Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
WRITERS: John Saxton, Peter Jobin, Timothy Bond
DIRECTOR: J. Lee Thompson
STARRING: Melissa Sue Anderson as Virginia
Glenn Ford as Dr. Faraday
Lawrence Dane as Hal Wainwright
Sharon Acker as Estelle
Tracy Bregman as Ann
Jack Blum as Alfred
Matt Craven as Steve
Lenore Zann as Maggie
David Eisner as Rudi
Michel Rene Labelle as Etienne
Richard Rebiere as Greg
Lesleh Donaldson as Bernadette
Lisa Langlois as Amelia
QUICK CUT: As Virginia's birthday draws near, memories from the accident that took her mother away from her begin to resurface, just in time for her friends to start dropping like flies.
Virginia Wainright - Our star, and she's a little screwed up. She was in an accident years ago, an accident that took her mother and scrambled her brains. She's bounced back though and is one of the privileged elite of the Crawford Academy. She's a quiet, shy type, but with a wild side lurking to get out.
Dr. Faraday - The doctor who helped fix Virginia's brain, and has served as a confidant and friend ever since. He is the closest, truest friend that Virginia has, despite her circle of friends at the academy.
Hal Wainright - Virginia's father, who is often away on business, but does try to find the time for his daughter, especially after his wife's tragic death.
Ann - Virginia's best friend amongst the Crawford Top Ten, and occasional rival for the attentions of the boys.
Rudi - I'd say he's Virginia's wannabe boyfriend, but he wants to be every girl's boyfriend. He's a player, and a prankster.
THE GUTS: Oh, three credited writers is never a good sign.
We jump right into scaresville as the movie trips up Bernadette O'Hara, but it's not a killer after her, she just tripped over a dog's leash. Bernie is a member of the Crawford Top Ten, the elite of the school's senior class. Poor kids need not apply.
After being chastised by the teacher for spending more time with her friends than studying, Bernie heads along her way into the darkness. She reaches her car, and the car reaches for her, as someone in the back seat tries to choke the girl to death.
She manages to briefly escape, but runs right into her pursuer. She recognises them and is relieved to see them, until she sees the straight razor that ends her life. With friends like these, right?
Down at the inn, the rest of the Top Ten are arriving and waiting for Bernadette, and it's gonna be a long wait. One of them sits down and pulls out his pet mouse. Yeah, this is when the health inspector shows up, just you watch.
After pranking the local chapter of the shriners with George the rat in their beer, the kids get thrown out of the pub. They rush to beat the rising drawbridge, and most make it over, one chickens out, and it turns out he was the smart one. The last car zooms over and shows why Speed never would have worked, as his Firebird crashes nose first into the other side of the bridge. They survive, but the car is not in great shape.
Virginia tries to escape the car, which would be smart of it wasn't still moving. Once the dickhole behind the wheel slows down though, she takes off and runs into a field.
Fortunately the field is near her house, she just has to head through a graveyard where her mother is buried. Nothing like keeping family close. Always.
She runs into a creepy fellow student while trimming grass around the graves, and he just seems too creepy to be the killer. And French.
While Virginia argues with her dad about visiting her mother's grave, and wants her to stay away, Etienne prooves just how creepy he is by climbing into Ginny's bedroom window. If her dad didn't want her visiting mom, they shouldn't be next door neighbours to the cemetary.
We then get treated to Ginny wandering her bedroom and getting undressed as every cracked door makes you wonder where the guy is hiding. To add insult to injury, there's a giant musical jump scare when she sees a shadow in the bathroom. You know what's there? Nothing. Not a thing. Not even a shadow casting thing.
The camera finally gets lurky, and things might actually get good, but Ginny thinks she senses something there. When she goes to look, there's nothing, but her reopened bedroom window as Etienne makes his escape. Well, that was a waste of ten minutes.
The next day, the group gets yelled at by the headmistress for their behaviour, and no one knows where Bernadette is. The teacher then takes over his class to teach them all about galvanic nerve responses. They play a prank on him with static electricity, but he turns the tables on the prankster by zapping him back. Which is hilariously rendered with a comical zig zag line scratched into the negative. It's almost cartoonish.
As the teacher makes zappy on some frogs legs, Ginny starts to space out and glow red. Why? I dunno. Well, we go into a flashback so that's part of it, but the glowing red is a bit much.
We flash back to a time just after the accident that killed her mother, and learn that Ginny's brain got scrambled in the process, but rebuilt itself. Which is good, because she wouldn't be a great character drooling into a cup.
With the memories dredged up, Ginny visits Dr. Faraday, and learns that she was subjected to experiments. A scientist learned that when a salamander regrew its tail, it created an electric field. He learned how to replicate the field and cause healing in humans, which is what they did to Ginny's brain to rebuild it.
In a comic book, that would have turned Ginny into Salamander Girl, not given her a functioning brain. Well, maybe both, but that's a superhero origin if ever I saw one.
The movie wastes more time with a dirt bike race, but at least Ginny learns that Etienne was in her room and swiped a pair of panties at the time. Can we get more killing done?
