Us horror types can be easily pleased at times.

One of the staples of the 80s horror scene was the flimsy process of hanging a basic slasher movie on an event or date and hoping you struck paydirt.

Take a well-known occasion, throw in an unknown killer and a few graphic death scenes and away you go.

Hence we were treated to such classics as My Bloody Valentine, Halloween, Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, New Year’s Evil etc – you get the picture.

Although I am not proud to say it (well, perhaps I am in a way), I have sat through all of those films and many, many, many more like them.

And, although not exactly fitting that formula, Happy Birthday To Me (1981) sits quite neatly alongside them, with all of the familiar themes a place.

This was a film that I had long heard about (mainly for the poster quote screaming ‘John will never eat shish kebab again’ – a reference to one of the kills) but never got round to seeing, so a swift purchase on Amazon and it was time to relax on the sofa and see how this stood up.

And, to be perfectly honest, it holds up quite well – in the acting department anyway.

For, as with a number of similar offerings (think Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th or Tom Hanks in He Knows You Are Alone) this one comes with some decent acting chops – Hollywood veteran Glenn Ford and Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Sue Anderson to name but two.

The story is pretty basic – college kids are being picked off one by one by a unseen, gloved killer in pretty entertaining ways (although not too graphic – the censors saw to that).

But there are a whole truckload of backstories and issues concerning the female lead Virginia (Anderson), who may or may not prove to be the killer.

There are countless red herrings, plenty of things that do not make sense, some ultra-cheesy dialogue and, on the DVD version I saw anyway, a truly awful electronic soundtrack that destroys most of the atmosphere generated.

Despite all that there are aspects to enjoy – as said earlier that acting is reasonable, the kills are pleasantly inventive and a lot of the tiresome themes are excised – there are no ludicrous sex scenes, for example (which I suppose may annoy some of you out there).

But, and this a major-league worthy but, just when you think everything has neatly, and predictably tied itself up along comes one of the most ridiculous plot twists ever put on screen.

I am not going to give anything away, but the denouement is breathtakingly off the wall – so much so in fact that I had to skip back a scene and watch the finale again just to make sure I fully understood how it played out.

All this makes sense you when you do a bit of digging into the filming of the project, which apparently started shooting without a script ending, and then, after the ‘straight’ ending was filmed the producers decided they wanted something more memorable, which is fine if there is any logic to it.

So, does Happy Birthday to Me get the Movie Ramblings seal of approval?

It’s a toughie to be honest, as although there is plenty to enjoy and recommend, there is equally plenty of frustration.

So, while it would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, for a slasher completist (like me) it is must-see material.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.