The eighteenth entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday to Me. Ginny Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson of Little House on the Prairie fame) is one of the popular girls at school. She and her friends are members of the “Top Ten,” the coolest and most privileged kids at Crawford Academy. One of her friends is killed when the friends are meeting at the local tavern. Soon, more of the “Top Ten” members begin dying. Ginny visits her therapist because she thinks that she might be killing them in blackouts connected to the death of her mother when she was younger. Is Ginny really killing her friends? Or is someone else killing them off in a countdown to Ginny’s birthday?
While not perfect by any means, Happy Birthday to Me gives the viewer everything that they’d want in a slasher film from 1981. There are very fun death sequences, great lead performances, and a decent mystery to unravel. The film was also seized and confiscated during the UK’s video nasty crusade, despite not officially being categorized as a video nasty. Naturally, the buzz surrounding the censorship of the film only added to its box office revenue and video rental success.
The sequences involving the drawbridge are particularly effective and make the film stand out a bit in a year filled to the gills with slashers. The director of the original Cape Fear (1962), J. Lee Thompson provides excellent direction for the film, making it much more visually engaging than many of its peers. Many slashers of the time were directed by filmmakers that were trying to break into the industry. Having such an accomplished director for this film, and one that was not ashamed of the material, is an exciting change of pace. Many professional filmmakers of the time greatly looked down on the genre and wanted nothing to do with it.
The cast of the film is also worthy of note. Anderson delivers a great performance as Ginny, the very complicated and conflicted protagonist. Glenn Ford gives a solid performance as her therapist Dr. Faraday, as well. The rest of the young cast turn in passable performances that convey what they need to for each individual character. Many have accused the film of being a rip off of the Friday the 13th and Prom Night films, but the script for Happy Birthday to Me was actually written before them. That being said, it certainly did benefit from the rise of the slasher craze of the time.
Through its solid direction, decent gore effects, and impressive set pieces, Happy Birthday to Me proves to be a fun little slasher film that is worthy of a watch this Halloween season.
Happy Birthday to Me is available to rent on Vudu, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series!