Sony // 1980 // 111 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 3rd, 2004
You're invited to the bloodiest party of the year.
Welcome to Crawford Academy, where the students are trying to stay on top of their studies, their social lives, and their attempts at staying alive! Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) is new to the school and has already been accepted into the "Top 10," a group of popular kids who enjoy such extracurricular activities as boozing, smokin' dope, and humping each other 'till they're blue in the face. The kids' pampered lives of bliss are suddenly torn asunder when, one by one, an unknown assailant slaughters each kid. At the same time Ginny has been seeing a psychologist (screen legend Glenn Ford, Superman) to help her get over a traumatic accident she suffered a while back that has left her with frequent blackouts. Could Ginny be the one killing her friends during these blackouts? Or is there a more sinister force out there that wants the students from Crawford Academy dead?
I love the 1970s and '80s. What other time period produced roughly eighty million horror movies all based around a specific holiday event? Friday the 13th, April Fool's Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and of course the mother of them all (and the one that kick started the whole dang thing), John Carpenter's seminal classic Halloween. I'm surprised no one ever got around to getting Arbor Day Massacre or Groundhog Day's Revenge off the ground.
Add to that list Happy Birthday To Me, but don't get too excited. If you haven't had a chance to catch this 1980 dead teen slasher flick on DVD yet...count your blessings. Happy Birthday To Me -- themed around a young girl's impending 18th birthday party -- is mediocre at best, and absolutely boring at worst. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (who made everything from the classic thriller Cape Fear to the Charles Bronson cheapie Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, his final film), Happy Birthday To Me clocks in at about two hours, nearly an hour longer than it needs to be.
The kills are nothing we haven't seen before. The idea of the killer being someone in the main cast isn't anything we haven't seen before. The fact that these are teenagers in high school who enjoy smoking, drinking, and screwing isn't new. In fact, Happy Birthday To Me hasn't got an original bone in its entire celluloid body. The best thing about Happy Birthday To Me are the murders. One guy gets taken out of the running while weightlifting (he drops the bell bar on top of himself after someone drops a large weight on his groin). Another gets a shish-ka-bob to the throat. Yet another gets his scarf caught in a running motorcycle gear. And so on, and so on. Diehard gore hounds will love this stuff; the rest will feel like it's not enough to sustain 111 minutes worth of poorly acted, poorly staged drama.
The actors are all blasé, none of them sporting any real personality. The only semi-famous face I could spot was eagle nosed Matt Craven (Meatballs, A Few Good Men) as one of the high school kids, and since then I can only imagine that he's left this film off his résumé. Lead Melissa Sue Anderson (from TV's Little House on the Prairie) emotes as well as, oh say, a bag of molding avocados. It's possible I'd rather watch the avocados, though I'd need to see them at a screen test first.
There is a reason Happy Birthday To Me isn't one of the better known slasher movies from the '80s -- it's a grade-A snoozer. The film is now 25 years old, and this birthday treat is moldy, smelly, and is very hard to swallow.
Happy Birthday To Me is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The transfer for this movie isn't anything to write home about -- the colors are all dull and faded while the black levels are in just so-so shape. A fair amount of dirt and grain shows up on the print, proving Columbia did little to clean up this transfer. I'm sure that fans will be happy to get this film in its first ever widescreen release but will be disappointed that it's in only mediocre shape.
The soundtrack is presented in what appears to be Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. Much like the video presentation, there isn't a whole lot to say about this sound mix. Most of the dialogue, music, and effects are well heard, though there were a few moments where the mix sounded a bit muffled. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Japanese subtitles.
Just because it's your birthday don't mean squat, bubba: Happy Birthday To Me is void of any extra features.
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R