Happy Birthday to Me (DVD)

Reviewed by: 7 out of 10
Jeff Allard
Movie Details:
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Melissa Sue Andersonas Virginia 'Ginny' Wainwright
Glenn Ford as Dr. David Faraday
Lawrence Dane as Harold 'Hal' Wainwright
Sharon Acker as Estelle Wainwright
Frances Hyland as Mrs. Patterson

Directed by J. Lee Thompson


Once filmmakers began to scratch the remaining holidays and social events off the calendar in an effort to chase after the success of Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), it was inevitable that a birthday would become the subject of an early '80s slasher movie. And while some films, like Graduation Day (1981) and New Year's Evil (1980), saw their opportunities squandered, Happy Birthday to Me proved to be a bloody birthday bash to remember.

Directed by J. Lee Thompson (best known for 1961's The Guns of Navarone and the original 1962 Cape Fear), Happy Birthday to Me was one of several early '80s Canadian productions � including 1980's Prom Night and 1981's My Bloody Valentine � that entered into the annals of slasher legend. With a script written by John C.W. Saxton, Peter Jobin (who also co-wrote a second season episode of Friday the 13th: The Series titled "The Eye of Death"), Timothy Bond � who went on to become a busy TV director with credits on such genre shows as the '80s revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Friday the 13th: The Series, War of the Worlds, Forever Knight, and Goosebumps � and with an uncredited assist by My Bloody Valentine screenwriter John Beaird, Happy Birthday to Me remains famous for its lurid ad campaign and its revelatory concluding plot twist that defied all common sense and perhaps even turned the laws of space and time inside out.

Melissa Sue Anderson, famous for her portrayal of eldest daughter Mary Ingalls on the long-running TV series Little House on the Prairie (1974-1981), subverted her wholesome image by taking the lead in Birthday � although a future for Anderson as a scream queen or movie actress wasn't in the cards as she promptly returned to television after her role here as troubled high school senior Virginia Wainwright. A few years earlier, Virginia survived a car crash that tragically left her mother dead but her social life is still enviable as she belongs to Crawford Academy's 'Top Ten,' a clique formed of Crawford's richest and most popular students. Before the title credits are over, though, the Top Ten will be down to single digits as one of their ranks, Bernadette (actress Lesleh Donaldson, a familiar player in Canadian horror productions at the time, as seen in 1980's Funeral Home, 1981's killer rat classic Deadly Eyes, and 1983's still-MIA on DVD slasher favorite, Curtains), is taken out by an unknown assailant. In true slasher movie fashion, Bernadette recognizes her killer before she dies, although the viewer is naturally denied a look. When Bernadette assumed by her friends to be missing, but with no foul play suspected, the Top Nine resume their lives of spoiled privilege.

As the mystery killer (garbed with giallo-style black gloves) stalks and slashes their way through the remaining nine of Crawford's best, if not brightest, we witness what the posters for Happy Birthday to Me promised would be "Six of the Most Bizarre Murders You'll Ever See." But outside of the killing immortalized on the film's poster, in which a hapless victim is speared through the mouth by a shish-ka-bob, none of the killings in Happy Birthday to Me are all that bizarre. The murders in 1970's The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in which the victims were each killed according to the Twelve Plagues of Egypt? Now those were legitimately twisted. The murders in Happy Birthday to Me, however � including a victim who gets their face mashed by the spinning wheel of a motorcycle after the killer has tangled the victim's lengthy scarf in its spokes � are mostly mundane.

Making Birthday work is that as a director, Thomson keeps the pace brisk, his young cast is all able and amiable (even though they're playing snobs, there's good chemistry between them), the film's two old-school pros � Glenn Ford (Blackboard Jungle, Superman: The Movie) as Virginia's hard-working psychiatrist and Lawrence Dane (Rituals, Scanners) as her beleaguered dad � bring an automatic touch of class, and then there's the film's macabre, unforgettable ending. How Birthday ends is not how it was originally meant to but during production it was decided that a twist � any twist � was needed. What the filmmakers came up with is not supported by the rest of the film (due to the last-minute nature of its invention) but yet the finale leaves an undeniable impression and is surely the overriding reason for the film's lasting popularity. By any measure, it's a ludicrous climax, but yet its grand ghoulishness ends the film on a high note.

When Happy Birthday to Me was previously released on DVD by Columbia in 2004, besides being packaged in hideous box art that ignored the film's classic poster design, it was infamously issued with an alternate, disco-flavored soundtrack rather than the moody piano and string score familiar to fans who had seen Birthday either in its theatrical run or on the original Columbia VHS release.

Answering the demand for a restored version, Anchor Bay's new release delivers the Happy Birthday to Me that fans have been waiting to see. The film looks just as sharp here in its 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer as I remember it looking on the Columbia disc and with the proper Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin score in place, there's nothing to keep slasher fans from picking this up. The only extra on this disc is the film's theatrical trailer but while the lack of features might be a sore point with those who feel Happy Birthday to Me deserves more of a deluxe treatment, sometimes you can't have your (birthday) cake and eat it too. As a fan, I'm just grateful to have the film restored (and as another mistake corrected, the original poster art is used in the packaging) so I can only say thanks to Anchor Bay for knocking a big 'gotta-have' item off my wish list. I feel like my Birthday came early this year.

| 3 comments | Add a comment


Posted by: D L Riker on October 30, 2009 at 21:22:26

Perhaps the next release will feature the Studio and MPAA censored footage!

What a wasted opportunity of a re-release.

Posted by: Eo on October 30, 2009 at 23:44:43

i thought this movie was pretty good..saw it back 4 or 5 years ago and the soundtrack was pretty the same time dont think the orginal music is that great..but better..kills were pretty lame though

Posted by: marcus on December 31, 2009 at 14:54:18

I really want to see this movie it looks great. I only like 70's, 8o's, and 90's films. I like only a few 2000's films

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