When it comes to ’80s Canadian slashers, Happy Birthday to Me is often overlooked by Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) and My Bloody Valentine (1981). While Happy Birthday to Me isn’t as flawless, the film is a classic and deserves to be on the same level as those other Canadian gems.
Released 40 years ago on May 15, 1981, Happy Birthday to Me is directed by J. Lee Thompson (10 to Midnight, Murphy’s Law) written by John Saxton (Class of 1984), Peter Jobin (Friday the 13th: The Series), and Timothy Bond (Till Death Do Us Part) and produced by John Dunning (My Bloody Valentine). The special effects were done by Tom Burman (My Bloody Valentine, The Goonies). The film stars: Melissa Sue Anderson (Little House on the Prairie, Midnight Offerings) as Virginia Wainwright, Glenn Ford (Superman, The Disappearance of Flight 412) as Dr. David Faraday, Lawrence Dane (Scanners) as Hal Wainwright, Sharon Acker (Point Blank) as Estelle Wainwright, Frances Hyland (The Changeling) as Mrs. Patterson, Jack Blum (Meatballs) as Alfred Morris, Matt Craven (Jacob’s Ladder) as Steve Maxwell, Lenore Zann (Visiting Hours) as Maggie, David Eisner (Taking Lives) as Rudi, Lisa Langlois (Class of 1984) as Amelia, Michel-Rene Labelle (Fantastica) as Etienne Vercures, Lesleh Donaldson (Curtains, Funeral Home) as Bernadette O’Hara, and Richard Rebiere (Visiting Hours) as Greg Hellman.
Virginia Wainwright is a young woman who has returned to private school after surviving a horrible accident and brain surgery. She belongs to the Top Ten–the school’s inner circle of top students. What should be a normal school year turns into a terrifying turn, when one by one Virginia’s friends begin getting murdered. Soon, there will be no one left to attend Virginia’s 18th Birthday party.
Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Sue Anderson On Slice-N-Dice Slashers
In interviews with Melissa Sue Anderson about her involvement with Happy Birthday to Me, she has stated that it was a relief to get chased around by a maniac with a machete after playing Mary on Little House on the Prairie. You almost get a sense that landing a role in a slasher movie was a bit of freedom for Anderson. I can imagine being on the set of Little House on the Prairie for several years and having to wear itchy dresses got annoying after awhile. Plus, she had to play a pretty straight-laced character in Mary.
According to other cast members, Melissa Sue Anderson had a blast on the set of Happy Birthday to Me. Several actors said that she was cool, down-to-earth, got drunk, and smoked cigarettes. I’m sure being as young as she was, Happy Birthday To Me probably seemed like a huge party compared to working on her last job.
What I admire about the actress is that she has never shied away from her involvement in Happy Birthday To Me. In fact, almost every time she is asked about it, she never seems embarrassed but will talk about it in positive terms.
What Makes Happy Birthday to Me So Memorable
The characters, the kill scenes, and the zany Scooby-Doo ending is what make me a fan of the film. Almost all of the characters are individualistic, and for the most part, are likeable. These characters aren’t flawless by any means, but they are not so despicable that they are annoying. The characters in Happy Birthday To Me remind me of the ones in My Bloody Valentine in that both sets are from small towns and are normal kids.
When the film came out, the movie poster said, “Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.” Um, not really. Don’t get me wrong. I love the kill scenes, but the movie failed to deliver because there is nothing bizarre or innovative in the kill scenes. Honestly, they are rather normal deaths in a slasher movie. This isn’t a subtraction from the film. The kill scenes may be predictable, but Tom Burman does such a great job on them that they seem to be elevated in the film. Believe me, if the special effects didn’t look good in Happy Birthday To Me, we wouldn’t even be talking about this movie forty years later.
My favorite scene in the entire movie is the last one, what a lot of people call the Scooby-Doo ending. I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say the killer has a mask on and is unveiled in much in the same way as a Scooby-Doo episode. A lot of people criticize Happy Birthday To Me for the ending, but in my opinion, it’s what makes the movie. That final scene is just so insane and deranged. It has to be seen to be believed!
The Critical Response to Happy Birthday To Me
As with most slashers from the eighties, the movie critics hated Happy Birthday To Me. Most of them said the movie was too long, that Director J. Lee Thompson had no directorial style, and that the actors and actresses were flat. Other critics detested the kill scenes, which is to be expected.
While I don’t agree with the critics in regards to the director’s style or how bad the acting was, I will agree that Happy Birthday To Me is way too long. Perhaps if the overall plot wasn’t so confusing and had been more simplistic, then maybe a longer running time would suffice. Unfortunately at 111 minute, the film is just too long.
Happy Birthday To Me didn’t do very well at the box office, but over time, the film has garnered quite a fanbase, myself included. The movie is a constant point of debate among fans as to whether it’s a good slasher or not. I think it’s better than good. I think the movie definitely has reached classic slasher status right along with Black Christmas and My Bloody Valentine.