HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
Reviewed by: Ryan Doom
J. Lee Thompson
Melissa Sue Anderson
and Lawrence Dane
What's it about
A new girl at a snobby prep school tries to fit in with the popular (snobby) kids while a killer starts to knock them all off one by one. And guess what, someone has a birthday...!
Is it good movie?
A movie like Happy Birthday to Me holds a certain level of interest. For one, knowing that it came from the producers of My Bloody Valentine (the original, not that hollow gimmick from last year) and the director of Cape Fear (the original and my favorite Robert Mitchum movie, not that very excellent Scorsese/DeNiro flick.) should equate to a pretty quality flick. Granted, director J. Lee Thompson never became famous for his directing, especially considering he directed quite a few of the lackluster sequels to Planet of the Apes. Regardless, both Cape Fear and My Blood Valentine are both extremely well made character pieces, the very element that usually lacks in most horror movies. So, what did they manage to do with this 1980 slasher flick? Did they match their combined other successes?
Well, they did something. Happy Birthday to Me is neither a horrible movie nor an excellent one. Itís not one that would ever gain a massive cult following though maybe it should have as Happy Birthday to Me follows along with all other slasher films of the time. We never see the killer for the first half. The murders grow more gruesome with each slaying (including the great shish kabob killing from the cover), and the director employs plenty of misdirection in order to keep the identity of the killer a secret. When itís finally revealed (no fears, Iím not that kind of guy), Happy Birthday to Me does what Valentine and Cape Fear did, dive into the roots of the problem. They address character first so the audience understands how they became so screwed up. Thereís nothing groundbreaking about the origins, but itís refreshing to recall that at one time, films actually cared a little for the characters. Just a little.
However, that doesnít mean that characters here are great. Since they all attend a rich kidís school, itís pretty tough to care about any of them. In fact, I wanted to punch of a few of them. They all drive nice cars. They all have hot women. Theyíre all jerks to the local townsfolk. They get anything they want without consequence. All except the main character, Ginny, (playing play Anderson of Little House on the Prairie fame) who is still attempting to fit in. But itís not like sheís from the hood. No, she lives in a mansion like all the rest. Doesnít that make it a little difficult to connect? I thought so. Horror needs an average guy in there to root for.
It takes a little while to get into Happy Birthday to Me, but in the end, it pays off to stick with it. From the above average gore, to pretty good characters, it all works well minus the pacing. The film just takes a little too long to go anywhere. Thereís no emergency when people start dying. No sense of fear or dread. And all horror movies need the dread. Just look at Valentine and Cape Fear. Theyíve both got it. And Happy Birthday to Me doesnít.
Video / Audio
Video: A smooth looking 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Presented with the power of 2.0 Dolby Surround!
Happy Birthday to Me is good forgotten slasher flick thatís worth two hours of your eye ballsí attention. Give it a chance, and youíll be hungry for shish kabob.