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.

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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”

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”

Fright Night (1985) review

Fright Night posterDirector: Tom Holland

Starring: William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding

“I have just been fired because nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires either. Apparently all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.” (Peter Vincent, Fright Night)

The classic Dracula films aside, my favourite vampire movies are the ones set in the present day, taking an ancient monster thats often hundreds of years old and putting them in a modern setting.

No, I’m not talking about that. You wash your mouth out.

I’m talking about stuff like The Lost Boys, Near Dark and Vampire In Brooklyn. Okay, not that last one either.

The point I’m struggling to make here is that Fright Night is great. Well, that could have gone better. Continue reading “Fright Night (1985) review”

Burial Ground (1981) review

Burial Ground posterDirector: Andrea Bianchi

Starring: Mariangela Giordano, Roberto Caporali, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Karin Well, Antonella Antinori, Simone Mattioli, Peter Bark

Also known as: Le Notti Del Terrore (The Nights Of Terror), The Zombie Dead

“Mother, this cloth smells of death.” (Michael, Burial Ground)

When you ask someone to name some old zombie movies, the usual suspects inevitably pop up.

The obvious contenders, the ones folk will almost unconsciously start with, are Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead.

Then you may get the occasional Return Of The Living Dead, or – if the person you’re asking knows their video nasty history – Zombie Flesh Eaters.

This is all perfectly understandable, mind – all five of the above are fantastic films – but there are plenty of excellent old zombie movies that, for some reason, never quite reached that same level of universal notoriety and acclaim.

One of the finest examples is Burial Ground, or The Night Of Terrors to give it its original Italian title. Continue reading “Burial Ground (1981) review”

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987) review

Rock n Roll Nightmare posterDirector: John Fasano

Starring: Jon Mikl Thor, Teresa Simpson, Jim Cirile, Jillian Peri, David Lane, Denise Dicandia, Frank Dietz, Liane Abel, Adam Fried

Also known as: The Edge Of Hell

“You killed no one, Bub. Or is it less familiar to call you Beelzebub? Or do you prefer Abaddon? Or, as the Hindus called you, Shaitan? Or, as you are known to answer to, Ahriman? Belial? Apollyon? Asmodeus? Because, you see… I do know you.” (John Triton, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare)

Well, now. Where to begin.

If you aren’t aware of Jon Mikl Thor, his Wikipedia page describes him as “a bodybuilding champion, actor, songwriter, screenwriter, historian, vocalist and musician”.

Having now watched Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, which was both written by Thor and starred him in the leading role, I’m almost tempted to edit that page and remove “actor” and “screenwriter”. Continue reading “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987) review”

Cloverfield (2008) review

Cloverfield posterDirector: Matt Reeves

Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel, TJ Miller, Lizzy Caplan

HUD – “For all we know, it’s from another planet and it flew here.”

MARLENA – “Like Superman?”

HUD – “Yeah, exactly like… wait – you know who Superman is?”

MARLENA – “Oh. My. God. YOU know who Superman is? I’m, like, feeling something here. Are you aware of Garfield?”

For some reason despite my love of horror movies, my penchant for giant monster movies and my odd knack of stumbling upon countless found footage films (every word there linking to a different example), I’ve managed to go eight years without watching Cloverfield.

With its sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane recently released in cinemas, I figured if I was going to be late to the party I should at least do it at a relevant time.

I’m glad I did, because – and apologies if you already know this – Cloverfield is a nifty wee film. Continue reading “Cloverfield (2008) review”

V/H/S (2012) review

VHS posterDirectors: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Ingard, Radio Silence

Starring: Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Drew Swayer, Joe Sykes, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Helen Rogers, Daniel Kaufman, Chad Willella, Nicole Erb

“You’re all gonna fucking die up here.” (Wendy, V/H/S)

I’ve spoken of the low-budget junkyard that is the found footage genre a number of times on TWABM in the past.

While early examples like Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project felt fresh and genuinely terrifying, for the most part the genre has since become a cop-out, an easy way for talent-starved directors to make a cheap horror movie without much effort or skill.

For every umpteenth Banshee Chapter, The Tunnel and Frost out there though, there’s the occasional Paranormal Activity or The Taking Of Deborah Logan – films that actually use the limitations of the found footage style to their advantage.

V/H/S falls firmly in this latter category, offering a selection of creepy tales that are made better by their low-quality production values rather than forced to grudgingly accept them as a necessary evil. Continue reading “V/H/S (2012) review”

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) review

Evil Dead 2 posterDirector: Sam Raimi

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Denise Bixler, Richard Domeier

HENRIETTA: “I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul! I’ll swallow your soul!”

ASH: (points shotgun) “Swallow this.”

When The Evil Dead was released in 1981 it completely blew away the horror film industry.

With their titchy $375,000 budget director Sam Raimi, producer Bob Tapert, actor Bruce Campbell et al created a horror classic jammed fit to bursting with effective scares, laugh-out-loud moments and gallons of gore.

Usually a success like this leads to a sequel following soon after but fans of the original had to wait six years for Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. Continue reading “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) review”