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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Hell Plaza Oktoberfest III

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to Me
1981 (2009) - Columbia Pictures (Anchor Bay Entertainment)
Released on DVD on October 13th, 2009


Anybody who was a horror fan in the 80s must have fond memories of the poster for Happy Birthday to Me. Positioned as another entry in the Holiday Cycle of slasher flicks, the memorable image features an improbably wide-mouthed guy deep-throating a shish kebab skewer. It's a terrific visual promising loads of bizarre, gory high jinks. The movie itself doesn't quite live up to that promise, unfortunately, but if it grabs you in the right mood, it's a fun flashback to an era of thrills 'n' kills.


A mysterious killer is targeting the Crawford 10, the best and brightest students at an elite prep school. The most recent inductee into this clique is Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson, making a bid to shake her Little House on the Prairie image). Ginny used to be just a wannabe, her family background keeping her out of the inner circle. But after some time away from Crawford following an accident that killed her mother, Ginny finds herself both accepted and struggling with resurfaced memories. As her birthday draws near and the body count gets higher, Ginny wonders if she's a target or possibly the killer herself.

Happy Birthday to Me falls squarely into the "Oh It's You" tradition of slasher movies. You know the kind. The killer approaches the victim, face obscured from view, only to be greeted by a friendly, "Oh, it's you! Hey, can you give me a hand with this deadly motorcycle/weight-lifting set/insert potential weapon here?" Veteran director J. Lee Thompson had made some classic films in his day, including The Guns of Navarone and the original Cape Fear. But his day had pretty well passed by the early 80s. He spent most of the rest of the decade directing Charles Bronson flicks like The Evil That Men Do and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown. And while the mystery elements of Happy Birthday to Me are kind of ludicrous, culminating in a silly Scooby-Doo-style unmasking of the killer, Thompson stages the murders well. Unlike other filmmakers, he grasps what the audience wants in a movie like this. And on that level, the movie is kind of a success.

Columbia Tri-Star originally released Happy Birthday to Me on DVD back in 2004, replacing the iconic poster art with a bland, generic cover and dumping the original score entirely. Anchor Bay's re-release marks the first ever release of the movie the way it was originally seen and heard with the music of Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin. This alone makes this a significant improvement over the original DVD. Technically, the movie looks and sounds about as good as a low-budget movie from 1981 probably can. The only extra is the trailer, which is disappointing and somewhat surprising coming from Anchor Bay. Granted, director J. Lee Thompson, co-star Glenn Ford and co-writer John Saxton are no longer with us. But it would have been nice to hear from Anderson or some of the other actors and other behind-the-scenes personnel.

Happy Birthday to Me isn't a forgotten classic of the genre, so the fact that its cult is relatively small isn't that surprising. But if you're a fan of 80s slasher fare like Prom Night, Terror Train and the original My Bloody Valentine, you should give this one a look. It's fun, slightly silly and amusing, if also a bit overlong. Just make sure you choose your finger foods wisely.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D
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Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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