Face-Off: Bloody Birthday vs. Happy Birthday to Me

Another year gone. Another year older. I celebrate my birthday soon before the year ends, and since the best way to celebrate most occasions is by watching a slasher movie, I figured that the best way to mark this particular occasion - my age ticking up another number as a new year is about to be born - would be to watch a pair of birthday-themed slashers and pit them against each other. Entering the Face-Off thunderdome this week are Ed Hunt's BLOODY BIRTHDAY and J. Lee Thompson's HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, which were released just one month apart back in 1981. Let's find out which one is more fun to party with.
Debbie Brody, Curtis Taylor, and Steven Seton were all born on the same eclipse-shadowed day and have stuck close together all through their lives. It isn't until their tenth birthday draws near that it starts to become clear that these little brats are homicidal maniacs. It comes down to astrology - the sun and moon were blocking Saturn when they were born, so these kids were born without a conscience, and now they have started brutally murdering people, sometimes just for fun, at other times to get what they want. Pure evil lurking under angelic facades, this is a really creepy, disturbing trio.
Virginia Wainwright has had a rough time in her first seventeen years of life, but as her 18th birthday approaches things are starting to look up. A senior at Crawford Academy, she has joined the ranks of the Top Ten, a group consisting of the most popular (and richest) kids in school. Unfortunately, the members of this group start getting knocked off one-by-one, and Virginia's past experiences have been so traumatizing that it wouldn't be surprising if she were the one committing the murders. The blackouts and horrible flashbacks she keeps having make her a prime suspect, and Virginia is a very odd, troubled girl.
Everyone in town turns up for the joint birthday party held for Debbie, Curtis, and Steven, but the most notable attendees are bookish teenager Joyce Russel and her troublemaking little brother Timmy, a pair who can see that the popular ten year olds aren't as sweet as they pretend to be - especially once they start trying to kill them. If the killer kids are going to be stopped, it's going to come down to the efforts of the Russel siblings. Another strong presence is Debbie's teenage sister Beverly, who the boys watch get dressed through a peephole in her closet, paying Debbie for the privilege.
Many of the characters in HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME have something strange going on with them, whether it be French exchange student Etienne stalking Virginia and sneaking into her house, the senseless antics of Virginia's maybe-boyfriend Rudi, Steve's early gambling addiction, the unusual behavior of mask-making taxidermist Alfred, or just how casually the Top Ten swap partners. Virginia's doctor is another questionable presence. He seems to mean well, but he's not much help. And you don't even want to meet her mother. Surrounded by weirdos, at least Virginia gets some support from her stronger-minded best friend Ann.
The joint birthday party may be a neighborhood social event, but it's not an impressive one to behold. A whole bunch of people, mostly adults, gather in the back yard of the Brody house, decorated with some streamers and balloons, to stand around and eat some cake. The Mighty Mouse theme of their tenth birthday party is cool, but for something that gets built up so much the party is pretty lame.
The place is a bit rundown these days, but Virginia's birthday parties have always been held in a great location, a cottage in the woods near her house. To most people, this cottage would be a house in itself, but for the Wainwrights it's just a separate building on their property to hang out and have celebrations in. If only the climactic party were held under better circumstances...
The favor you'll get in return for attending these parties is a horrific death, and BLOODY BIRTHDAY definitely delivers in the murder department. There's a bludgeoning with a shovel, strangulation by jump rope, an arrow in the head, Curtis gets his hands on a gun that he finds to be very useful, and don't let these little bastards sneak up behind you with a baseball bat.
The poster promises six murders, but the film actually delivers more than that, and there are a few great ones. The shish kebab skewering is the most popular, but you also get some good knife slashings, improper use of exercise equipment, and an example of why you should be very careful when wearing a scarf around spinning tires.
BLOODY BIRTHDAY fully embraces the idea that it was going to be playing to drive-in audiences. It keeps the murder and suspense sequences coming and mixes in frequent flashes of skin, provided courtesy of Beverly, who is seen changing clothes several times, and a couple pairs of random trysting teenagers who get offed by the kids. This movie has exactly what you want to see when you put on a slasher.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is rather unique for a slasher in that it has an intense focus on building up characters and making sure that each one has something to do. There's a lot going on in this movie, as evident from its unusually long 110 minute running time. Honestly, there's a bit too much going on, but I have to respect the fact that the filmmakers were aiming a bit higher than the typical slasher does.
BLOODY BIRTHDAY and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME are both exceptionally entertaining slasher movies, but in a head-to-head battle the latter squeaks out a win by being a higher quality production with a better script and dedication to character. BLOODY BIRTHDAY has great drive-in B-movie charm, while HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is a more well-crafted film. I would highly recommend watching both of them.

What do you think of these two films? Do you think HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME deserved the win, or do you find BLOODY BIRTHDAY to be more worth celebrating? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and if you'd like to send Face-Off suggestions to me I can be reached at [email protected].

Happy New Year!



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