Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

I hadn’t originally planned on posting this week for the following reasons:

  1. This past weekend I was at a bachelor party in Myrtle Beach, AKA the redneck Las Vegas. It was a fun weekend but at the same time, not the type of weekend you return home from with your creative juices flowing, ready to bang out several posts on film.
  2. Today is my birthday and I don’t do anything I don’t want to on my birthday. There are no deadlines–external or self-imposed. It should be about cake, presents, and wanting to throw your cell phone out of your car as you drive down the beltline because your email and text alert noise won’t stop going off due to people posting their well wishes on your Facebook page. You know, the simple pleasures in life.
  3. I’m on vacation all week for the first time since all the way back in October. I was burnt out and needed a week where I just sleep, watch movies, meet up with friends, and bum around in the most general of fashions. I’m only on day 2 as I write this and things are going swimmingly. In fact, I’m going to pause in writing this post and take a nap—just because I can.

But then a terrible thing happened. I started to feel obligated to make at least one post and then I got the idea to do this entry and tie it into what is going on with me this week in the most extemporaneous of fashions. So with that, here we go.

I haven’t had a full blow-out for my birthday since I turned 22 and had a full open bar in my apartment. From what I have been told, it was a fun night until one of my idiot friends decided to try and rappel down the stairs located in the exterior hallway; an act in which he failed miserably, as he fell two stories and through my roommate’s prized folding chair. He was OK but the folding chair, which had been with us since our freshman year of college, flat-lined in the breezeway sometime in the early morning hours of April 26th. Taps quickly followed as well as the locking out of the remaining guests due to my roommates fit of booze-enhanced grief. I tell you this because, to my knowledge, this is the only time I have had a party thrown in my honor where a person in attendance could have died in a weird, horrific fashion—much like what happens to most of the partygoers in the slasher film Happy Birthday to Me. See, I told you this would be an effortless segue!

In the early 1980s, horror was experiencing a renaissance. John Carpenter’s Halloween showed horror could be both profitable and scary at the same time, which of course led Hollywood down that well-worn path of copycats and retreads. No stone was to be left unturned in those days as producers would look for any angle to help them put teenage butts in movie theater seats, and one of the most popular ways to do it was to take holidays and special events that are commonplace on everyone’s calendar and then turn them into splatter fests of the highest order. From Silent Night, Deadly Night to Prom Night, power tool-welding maniacs made sure they were there to ruin it, ripping out any positive significance of the date like they did their victim’s entrails. Having scored a minor success in My Bloody Valentine, a small Canadian production company decided to go to the well once more, only this time, they promised the audience “6 of the most bizarre murders you will ever see” and the lurid and super twisted poster art (and a fun trailer with an awesome, cheesy, datedness factor) seemed to back the filmmaker’s boisterous claims. J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, Guns of the Navarone, and numerous Bronson films) was on board as director, giving the small slasher film a little bit more pedigree; you know, kind of like when Bob Clark directed Black Christmas.

Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) is a high school senior and member of the prestigious “Top Ten” click that managed to survive a near-fatal car accident and return to school where she mixes it up with your typical student types that show up in movies of this nature. Virginia has a boyfriend, a stalker, and likes to go to the local bars and mix it up. The only problem—and it’s a big one—is that her friends keep getting knocked off by someone who loves to wear black gloves. This, of course, is no help to those in the audience trying to figure out who the killer is; everyone loves black gloves in this movie and they tend to all wear the same brand, especially after a murder occurs. Well played you murdering psycho, you. Well played. Ginny, with the help of her psychiatrist (always on call) are up against the clock, hoping to be able to get to the bottom of this “matter” before her 18th birthday. After all, one of the members of the “Top Ten” click deserves a well-attended birthday party, and all these inconvenient murders could fuck with her privileged standing when trying to navigate the cool, calculated world of high school popularity. Oh, and girls take showers. NUDE.

The plot is light and not worth spending a lot of time on, and let’s face it, slasher films aren’t popular due to their intricate character development and labyrinthine plot. People like to be “scared” or see characters meet their maker in interesting ways. In both of these arenas, Happy Birthday to Me comes up short. Maybe it’s just me, but when a film promises me 6 bizarre murders and then uses garden sheers to kill someone, I’m more than a little underwhelmed, even by the standards in force in the early ’80s. In fact, for most of its runtime, Happy Birthday to Me strikes me as a infinitely more demented Giallo version of Clue, employing who-dunnit-style trappings and pacing normally seen in that genre of film. Keeping that in mind, the acting is decent and it’s always a blast to see a legendary actor like Glen Ford show up in a movie like this, slumming it near the end of a lengthy career. Still, if horror films are your cup of tea, the nostalgia factor is ramped up pretty high in this offering, and the dead high school kid clichés are fun to keep tabs on, but it ultimately lacks in comparison to the nasty verve on display in genre classics like The Burning or Sleepaway Camp.

-David

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One thought on “Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

  1. I love horror. 80’s horror especially. This one’s on my radar now, despite the ho-hum killings. If I can sit through The Howling movies, I think I’m good here. Could have sworn the guy on the poster there was David Naughton from American Werewolf In London.

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