Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

happy birthday to me

“You’d be proud of me now, mother. All the kids like me.”

The Scoop: 1981, R.  Directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, and Matt Craven

Tagline: R.S.V.P. or die!

Summary Capsule: Newly popular girl suffers from blackouts whilst her friends start dying off in bizarre ways. Coincidence? Methinks not.


Courtney’s rating: 2 out of 5 shish kebobs I won’t be eating.

Courtney’s Rreview: It’s actually been a couple months since I watched Happy Birthday to Me, but it did make quite the impression. I was having some tough times at school and came home for a weekend while it was free on FEARnet, and my dear mother, who saw it in theaters when it first came out, convinced me it was a worthwhile watch.

She is a cruel woman at times.

Back to the movie itself: the plot centers around Ginny, a high school senior who is evidently the newset member of her prep school’s Top Ten, a group of the smartest and most popular kids. In a short period of time, some other Top Tens are killed off by a mysterious figure in leather gloves. Ginny herself finds that she is suffering from a series of intense blackouts, and flashbacks reveal the traumatic car accident that killed her mother and left her brain damaged. Is it possible that Ginny is the one committing the murders? …Well, yeah, of course it is.

It’s really a pretty good starting off point for a story. I saw potential; it would be a refreshing break from slasher flicks with ironically predictable twist endings. But apparently the producers wanted a twist, so they decided to force one in when they should have left well enough alone. The result: I won’t spoil it for everyone, but I will say that it involves a surprisingly life-like rubber mask and begs for a lot of suspension of belief on the audience’s part. It’s just really, really bad. Like, to the point where it makes less sense than An Andalusian Dog. But, in fairness, it is the ending that made this movie memorable to me, so maybe it did provide some sort of function.

I do want to make a comment on the cinematography because it did really annoy me, and it’s something I notice a lot in movies that try too hard to be gloomy. The lighting is far too dark. I guess it’s meant to set moods and stuff like that, but it’s hard to see some of the action. Shadows can be very expressive but the point’s kinda moot when there’s more shadow than light throughout the movie. The filmmakers probably should have studied Hitchcock a little harder if they wanted to figure out a great way to create subtle moods. Fortunately for Happy Birthday, people don’t watch horror flicks for technical aspects — they watch them for the gore.

I guess Happy Birthday really wanted to set itself apart from other slasher flicks with gruesome death scenes, but it doesn’t really hold up that well today.  Is it a sad commentary on modern culture that I’m so desensitized to gore and violence that Happy Birthday didn’t have the intended effect on me? In this world of Saw-esque torture porn and death trap flicks like Final Destination, I wasn’t very impressed by the implication of mutilation. (Heh, that rhymed a little. I like it. Points to me.)

But the death scenes are pretty creative; you definitely won’t want to eat shish kebob or lift weights for some time after seeing it. And even if they aren’t so scary, they’re really, really funny.

All in all, I guess Happy Birthday to Me would have been pretty revolutionary for its time, but it doesn’t stand the test of time. It’s very hard to take it seriously with its numerous implausibilities, and it won’t do much to shake horror-philes who’ve made it through torture porn flicks hungry for more. Nowadays, its true value is really in the unintended humor. Be sure to watch it with some friends who enjoy a good comedy!

"Fire up the grill, honey!"


  • The film was submitted to the MPAA several times, only to receive an X rating due to the gruesome murders. Several bits had to ultimately be trimmed for an R rating.
  • The Press reported that in order to keep the “twist” ending a secret several endings were shot. This is untrue but helped hide the fact that while shooting, the film had no ending. The script was written with an ending that made sense to the stroy, but did not have a twist. So producers proceeded to film while tinkering with a twist. This explains why there is no build up to the ending.
  • When certain cast members were stuck in their gore make-up for numerous hours, they decided to walk around the neighborhood scaring the wits out of people.

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