Oh hey, ask and ye shall receive. That night, Etienne is working on his bike, and someone very slowly creeps up on him while he remains totally oblivious, engrossed in his work. This is a wonderfully done scene. The pacing is spot on perfect. You know exactly what's going to happen, it's just a matter of when, and you creep slowly forward on your chair in dread anticipation.
And the movie does not disappoint, as the killer tosses Etienne's scarf right into the spinning tire.
The rest of the gang are celebrating Dead Frenchman's victory, and wondering where ratboy is, making him the obvious candidate for the killer. Especially given the dirty looks he gave Etienne when he found out about Etienne's thievery of Ginny's underwear. But we all know what that means, don't we?
Ginny and Ann decide to go check on Alfred, which somehow translates to breaking into his taxidermy workshop, which naturally has creepy and weird things in there, involved in stuffing animals. And some human life casts, but hey, he's a weird guy.
They get curious about one particular covered up mass, and pull back the sheet to reveal Bernadette's severed head. Hmm, I may be wrong on Alfred's innocence, but the movie's not even half done yet, so probably not.
Alfred arrives and my fears are allayed, as we learn the head is actually cast from Bernie's head, and not her real severed head. Well, he has a future making horror movies, at least. Is Tom Savini hiring?
The rest of the Top Ten, er Eight head out to a movie, but forget to invite Rudi along. They get into a dust up afterwards, and he drives off angrily.
So that leads us to Greg's house with the insinuation that Rudi is coming after him for getting in the way of the fight outside the movie.
He's busy working out and recognises the killer, asking them to slap some more weights on his barbell. They oblige, and increase the weight beyond what he asked for, leading to Greg getting crushed.
After Rudi wins a soccer game for the school, he asks Ginny out, and the girl who likes him shoots dirty looks at him. Gee, I wonder who the next victim will be? I'd love it if this was one of those instances where everyone is guilty, having killed one or two people each.
He meets Ginny at the chapel, which is creepy and abandoned, so the perfect place for a date! Err, wait...
Rudy suddenly goes nutty for no particular reason, whips out his knife and creeps after Virginia in the belltower. Well, this took an odd turn.
We never see what happens, just a puddle of blood on the church floor, and then Ginny running through a hospital, seemingly ok.
The blood and the visit lead Virginia to have more flashbacks, and she visits Doctor Faraday again. So he looks into Rudi's disappearance himself but doesn't really get anywhere, since he's no trained officer.
Good thing that real police are there, questioning students about the disappearance, and everyone goes rushing outside once some scarves are discovered buried in the flowers, We saw Rudi planting them earlier for his garden, but when his body falls from the sky in front of Ginny, literally! we can be sure he's likely not the killer.
Turns out Rudi was playing a prank on Ginny, and not really dead. Nothing actually happened in the belltower, aside from Rudy cutting the rope and his hand all on his own. So, more wasted time, and an interesting but forced plot twist by making us think Rudi was dead, when people involved would have known otherwise.
The police find a skeleton, but the fake out time wasting continues, as they find a stamp for the science department on the back of the head. So, Rudi nervously buried a skeleton, with scarves, and kept it secret? That's a rather odd prank. Ha ha, I am so clever to prank people to not see a skeleton!
Since everything is ok, the gang goes out and parties in the basement and has some pot. Well, things are ok except for all their missing friends, but who cares about them, right?
Ginny sees a body floating in the pool next to them through a window, freaks out and runs away, but...oh wait, it was another silly fake out and the girl swims back up smiling. She was pretending to be dead for no particular reason, just like everyone else in this movie!
She freaks out before the girl reveals herself to be alive, and Ginny drives off home, distraught and flashing back again. She heads to her mother's grave next door, and creepy Alfred the taxidermist sneaks up on her. Because sneaking up on people in graveyards is a great idea for your long term survival.
Yeah, that goes about as well as I figured when Ginny gets spooked and stabs him in the gut with the garden shears she used earlier in the movie. Credit for setting that up, at least.
Her father gets called away, but promises to be back for her birthday. He urges Ginny to call up a friend to keep her company while he's gone. Not a bad idea, except they're all dead!
The Surviving Six go out to a club, which in the 80s meant music you could hear and slow dance to, apparently. They swap partners all around, and Ginny and Steve sneak off for some alone time, even if it seems like they're supposed to be dating other people. The group is just that close.
So back at Ginny's place, they're making out and munching on shish-ke-bab, when Ginny randomly decides to stab the skewer through the back of Steve's head. Ok, I guess we've gone and revealed our killer, then? We've still got 35 minutes to go here. Alfred could have easily been an accident, but that was deliberate. I'm honestly not sure what to make of the reveal being handled so nonchalantly.
Ann arrives the next day and wakes Ginny up, but she has no recollection of what happened last night. I'm sure once Ann comes in, there won't be any trace of the skewering. Ginny's been very thorough in cleaning up.
In the shower, Ginny has another flashback, this time finally showing us the accident that scrambled her brains and killed her mother. Turns out on a rainy night, her mother stopped the car right in the middle of the drawbridge as it was coming up, and the car fell to the waters below. Ginny escaped, but her mother was stuck and drowned.
