Happy Birthday to Me (1981)


*. This mostly generic ’80s slasher pic is best known today for three things.
*. In the first place there are the credits. Director J. Lee Thompson gave the film a big boost, and apparently enjoyed the experience, having always wanted to do a thriller. This is odd given that he has absolutely no feel for the material. He did, however, at least make it look professional.
*. Glenn Ford, on the other hand, was just picking up a paycheque. He was also Canadian, which helped. He did not want to do a slasher film and reportedly drank heavily during the shoot. Not that this made much of a difference.
*. The second thing the film is known for are its inventive kills. These were advertised as “Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.” I came away less impressed. The murders are actually quite abrupt and involve little in the way of Savini-like effects. The only gore is Virginia’s brain surgery, which is all the more unpleasant for being “real” (hospitals are the scariest places I know). Meanwhile there are only a couple of kills that strike me as clever: the barbell and the shish-kebab.
*. With regard to Greg’s demise while going for a max on the bench press, it doesn’t reflect that well on him does it? I mean, for the school jock he isn’t lifting heavy, and he doesn’t even get a single rep off but just holds the bar over his head. Sad.
*. The third point worth noting is the insane plot and confusing back story. This is crazy enough even before we get to the ending, which is deservedly famous for its ludicrous revelations.
*. The story came from John Saxton, who also got a co-writer credit on the screenplay. I don’t know anything about this guy but apparently he was (a) an English professor at the University of Toronto, and (b) his most notable other credit was for Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (which he wrote under the pseudonym Jonah Royston). I wonder if Professor Saxton would be able to get tenure today with that kind of work on his C.V.
*. The ending was actually a quick fix, almost an improvisation. The idea was to just make the climax more sensational and give things a twist. They certainly did that. Apparently the original ending had Virginia being possessed by the spirit of her dead mother . . . which everyone acknowledged made more sense than what they finally went with!
*. They liked that shot of the car falling into the water so much, they filmed it several times. Sometimes it falls in the water upside down, sometimes rightside up. What a continuity fail.
*. So the one fellow made “twenty bucks cash!” out of totally demolishing the front end of his car. That’s not too bright.
*. How is it that a nerd, and a creepy nerd at that, has made Crawford Academy’s Top Ten?
*. Though despised by critics at the time, this has gone on to be credited as one of the better slasher films from a period when they were notably thick on the ground. I don’t think it’s great, but it is one of the few of its kind to still be of any interest.


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