Starring: Melissa Sue Anderson (Virginia Wainwright), Glenn Ford (Dr. Faraday), Lawrence Dane (Hal Wainwright), Sharon Acker (Estelle), Tracy Bregman (Ann Patterson), Matt Craven (Steve)
Year - 1981
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is your early-80s slasher flick involving a young woman named Virginia Wainwright (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE’s Melissa Sue Anderson) returning to Crawford Academy after suffering some kind of accident that pretty much messed up her brain and caused her to lose her memory. She’s part of some mean clique called the Top Ten, who pretty much do stupid crap to get their kicks [like jumping over bridges and pulling off cruel practical jokes on each other]. Virginia’s 18th birthday is approaching and she wants to invite all of her friends. However, they seem to be disappearing one by one, leading to speculation that a killer is on the prowl killing them off. Virginia, having flashes of memory and then blacking out, believes she has a connection to the killer - possibly herself.
I had seen this flm many, many years ago but barely remembered it existed until the GOING TO PIECES documentary highlighted this film. I decided to check it out again and I thought it was good. It’s not really a slasher like FRIDAY THE 13TH or the HALLOWEEN sequels. It’s more like a psychological thriller/mystery where twists and more twists pop up to throw you off as to who the identity of the killer is. And believe me, the ending is more twistastic than it has any right to be. Just when you think you figure it out, it throws you for a loop. And then another loop. And it keeps going until you say "ENOUGH ALREADY!". I’m pretty on the fence where it concerns the ending. If it had stuck with the first twist, I would have been okay with it. But it just went overboard and lost me.
I also thought the film was WAY too long. It’s almost 2 hours. Horror films like this one needs to be 90 minutes or close to it. There was too much filler, especially when it added nothing to the film whatsoever. Like that motorcross race or that soccer game. What did that do again? Because it sure didn’t give these characters any development. And what was up with that scene where Virginia is in her bedroom in her bra [thank you for that!] hanging up her blouse. We literally see her hang it for like a full minute. That’s where one would edit the film to move the film along, don’t you think? I don’t know - I wasn’t interested in these things at all.
At least the death scenes were pretty cool. You get some dude get mutilated by a running motorcycle gear, another dude get his throat crushed by a heavy barbell, and another dude get shish-ka-bob’d through his mouth. Sweet. You also get to see a brain surgery. Yum. Too bad it wasn’t really gory but it did make me cringe, so I’ll take it.
The characters, besides the Wainwrights and Dr. Faraday, were all bland. I’m talking about the Top Ten clique, who were nothing but annoying snobbish pricks that deserved to have bad things happen to them. They were all one-dimensional, lacking personalities to the point where I really couldn’t tell them apart. It didn’t help that the acting was pretty amateur-ish either. I’ve seen a bowl of fruit act better than this group of "teenagers"-going on 45. At least Melissa Sue Anderson brought the goods as Virginia, to the point where you were really invested in her character and wondered if she was the murderer or not. Plus she was very pretty, so I can’t complain. And Lawrence Dane as the father creeped me out a bit. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to protect his daughter or have his way with her. Incestuous awkwardness in a horror film - not for me, sorry.
The direction by Thompson was pretty good. There was definitely a cheesy, yet eerie atmosphere hovering this movie. Especially during the flashback stuff and that tub sequence. I liked it. I just wish the pacing was quicker because it took a while for things to get moving.
THE FINAL HOWL - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is a good 80s slasher to rent to remind yourself that birthdays can be fun when annoying people you don’t like end up going missing and getting killed. It’s not scary or inventive, but it follows the horror conventions very well and will keep you guessing right to the very end. Now I must make plans for my next birthday. I hope Paris Hilton and Heidi Montag can make it. Gee, I hope nothing bad happens to them...(=<