DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Happy Birthday to Me

Monday 7 September 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to Me (1981) dir. J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Melissa Sue Anderson, Tracey E. Bregman, Lawrence Dane, Glenn Ford


Revived from Anchor Bay comes this forgotten-about entry in the golden era of early 80’s Canadian tax shelter cinema – an era which produced numerous genre knock-offs of American films. While 'Happy Birthday to Me' is no classic and barely a cult film, it’s not embarrassing and worth a look for fans of slasher cinema.

On the campus of private school Crawford Academy one-by-one students from an overachieving clique of friends are disappearing without explanation. While the students are in the dark, we the audience watch them get murdered in gruesome fashion by an unknown assailant identifiable only by a pair of black gloves. Who can it be? A number of red herrings try to keep us guessing. Is it Alfred the freaky geek with a pet rat and a taxidermy collection, or Rudi, the hot head jealous boyfriend, or Etienne, the creepy Frenchman?

Virginia (Ginny) Wainwright emerges as the hero – a girl suffering from painful memories of her mothers’ death and some kind of experimental brain surgery which may have turned her into the sadistic killer.

Veteran British director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, Guns of Navarone) directs with the some panache. Production values are top notch rendering the film completely invisible to it’s ‘Canadian-ness’ and if anything, a decent stylish knock of Brian De Palma schlock. Bo Harwood adds an effective classical brooding score for even more polish.

The film has more integrity than most of its 80’s contemporaries. We’re actually deprived us of the youthful skin and bedhopping we expect from having so many good looking young people in a picture. The addition to Glenn Ford, adds some gravitas to the role of Ginny’s psychologist Dr. Faraday. But what we’re not deprived of is a number of creative deaths, including gruesome uses of a shish kabob skewer and a bench press in addition to the usual throat slashings. The DVD is light on extras giving us only a classic trailer to enjoy.

This review was first published on Exclaim.ca

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