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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

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Happy Birthday to Me

Release year: 1981

Starring: Melissa Sue Anderson; Tracey E. Bregman; Glenn Ford; Matt Craven; Lisa Langlois and Lawrence Dane.

Directed by: J. Lee Thompson

Review by: Kim McDonald 

Lee Thompson’s film, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, is one of many slasher flicks that came out of the 80’s. However, screenwriters John Saxton and Peter Jobin manage to create some interesting twists through misdirection. The film also has some of the most gruesome deaths of the slasher sub genre. It’s a fun movie that seems largely overlooked, despite 80’s horror nostalgia. 

“At the snobby Crawford Academy, Virginia’s group of friends start to go missing years after horrible events that happened to her as a child around her birthday” -IMDb.

Melissa Sue Anderson, of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE fame, plays Virginia Wainwright. She is pretty and popular, part of the elite group, the Top Ten, at her prestigious prep school. Virginia appears to be hiding a troubled past that even she can’t fully remember. She and her father Hal (Lawrence Dane,) have recently moved back to her childhood home after leaving when her mother Estelle (Sharon Ecker,) died in some mysterious accident. Virginia’s terrifying flashbacks coincide with the deaths of her friends.

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The plot of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME gets muddy and confusing at times, as do the relationships between Virginia and her friends, but there are no cardboard characters as seems to be the norm of films where usually the most interesting thing about the actors is how they die. There are a few stand out performances. Sharon Eckers is great as Virginia’s alcoholic mother who wants to get back at her hometown for rejecting her as a young girl. Glenn Ford plays Dr. David Faraday, Virginia’s psychiatrist who tries to help her remember the accident that led to her mother’s accident and her subsequent brain surgery, while being creepily over involved. Jason Blum as Alfred and David Eisner as Rudi add something extra with their performances. Finally, there is Tracey Bergman as Ann Thomerson who is key to the final twist. Bergman went on to soap opera fame in THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.

Lieutenant Tracy: Dear God, what have you done?

Virginia Wainwright: [singing] Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear Ginny. Happy birthday to me.

This film stands out for a few reasons. It isn’t just that the killer is a teenage girl, but also that most of the victims are male. And they die in inventive ways. We have death by lifting weights, with the added bonus of a weight to the crotch. We also have motorcycle wheel to the face, stabbed with gardening shears, and impalement by shish-ka-bob. That death is featured on the poster. The message in this film is men are pigs, and they pay for it.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME does end with a birthday party, with prerequisite dead bodies in attendance. Misdirection is still happening and the twists continue to the final scene. This film deserves to stand out in 80’s horror. I expect it to end up on a remake list soon.

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Kim McDonald is a horror junkie from outside Charleston, SC. Her reviews and stories can be found on fairymusings.comloudgreenbird.com and mydailydead.com.

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Check out Kim’s review of The Hunger!

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