Horror Movie Review: Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

One of the unprosecuted video nasties, Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 horror directed by J. Lee Thompson. What begins as a run of the mill slasher takes turn after turn, twist after twist to the point of absurdity but entertaining, none the less.

The plot surrounds Virginia ‘Ginny’ Wainwright and her high school clique, ‘Top Ten’. A group of privileged, popular and obnoxious students.

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The movie opens with one of the group being attacked by an unseen assailant who kills her by slashing her neck with a razor. After she fails to show up at the pub the group meet in, they head off and play chicken with a rising drawbridge. The car that Ginny is in doesn’t quite make it though and crashes.

This accident saw Ginny have to go through an experimental brain tissue restoration procedure and now trying to get her life back on track she is plagued by repressed memories.

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Soon, the rest of the Top Ten begin to get killed off in violent and gory fashion. All signs seem to point to Ginny and she even begins to wonder if she is responsible during her many blackouts.

The truth though, is far darker and more horrible then she could imagine and the answers lie in her memories.

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While Happy Birthday to Me lacks originality, it deserves praise for the way in which its story is told. It is often not that clear just what is real and what isn’t. Are we all just part of Ginny’s fevered dreams? Melissa Sue Anderson does a very good job in the lead role, the only character that has more definition to her.

The rest are a bunch are slasher regulars who annoy and their elite status makes them wholly unlikable. In fact, a few of the ‘boys’ are down-right vile. They serve their purpose though which is to be killed off. One gets his scarf thrown into a speeding wheel of a motorcycle which is nice and messy and another gets crushed under weights. It’s gleefully fun and the effects are pretty good.

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Happy Birthday to Me keeps you guessing right up until the very end and the payoff is worth it. The image of all the murdered victims sitting around a table is impressive and as the story plays out you’ll find yourself nodding along in approval.

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It has its flaws. It’s contrived at times, far too familiar to many other slashers in the genre and its attempts to distract you from just who the killer is are obvious and forced. Small complaints though in an entertaining horror.

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Happy Birthday to Me
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