Although if Ginny got out, that does raise the question of how her brains got scrambled.
Seriously, the movie literally killed Ann off screen while we were watching Ginny's mother drown.
Faraday shows up while Ginny's screaming about her dead friend, and he drags her up to the shower, revealing that there's nothing there. Oh...kay. Well, now I'm confused.
Like we're stuck in a Highlander episode, there's even more flashbacks, as Virginia remembers a past birthday party that all her missing friends were supposed to come to. Instead, they went to a party at Ann's, because back then, they didn't really know who Virginia was.
So Anne's mother does the sensible thing and takes her daughter to Ann's house to crash their party. There's even more details piled on top of that, but the movie doesn't really make much of them. The short thing is, because her future friends weren't at her party, Ginny's mom drove out in the rain, got stuck on the bridge, died, and now those people who are in a very roundabout way responsible for her mother's death, are now missing.
Which leads us to someone, maybe Virginia, maybe not, grabbing a fireplace poker and bashing in Faraday's skull. Which immediately breaks the pattern of who's dying and why, but I guess he knew too much?
Surprisingly, her father returns home, actually keeping his promise to come back for her birthday. He's late, but hey, he's actually there. Just as surprisingly, he actually sees the bloodbath upstairs, so maybe someone actually did die this time.
He rushes out into the rain to try and find his missing daughter, and he thinks he does, but it's actually just one of her friends. She's standing in the utter downpour, holding a present for Virginia and staring off into the distance. Um, ok, that's weird?
Next he stumbles upon an unearthed coffin, with a giant mound of dirt around it. Ginny's been busy. Hal makes his way to the boathouse where Ginny was abandoned so many years ago, and arrives to the party.
No surprise that everyone is there, very dead, including Ginny's dead mother, and Virginia herself, carrying a flaming cake and singing Happy Birthday.
Hal, when the crazy girl with the knife asks if you want cake, YOU SAY YES!
Ginny seems pleased her father kept his promise, and he might just live, until she randomly shouts out bastard and slashes his throat for no real reason. Aside from his not being there years ago, which makes about as much sense as anything else.
She starts taking off Ann's clothes to reveal a party dress, and she doesn't seem to be dead yet, and...wait, did she just call Ann sister?? Oh, OH! Ann's father had a thing with Virginia's mom, and oh man, that is one insane case of sibling rivalry.
No wait, that's not Anne, that's Ginny...now I"m *really* confused. There's two Virginias?? Until one pulls a mask off the other crazy one, and we learn the fake Ginny did all this, and regular Ginny is just normal and thinks she's crazy and WHAT IS GOING ON?
So, wait, ok. ANN has been doing the killing, and heehee, hilarious montage of every time she's knocked out Ginny during the movie to take her place and kill in her stead. Shot after shot of Virginia's mouth being chlorophormed, and yelping. I can't help but giggle.
Ann walked like Virginia, talked like her, acted like her, had masks made up...did I just step into Popcorn 2?
But the part about them being sisters was right though, and Anne's mother leaving her father over it is why she's going around making her sister's life hell.
Ann makes a wild attempt to stab Ginny, but gets the knife in her belly instead. Just in time for police to arrive and see Virgina kill Anne and all the dead bodies. Oops.
Video: Pretty decent video. The transfer is sharp, colours are bright in the day, and the shadows don't overtake the dark. Even in the dark, it's easy to see what is what.
Audio: Another good mix. The sound is solid, the music is atmospheric, and the sound is immersive.
First Kill: Six minutes in, Bernadette gets strangled and slashed.
Best Kill: I'm rather partial to Etienne's face getting dragged into the motorbike's tire.
Quotable: "I make real good midnight snacks." This must be the strangest pick up line I've ever heard, but it gets Steve over to Virginia's house, so who knows?
Blood Type - B+: Some good bits of blood, some very creative deaths, but room for improvement.
Sex Appeal: There's the occasional bit of flesh, but nothing to get excited over.
Movie Rating: There was a lot of promise to Happy Birthday to Me. The plot for most of the movie is solid. The acting is actually quite good, especially for the mostly young cast. Dr. Faraday is a great role, striking a perfect balance between adult and friend to Ginny. It's well shot and directed, and this is one of the strongest movies to come around, as it almost qualifies to be a real movie, and not some piece of half-assed fluff. But man, that ending just through the entire train off the tracks. There's stories that they came up with the ending last minute, and it shows. The movie takes a sharp left turn and becomes a garbled mess with way too many twists, too quickly. But most of the movie is pretty solid, so it still pulls out a three out of five scarves.
Entertainment Value: The movie wastes a lot of time. There are fake scares, fake deaths, pointless red herrings that aren't even that entertaining. All of this makes me feel like I'm being toyed with, and not in a good, fun way. The deaths are actually good though, and creative, and the movie is mostly good to sit and watch. And that ending could have you sitting around and discussing this movie with friends for a long time to come. A matching three out of five buried skulls.