Happy Birthday to Me Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Mill Creek Entertainment
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by John Saxton, Peter Jobin and Timothy Bond
1981 111 minutes, Rated R
Released on January 15th, 2019
Melissa Sue Anderson as Virginia Wainwright
Glenn Ford as Dr. David Faraday
Lawrence Dane as Hal Wainwright
Tracey Bregman as Ann Thomerson
Jack Blum as Alfred Morris
Matt Craven as Steve Maxwell
Lenore Zann as Maggie
Lisa Langlois as Amelia
David Eisner as Rudi
Virginia Wainwright is one of the elite at Crawford Academy, one of the self-proclaimed “Top Ten”. She and her friends are smart, outgoing, attractive, wealthy and popular. Someone holds a grudge against the group and begins killing them off one by one. The question becomes is it an outsider jealous of their success, or possibly an authority figure lashing out at their sense of entitlement, or is it one of their own with a personal axe to grind? The group remains largely clueless as their members go missing, but with each kill the murderer gets braver and more creative with the bloodshed. This weekend marks Virginia’s eighteenth birthday, but she and her friends may not be around to celebrate.
By 1981, the slasher film was in full bloom and showing little signs of slowing down. Following the breakout success of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), countless imitators flooded the box office with surprising regularity. Studios cranked these titles out at a rapid pace and almost none lost money. There was a pattern they all followed in which an unseen, usually masked killer stalks a group of attractive teenagers and murders them until facing off against the Final Girl. Many of the plots revolved around a specific event or holiday and all seemed to share the belief that bad behavior is grounds for murder.
Happy Birthday to Me is one of the more accomplished offerings in the subgenre, with a higher budget and more polished appearance than the average slasher. Veteran director J. Lee Thompson (10 to Midnight) elevates the material with inspired camera work, steady pacing and strong performances. Co-written by John Saxton (Class of 1984) and from the producers of My Bloody Valentine (1981), the picture comes with a healthy pedigree. The cast features seasoned actor Glenn Ford (3:10 to Yuma) as a concerned psychotherapist and Melissa Sue Anderson (Little House on the Prairie) as his patient and Final Girl, Virginia Wainwright. Ford fills a supporting role and is briefly considered a suspect, but it is Anderson who carries the picture.
In an unconventional twist, the killer’s identity is revealed about halfway through the picture. The question then switches to why the murders are happening, but there is a surprise twist ending that throws everything into doubt. The finale is popular among horror fans, as it delivers an iconic scene that is deeply macabre and twisted. A last minute switcheroo serves to confuse a perfectly rational conclusion and has left a bad taste in some mouths. Taking a page from Scooby Doo, the killer is unmasked in the most dramatic fashion, leading to a cruel twist of fate for our heroine. The rest of the movie goes so far over the top at times that I believe the twist is in line with what has come before and was never bothered by it.
Happy Birthday to Me has a slightly bloated running time that approaches the two-hour mark, but the extra padding allows the mystery to go a little deeper. The film is loaded with red herrings, with every character given at least one opportunity to act oddly and throw suspicion their way. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, as many went on to be successful character actors. Two standouts include Matt Craven (Jacob’s Ladder) and Lisa Langlois (Deadly Eyes, The Nest) as potential victims. The film came with iconic poster art (replicated for home video) and a tagline promising “six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.” It is a crime that this title has never received a proper special edition, but until that time comes, it will remain a birthday wish for a lot of fans.
Video and Audio:
Happy Birthday to Me was previously released in 2013 by Mill Creek as a double feature with When a Stranger Calls. This appears to be the same solid transfer and it continues to impress. The original 1.85:1 aspect ratio contains a lot of fine detail and strong colors. Black levels are rich and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is equally impressive and offers clean and clear dialogue levels well-balanced with music and effects cues.
There are no subtitles on this disc.
There are no special features on this disc, not even a menu. The one treat collectors get is some sweet retro-VHS packaging that reproduces the look of a videotape.
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