Saturday, July 9, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

I haven't really reviewed many slasher classics so to speak, mostly due to laziness, and also because I sometimes avoid reviewing classics, instead sticking with lesser known entries in the horror genre. Well, I decided to stop being lazy, which is clearly what J. Lee Thompson ("Cape Fear", "Conquest of" and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and several Charles Bronson movies.) tried not to do with "Happy Birthday to Me", as he (and the studio) clearly realized that they were running out of Holiday themed slasher movies, so why not birthdays?

Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anthony) has returned to school after an accident damaged her brain and left her remembering little of what happened in her past. Well, she's welcomed into a popular clique called the Top Ten, who soon start getting knocked off. Virginia believes a link to her past may have something to do with these murders, and that she might be the perpetrator. Is she the killer? Is it someone else? Does Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford) know more than he seems to?

Though the movie promises that people die in bizarre ways (indeed, some do-the bench press death is great), "Happy Birthday to Me" owes more to Italian giallo films than it does slasher films, as it seems less interested in explicit bloodshed and more interested in twists and turns in the story, which is a major plus. It also relies more on character development, or at least in the case of Virginia, whose plight and shadowy past make for intriguing viewing. Those who die however, are pretty much slasher stereotypes, though they are thankfully better acted than usual. The movie is also very well directed by Thompson, who handles suspense better than other slasher films of the time, and understands that a little plot and intelligence goes a long way. Oh, and great score by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin.

I do have one problem with the movie though, and it's the twist at the end when the killer is revealed. I'm sure some love the conclusion, but for me, it felt way too out of left field, not to mention rather sudden. It's really not surprising that it was written in the last second, as it really shows.

That out of the way, if you're a slasher fan, you've probably seen this, and good for you if you have. It stands up there with "My Bloody Valentine" in the echelons Canadian Slasher films of the 80's, and serves as a nice change of pace in the 80's slasher genre.

Rating: 8.5/10

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