I think the last time I for real celebrated my birthday was when I went from 29 to 30, and my mom gathered some family, friends and other weirdos for a nice dinner. Hey, even my dad was there and he told me this story! To be honest, I've always felt a bit uncomfortable celebrating my birthday. It’s not because I worry about age and all the stuff, I like getting older - I’m getting wiser and more self-confident for each year and would never want to be younger. Nowadays, like today, I’m just going out with my partner for a nice dinner and that’s it - except the birthday greetings I get at Instagram, which I appreciate a lot!
Someone who have a totally opposite view on birthday celebrations is Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) in Happy Birthday to Me, a girl who’s fighting her way back to live a normal life after a horrible accident, resulting in a nasty brain surgery. She goes at a fancy schmancy school and belongs to loosely arranged The Top Ten, a society for the brightest - and riches - students. But one after another they disappear, killed in gruesome ways, by an unknown assailant wearing black gloves. Everything seems to lead back to Virginia and her upcoming birthday party…
Produced by the same guys behind George Mihalka’s 1981 slasher masterpiece My Bloody Valentine, and it’s no surprising this is an extra classy and good-looking thriller. It even have the same special effects guy, Thomas R. Burman - even if his work got butchered in both films. While the cast is good - and Glenn Ford looks either terrible drunk or hangover - and the screenplay is a lot better than more alive than many other slasher films, the real star of the show is director J. Lee Thompson. I’ve always loved the work of this craftsman, even if he also is the man behind THE worst Charles Bronson movie ever, the deeply racist and homophobic Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.
He really takes the genre, which was already on the way down quality-wise, and boosted the production values with creative directing and great murder-set-pieces, often quite sadistic and bloody - even in this version who got fucked-up by the kiddie fiddlers at the MPAA (there’s different theories about this, but we all know the MPAA is nothing but shit anyway). I never bought the concept that “the movie becomes more scary if the filmmakers don’t show too much”, especially in such a primitive genre as the slasher. We’re very few who watches this films because of the suspense. We want our slice ‘n’ dice flicks gory and bloody, ain't that the truth?
I was four years old when Happy Birthday to Me was released, so I can’t blame my fascination for the slasher genre and the love for this movie on nostalgia. I hate nostalgia, but there’s something special with movies from this time, just in-between the gritty 70’s and the colorful 80’s. It’s a special mix of what’s good and bad - in this case the violence vs the fashion. The only complain I have is that the last half hour feels pretty drawn out, I mean, it’s a long movie - almost two hours! So for a slasher that’s a tad too much. But it all becomes better when the insane ending starts, which is damn close to spoofing the genre.
Maybe that’s it by the way? Maybe J. Lee Thompson took the genre and made it more absurd, more insane, more colorful - just to show ‘em once and for all who’s the most experienced director on the block? I know the ending was rewritten to become more unexpected, less predictable - and they sure succeeded with that. Even I tend to forget between each time what’s gonna happen.
Happy Birthday to Me is a great vintage slasher which only suffers from the tampering from the MPAA and a bit too slow last half, but it’s still something all fans of the genre need to see. The blu-ray from Mill Creek looks fine and shares disc with When a Stranger Calls. And it’s dirt cheap. No excuses, boys and ghouls. Go get it.