“When you left me I cried, all my tears haven’t dried
So I’m leavin’ this little reminder,
Oh, it’s too bad, too bad
Too bad on your birthday.”-Ram Jam
Well it’s been 13 months ago this week, when Rick’s Rhetoric was born and pushed out into this crazy world by my literary parent, The Intestinal Fortitude. With all the celebrating, cake eating, and quiet reflections deep in the dark recesses of my inquisitive mind, I return to the task at hand–watch, talk, and breathe cinema. As I approach toddler stage of this column, I strive to inform and entertain you kooky cinephiles. So join me by putting on your party hat and have a bloody good time with the Canadian coming of age slasher classic, Happy Birthday to Me (1981).
Welcome to the prestigious Crawford Academy. Only the most snobbish and elite of trust fund babies attend this illustrious high school. We enter the grounds of the campus where Bernadette, Lesleh Donaldson of Deadly Eyes (1982), is en route to meet up with her pretentious friends, the “Top Ten,” at the local watering hole, The Silent Woman. Fitting name for a pub, since Bernadette is made silent when she gets sliced by a faceless killer with a razor in the parking lot on campus. What a way to start a flick!
Bernadette’s friends become concerned when she is a no show for their night of booze and Canadian crassness, when they aren’t busy instigating a fight with a local chapter of the Grand Poobahs with the old mouse in a beer gag. Those crazy Canadians!
The gang on their way home, decide to race each other, testing their nerves by jumping an opening drawbridge in a game of skill and stupidity. Ginny, Melissa Sue Anderson of Little House on the Prairie (1974), protests to friend Ann, Tracey E. Bregman of The Young and the Restless (1973) before being reluctantly coerced into the car. All of the knuckleheads jump the drawbridge, in the process screwing up the front end of a pretty mint Firebird, bringing on a bizarre flashback to Ginny before she exits screaming from the vehicle, visits her Mom’s grave, and runs into the night back home.
Back home, Ginny is busted by her Dad, Lawrence Dane of Scanners (1981) for busting curfew. Ginny’s protective Pop, is kind of creepy in an incestuous way which add even more strangeness to this slasher flick. Before you know it, Ginny is getting undressed and ready for bed when one of her perverted friends, motor cross rider Etienne, Michel-René Labelle of Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia (1977), steals a pair of her underwear, and escapes into the night to do God knows what with them.
Ginny has some issues from the past that needs to be addressed and she confides in psychiatrist, Dr. Faraday, Glenn Ford!!! of Cimarron (1960). What an odd choice of a film to star in but such a legendary actor with a great voice resembling an aged Robert Forrester of Jackie Brown (1997). While sharing her deep dark secrets, we find out that Ginny underwent experimental brain surgery (reminded me of the medical testing Reagan went through in The Exorcist). The Doc tries to help Ginny with her repressed feelings that include water, her dead mom, and a drawbridge.
All is not normal, as the Top Ten members go missing and murdered in creative ways by the black glove killer à la Dario Argento’s trademark in his infamous giallo films. Death by motorcycle spoke and death by bench press with a sadistic spotter birth several red herrings which begin to fly in this film. Is it the socially awkward taxidermist Alfred, Jack Blum of Meatballs (1979)? Is it the angry, love torn soccer player Rudi, David Eisner of Phobia (1980)? Is it the gambling Barry Manilowish playboy Steve, Matt Craven of Jacob’s Ladder (1990)? Or is it the domineering and haughty headmistress Mrs. Patterson, Frances Hyland of The Changeling (1980)? I know, do you know?
While you are scratching head in bewilderment as to who the real killer is, Ginny is ramping up for her upcoming 18th birthday. Her party is a one to remember and the party favors are shall we say, to die for.
Happy Birthday to Me was directed by J. Lee Thompson of The Guns of Navarone (1961), with a screenplay by John C.W. Saxton of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975), Peter Jobin of Pact with the Devil (2004), Timothy Bond of My Pet Monster (1986), and John Beaird of My Bloody Valentine (1981). Happy Birthday to Me was filmed on a budget of $1 million banking approximately $10 million upon its release to mixed reviews.
Birthday is a product of the saturated market when slashers were big business for anyone with a camera and a knife. Producers were developing slasher flicks by the dozen to cash in on the recent successes of Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Every Tom, Dick and Scary Harry producer that secured funding, developed a slasher flick (using at least one POV camera shot to boot) with the big selling point that a killer is terrorizing victims on a holiday or a coming of age milestone, a blood rites of passage per se.
Thompson is effective at pulling off the fright, especially since the script kept changing and apparently was without an ending at the time of filming. Happy does feel uneven and convoluted at times due to the latter fact, and tries to make up for it with enough twists and red herrings to make M. Night Shyamalan of The Sixth Sense (1999) giggle like a prepubescent school girl. The special effects and makeup of Thomas R. Burman, The Goonies (1985), are topnotch, especially during the brain surgery sequence when the brain swells and in science class animated elements of static electricity are on full display.
So you if you are in the mood for expanding your slasher education, love anything 80’s (especially memorable VHS cover artwork), or it’s your birthday, treat yourself to some blood cake and enjoy Happy Birthday to Me. Remember, it’s your party and you’ll die if you want to…
Check out the Happy Birthday to Me Trailer
Check out the full Happy Birthday to Me film
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
- Twitter Rick Baldwin @RickBaldwin79 and email@example.com