Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

Reviewed By: Billy

As…well…none of you know, my birthday is coming up very, very soon. I say “none” because I doubt even my brother and blog-partner JM has any idea that it’s almost my birthday. You see, JM never gives me presents, although I have gifted him with some of the finest wares he’s ever received, including a Bon Jovi poster for his birthday in ’88 and a Vinnie Vincent Invasion cassette tape that I know he still counts among his favorite birthday presents ever. Anyway, if you think JM is a bad brother who doesn’t deserve to be related to me, please comment below and let him know.

On to the movie…I thought it only appropriate that I break out my new copy of Happy Birthday To Me, the 1981 slasher classic starring Melissa Sue Anderson of “Little House on the Prairie” fame and featuring one of the all-time great movie posters in the history of horror. Thankfully, someone recently wised up, and Anchor Bay re-released the DVD with the original poster as the cover art, rather than the generic image that had previously served as the DVD cover. I mean, come on…what were they thinking the first time around.

Anyway, the plot revolves around a group of students called the Crawford Top 10 – supposedly the ten most popular and elite students at Crawford Academy. And let me just say this – if these ten a-holes are the most popular and elite, JM and I went to the wrong school. Seriously, look at these kids – there’s more frizzy hair here than at a Fleetwood Mac concert. Hell, JM and I would’ve easily been the coolest kids at this school…even if one of us was repeatedly playing a Vinnie Vincent Invasion cassette tape.

Anyway, the Crawford Top 10 don’t appear to actually do anything but sit around at a local pub drinking and race their cars over a drawbridge. Melissa Sue is Ginny, the new girl and the “Laurie Strode” of the movie…in other words, she’s way nicer than the other brats in the group and she’s forced to wear horrible asexual outfits like this one:

We also soon find out that Ginny was the victim in some horrible accident years ago, which destroyed part of her brain and killed her mother. In some wonderful flashbacks – during which a bald and bandaged Melissa Sue gyrates on a bed – we also learn that she was part of an experimental treatment in which an electromagnetic field was used to regenerate her own brain. In the shoddy explanation we’re given, Ginny’s brain is likened to a salamander’s tail, which re-grows if it’s been cut off. Personally, I’d be nervous if my brain was being compared to a salamander’s tail…but Ginny seems pretty OK with the whole thing. She does, however, start randomly eating flies and darting up trees…OK, I made that part up.

Anyway, the Crawford Top 10 soon becomes the Top 9…8…7…and so on, as someone butchers off the little shits one by one. The first to go is Lesleh Donaldson, who we at Tower Farm are quite fond of after her appearances in Funeral Home and especially Curtains, in which a murderer wearing ice skates manages to catch up to her and kill her with a scythe! Clearly, Lesleh is not much of a fighter, which is probably why she’s so easily chased down here. Next up, some Eurotrashy character who I never quite figured out gets his head stuck next to a motorcycle wheel which, when revved up, looks pretty painful. The original poster promised “six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see” – and as long as you remember that this movie came many years before Final Destination 3 had people’s heads exploding in weight machines, I’d agree that they’re pretty creative.

Speaking of weight machines, the next murder involved the ultra-painful idea of a weight being dropped onto a guy’s crotch, something that is closely followed by another nasty flashback where we actually see Melissa Sue’s brain swelling up through her skull. Gross. Melissa, by the way, starts acting kind of nutty, having all kinds of screaming fits in her doctor’s office, and finally we actually see her start killing people. First she stabs a dorky guy (who I’m convinced is Jamie Kennedy) in the stomach with a shovel, and then stabs a dorky guy (who I’m convinced could never be popular in any school in the world) in the mouth with a shish-ka-bob.

Is Melissa Sue Anderson really the final girl AND the killer? Or…like Straight-Jacket demonstrated back in the 1960s, is it possible that someone’s wearing a rubber mask that looks just like the heroine to frame her?

Oh…I think we know the answer.

But, let’s just play along for a moment. Melissa Sue finally remembers the tragic accident that killed her mother and destroyed her brain, and it involves a birthday party long ago and the slutty, drunk mother (who is sort of a Sharon-Stone-Basic-Instinct-2 prototype) having an affair with the father of another one of the Crawford Top 10 girls. Uh-oh…I see where this is going. I have a bad feeling we’re going to end up at a “birthday party” filled with dead bodies and a girl in a rubber mask.

So, yeah, in one of the most far-fetched twists in slasher history, the killer is the girl whose dad was having an affair with Melissa Sue’s mother, and she was passing herself off as Melissa Sue the whole time. And…they’re sisters! Oh, good God. This is like the worst “Scooby Doo” episode in history. Blah blah blah…there’s a struggle, the killer dies, Melissa gets blamed for the whole thing, and we’re finally done.

