young Michael Myers did at the start of the original Halloween. Many took this to mean that Jamie was going to follow in her uncle’s footsteps and continue his killing spree. Instead Halloween 5 decides that her foster mum survived and Jamie was sent to a children’s psychiatric hospital, where she recovered. Bottlers.

(spoilers end now, innit)

When we join Jamie at the start of Halloween 5, she’s been in a psychiatric hospital for the past year. The trauma of the events in the previous film have led to her losing her voice, but her foster sister and her friend Tina (the annoying Wendy Foxworth) visit her regularly to bring her gifts and the like. She’s also got a little friend, a fellow nine-year-old called Billy who’s clearly trying to get fired in even though she’s not much of a talker. Good man Billy, beggars can’t be choosers. Continue reading “Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers (1989) review”