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Friday the 13th Pt VIII - Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Friday the 13th Pt VII - The New Blood (1988)
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Friday the 13th Pt VI - Jason Lives (1986)
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Friday the 13th Pt V - A New Beginning (1985)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 - The Dream Child (1989)
Sleepaway Camp III - Teenage Wasteland (1989)
Friday the 13th Part IV - The Final Chapter (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 - The Dream Master (1988)
Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers (1988)
Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 - Dream Warriors (1987)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2 - Freddy's Revenge (1985)
The Burning (1981)
Friday the 13th (1980)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
April Fool's Day (1986)
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

“Dear God, what have you done?” – Lieutenant Tracy

Movie Posters We Love: Happy Birthday to me (1981) | The Scariest Things


It’s time for the second in my series of slasher retrospectives, and I’m kind of keeping the holiday/commemorative day theme going on a personal level for this one, as both myself and daughter/Piercing the Veil co-host Tiff have upcoming birthdays.

I couldn’t resist adding this one to the list. It’s a guilty pleasure, and among those I saw in the cinema back in my pre-home video days of the early eighties as part of a series of double bills (ask your parents what those were, kids.)

This was, as with My Bloody Valentine, a Canadian production, set in a fictional American town, released in the wake of the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween and was again, one of my first experiences of the slasher genre. The rules are being set – the hapless teens are set up like green bottles on a wall, to be knocked off one by one.  BUT – this has a more convoluted ending than most of them. We’re used to twist endings when it comes to having the killer revealed, along with their motivations, but Happy Birthday to Me takes the concept to a whole new level. If it seems to jar a little, with no real build up – that’s because it was tacked on clumsily well into the film’s shooting schedule. The original ending being built up to was thought not to have enough of an impact. But more of that later.

The film is a good example of the state of the horror industry in the early eighties, it’s fun – but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny on any level. It means well, and it passes the time. And I suppose that was its purpose (as with a lot of the slashers of the time). A quick exploitation movie, cashing in on the success of an earlier hit. A good date movie, I guess.

What do we learn from the film? Mainly that in early eighties America, nobody ever bothered to close a car window when exiting the vehicle, and that everybody was trusting enough to leave their cars unlocked when leaving the vehicle unattended. We also learn that movie posters out and out lie. The tag for this one (shown below) is “John will never eat shish kebab again”. There’s nobody named John in the film. Go figure. Another version actually gives away virtually the whole movie, every killing in what might be the longest film blurb in history. As well as the most needlessly spoilery to audiences of that time.

Happy Birthday to Me (film) - Wikipedia

Let’s get to the set-up.

The setting is the elite Crawford Academy, were the self-anointed best of the best of the obnoxious rich kids call themselves Crawford’s Top Ten. (And they also seem to be the only students around.) The like to meet in the local bar, where they cause havoc against the local lodge group. But they’re not going to be banned, because they’re rich. As the film opens, over a jarringly out of place disco theme track (added for the DVD release, apparently) one of their members doesn’t make the meeting. This is Bernadette. She meets her demise at the business side of a straight edged razor, in the hands of a black gloved maniac. Who, we have no idea.

Her friends don’t really miss her. They notice she’s missing, but aren’t concerned enough to go looking for her. Especially when they have their game to play. The game involves driving at speed over a drawbridge as it’s opening, and clearing the gap. All but one car manages, but the guy driving the ‘Vette chickens out. Now we learn two things in this scene. Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson) has a story, because she’s the only one who freaks out doing this. And… American cars can spontaneously regenerate front bumpers and spoilers because the blue Trans-Am loses them in slow motion on a bad landing, but in the scene after it’s magically grown them back.

An aversion to flying over bridges isn’t her only problem. We see her mother is dead, and is buried in the cemetery right next to her home, a graveyard which incidentally also seems to be slap in-between the main house and a small summerhouse cottage owned by her family. How inconvenient. That’s not the problem though – a fellow student is. Etienne, a French exchange student who breaks into her bedroom, spies on her as she’s getting ready for a shower, then steals her discarded underwear. Yup, he’s a pervert.

Soon, members of the Top 10 go missing. We the audience witness their murders but no bodies are found, and of course everyone’s a suspect (as long as they’re alive) but we have no motive. Is it their weird pal Alfred, who has a talent for taxidermy and sculpture? He does, after all have a very lifelike head sculpt of the late Bernadette in his house, as discovered by Virginia and her bestie Ann (Tracey E. Bregman). In any event, the Top 10 are being whittled down.

Etienne has the scarf he’s wearing while tuning his trail bike thrown into the wheel, which in turn drags his face into the spokes. Another has a flat weight dropped on his groin while he’s struggling with a barbell on a weight bench – presumably, he pretty much bursts.

Now, Virginia’s story – she’s suffering repressed memories of a car accident that happened on THAT drawbridge some time earlier, which took the life of her mother and injured Virginia’s brain so she needed experimental surgery to save her life. Her psychiatrist Dr Faraday (a woefully miscast Glenn Ford, who doesn’t seem to understand his dialogue) is helping coax these memories out.  Is SHE the killer? Is she blacking out and going on killing sprees? It seems likely, when she stabs poor Alfred with gardening shears, and skewers another friend in the throat with a shish kebab, AND slashes her father’s throat…AND brains Faraday with a poker (it’s a busy night).

The motive is made clear. It’s Virginia’s birthday. On her birthday a few years ago, her socially climbing mother invited the Top 10 to her child’s party but they didn’t show. Her mother drove Virginia to the party her “friends” were attending instead, but was refused entry and the fatal accident happened on the way home. Now, those “friends” are dead, their corpses propped up on chairs in the summerhouse cottage, ready to celebrate Virginia’s birthday.

Except – if you recall, there wasn’t enough kick to that ending. So, they added to it.

Virginia brings the cake through, singing happy birthday to herself.

happy birthday to me 1981 | Happy birthday me, Happy birthday, 1980s horror  movies

Then (gasp) we see that Virginia is sitting at the table with the others. There are two of them. (What? Twins?) The Virginia with the cake is the evil one. The murderess. She would sedate the REAL Virginia to make her think she was the one killing everybody. (So, who is she again?)

She tears off a clever prosthetic mask (presumably made by the late Alfred for who knows what reason) and is in reality…best friend Ann!!!

It’s all part of an elaborate plot because Virginia’s slutty mom had an affair with Ann’s father which destroyed their marriage, and despite the fact that throughout the film, nobody seems to remember Virginia even having existed before her accident, Ann knew she and Virginia were (wait for it) half sisters Now, Virginia has to die – but she defends herself, stabbing Ann fatally in the process – just as the local cop walks in, assumes Virginia is responsible for everything and the film abruptly ends, with Virginia looking as confused as the audience. 

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