So…how to rate this Birthday party? Well, there’s a lot to like here. I love Melissa Sue Anderson, who should’ve made more movies like this. I also love the death sequences. And I really love the end-credits theme song, which features totally bizarre lyrics that rehash the story of the movie and are performed by Motown songstress Syreeta, who was married for a time to Stevie Wonder and had originally been tapped to replace Diana Ross in the Supremes. That this movie has a six-degrees connection to Diana Ross (who is my lifelong obsessions) once again proves that I create the world.

Unfortunately, the running time of this movie is dangerously close to two hours…which, let’s face it, is 40 minutes too long. A lot could have been cut…a WHOLE lot. So I can’t give it a perfect score. But I am glad I own it, especially given that I paid five bucks for it at Wal-Mart, and it has the good cover. Of course, it would have meant a lot more had my brother bought it for me…but, again, that would actually require him to remember that I have a birthday. F*&% you, JM…F%$% YOU!!!!



  1. I think this is a fairly underrated early-era slasher. The death scenes actually are pretty original for the time and that Grand Guginol ending is so over-the-top that it kind of redeems itself (while also making the whole thing feel kind of like a joke being played on us by the director).

    If you cut out all the crap with the "experimental surgery" and the flashbacks (which in the end are just a giant red herring anyways), you probably shave off 20 minutes right there and have a much better movie.

    I'll agree with you on the Melissa Sue Anderson thing, although part of that could be the crush I had on her from her days on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Still, she's alright in this movie.

  2. Love. This. Movie.

    The copy I bought had a "now with the original score fans have DEMANDED" sticker on the front, I wonder how many fans REALLY "demanded" it.

  3. Sounds like some familial issues going on. Jesus JM, hook a brotha up.

  4. I just love it when slasher movies mix genres, but it supernatural as in MADMAN (or THE FOREST that Cavalcade of Perversions recently reviewed, and is now on my TBW list), or mad science, as here. And that batshit ending! I know this isn't the best movie in the world, but it never fails to make me happy, and that's really all I'm looking for.

    And happy new year to the Tower Farm Brothers from your ever-lovin' Vicar!

  5. I see that someone else had the idea of doing this movie on their birthday. Great minds think alike.

    This movie is a bit underrated in a lot of ways, but certainly could be trimmed as well. The ending is pretty underrated as far as bizarre and interesting twists go. Does it make a lot of sense? No, not really.

    Good review,
    Mondo Bizarro

  6. You are a winner!

  7. I don't think I've ever actually seen Happy Birthday To Me. I guess I love Bloody Birthday so much that I never felt the need to find any sort of holiday replacement. Speaking of which, what's the actual date of your big day (since I'm not the only one who doesn't know)?

    And also, I too bestow upon thee an award thing. Grab it here: because you're fabulous.

  8. Look, I am not going to apologize if, on occasion, I may have missed an opportunity to spend MORE money on my brother. Every day is that guy's birthday.


  9. I've got a lovely little award for for your efforts. Come claim it whenever you get the chance.

  10. Thanks to everyone bestowing awards on us. We don't deserve them. Really, we don't. We are complete schlubs who have no idea what we're doing. But...thanks again! We are huge fans of all of you and love reading your stuff.

    On to JM...
    "Every day is that guy's birthday"? Wow, you're a bigger moron than I suspected. Can't you see the heartache I've grown up with, always being in your shadow? You were always the gifted and talented one, and I was the monster baby that Mom and Dad locked in the basement. ALL I'M ASKING FOR is a birthday present, for Christ's sakes! At this point, even your respect would suffice.

    Don't forget, JM: Vinnie Vincent.


  11. happy bday Billy. my birthday's in march and i usually get my sister's gift sometime in july. it's never anything good like a Vinnie V tape but it's the thought that counts i guess.

    i gave you guys an award but it seems you have a few already. either way you guys deserve them all.

    hope you get a Diana Ross door poster for your bday and no heavy weights are dropped on your crotches.

  12. Tower Guys -

    First this review is awesome as always. I do like this film and own it as well, but I always thought it was too long.

    Second, I nominated your blog for a well deserved award. Please pay no attention to the flowers, lol.

    Check it out if you get a chance:

  13. I like this film. Even though it's too long and some of the characters are bland as hell, I think the death scenes are cool, the mystery is pretty neat, and Melissa Sue Anderson is great. A very underrated slasher/psychological thriller type of film. Awesome review as always.

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