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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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”

Scream: The TV Series (2015) review

Scream The TV Series posterDirectors: Various

Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, John Karna, Carlson Young, Amadeus Serafini, Connor Weil, Tracy Middendorf

MR BRANSON: “The gothic genre is all over TV right now. American Horror Story, Hannibal, Bates Motel…”

JAKE: “What about Texas Chainsaw or Halloween?”

NOAH: “Those are slasher movies. You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series.”

The recent tragic passing of the legendary Wes Craven led to an outpouring of support on social media as dedicated and lapsed fans alike took to Twitter to namecheck their favourite Craven movies.

The vast majority of them didn’t realise just how fitting their tributes were, as Craven died just before the airing of the final episode of Scream, a TV series based on his genre-redefining horror film and airing on MTV.

You see, whereas the original Scream, released in 1996, had the killer mostly contacting his victims via phone calls, this time the reimagined Ghostface uses all manner of techniques – yes, including social media – to stalk potential future corpses. Continue reading “Scream: The TV Series (2015) review”

It Follows (2014) review

It Follows posterDirector: David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto

“She can do the same thing I did. It should be easier for her, she’s a girl. Any guy would be with you. Just sleep with someone else and tell him to do the same thing. Maybe it’ll never come back.” (Hugh, It Follows)

Slasher film convention dictates that the killer will often walk slowly towards their victim, who in turn will happily provide suspense by falling over any number of times and making themselves easier to catch.

It Follows takes this often mocked trope and makes it scary again by adding a couple of clever twists. Continue reading “It Follows (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”

Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994) review

Puppet Matser 5 posterDirector: Jeff Burr

Starring: Gordon Currie, Chandra West, Ian Ogilvy, a load of puppets

“You do see my problem, don’t you? You are asking an awful lot of me. A little monster, an agency or cult protecting some ancient magic… you must admit it is rather fantastic.” (Jennings, Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter)

You can’t have a successful horror film series without at least one entry boldly (and falsely) claiming it’s the final one.

The sixth Nightmare On Elm Street film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, was succeeded by three more films starring the finger-gloved freak.

Even better, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter – the fourth film in the series – was actually far from the final chapter, with Jason appearing in eight subsequent movies.

So too, then, was the case with Full Moon Pictures’ cult series Puppet Master which claimed this, the fifth film in as many years, was to be the last. Continue reading “Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994) review”

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988) review

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers posterDirector: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: Jay Richardson, Linnea Quigley, Gunnar Hansen, Michelle Bauer, Dawn Wildsmith

“I’d stumbled into the middle of an evil, insidious cult of chainsaw worshipping maniacs. I had to wonder if we’d let our religious freedom go too far in this country, or maybe our immigration laws were just too lax.” (Jack, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers)

Fred Olen Ray is something of a cult figure among B-movie fans. He’s been writing, directing and producing low-budget films ever since the ’70s, and what most of them lack in glitz they make up for with gusto.

More often than not, the title of a Fred Olen Ray film is a good indication of what you’re getting, as proven by other notable examples of his work including The Brain Leeches, Bad Girls From Mars, Attack Of The 60 Foot Centerfolds and Dinosaur Island.

So too is the case with Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, his twelfth outing as a director and his first starring ’80s horror ‘scream queen’ Linnea Quigley. Continue reading “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988) review”

That Was A Bit Mental – The Podcast!

That Was A Bit Mental is a few years old now, and as its audience has slowly grown there have been increasing requests for a podcast.

For a while I’ve resisted, mainly because I hate podcasts with only one host, and I don’t really know anyone who would willingly watch the same shit movies as I do and talk about them on a regular basis.

Thankfully, I finally realised the solution was right under my nose all the time, and as such I give you That Was A Bit Mental: The Podcast, complete with super-secret special co-host.

Episode 1 features reviews of Ghostwatch and My Little Eye, as well as shorter reviews of Ginger Snaps and The Taking Of Deborah Logan.

We also discuss which horror series should be allowed to die, and which we just can’t get enough of.

First though, a disclaimer: This is only a pilot episode. It’s fairly rough, there’s plenty of “umming” (mainly coming from me) and we’re just messing around with ideas at this stage to see what works and what doesn’t.

Please do give it a listen, then, and get back to me with feedback: what you like, what you hate, any other ideas you think we should incorporate.

For now it’s only available on the embed below or, if you’d rather, this direct MP3 link. I’ll look into sticking it on iTunes soon.

Bad Kids Go To Hell (2012) review

Bad Kids Go To Hell posterDirector: Matthew Spradlin

Starring: Cameron Deane Stewart, Marc Donato, Roger Edwards, Augie Duke, Amanda Alch, Ali Faulkner, Judd Nelson, Jeffery Schmidt

Also known as: The Haunting Of Crestview High (UK DVD)

“This is not the fucking feel good ’80s movie of the year where for seven hours we put aside our diffs and through commiserating about our mutually dysfunctional family lives or how lonely or alienated we each feel, we find some sort of common ground and end up as BFFs. Okay? So let us understand there is no ‘us’, there is no ‘we’ because I don’t do ‘we’, I just do me.” (Tricia, Bad Kids Go To Hell)

What do you get when you cross The Breakfast Club with a paranormal thriller? No doubt the film-makers behind Bad Kids Go To Hell would hope their film’s the answer.

But nah.

Instead, what tries to be a cool, edgy horror-themed take on John Hughes’ 80s teen classic is instead an overproduced, annoying film that irritates more than it entertains. Continue reading “Bad Kids Go To Hell (2012) review”

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) review

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5 posterDirector: Stephen Hopkins

Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Kelly Jo Minter, Danny Hassel, Erika Anderson

AMANDA KRUEGER – “Your birth was a curse on the whole of humanity. I will not allow it to happen again. You brought me back to give you life, but now I must take yours.”

FREDDY – “We’ll see, bitch. We’ll just see.”

I’ll tell you something, that Freddy Krueger lad doesn’t fuck around, does he?

Wes Craven’s original classic A Nightmare On Elm Street was released in 1984, yet by the time 1989 rolled around the series had already reached its fifth film.

Naturally, churning out movies at a rate of nearly one a year can’t be good for the quality of a franchise: not that New Line Cinema cared, of course. Freddy was guaranteed profit.

The process eventually reached a head with film number five, The Dream Child. It offered far more visual spectacle than any other entry before it but, crucially, made far less sense too. Continue reading “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) review”