Horror Review: Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

At the snobby Crawford Academy, Virginia’s group of friends start to go missing years after horrible events that happened to her as a child around her birthday.

Slasher films has always been my favourite sub-genre, it’s because of films like this that it always will be.

When I started delving into the Horror genre I devoured films like these and some have been forgotten over time, some, like this, have stayed with me ever since and for good reason.
The film has the usual gore you’d expect from a slasher but it’s used so well and the story is built and our patience is rewarded with such a great ending that it still makes me smile when I think about it now.
The film was submitted to the MPAA numerous times only to keep getting slapped with an X rating due to the gruesome murders.The film finally got an R rating after major cuts. There are some rare prints circulating on the Internet that have the complete and uncut murder sequences. Unfortunately the film has also been heavily cut in the UK as to allow for a 15 certificate.
Many fans were upset with the 2004 DVD release because, not only did it have a completely different cover to that of the infamous poster, it featured a disco score in place of the atmospheric piano piece that originally played over the opening credits. In 2009, Anchor Bay/Starz Home Entertainment re-released the DVD using the original poster as the cover and restoring the original music over the opening sequence.

“Happy Birthday To Me” is an 80’s cult classic that deserves more credit than it gets, I highly recommend it.

If you want to see the “Happy Birthday To Me” trailer then just click on the video below:


Miscellaneous facts about the film:

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 one ending that made sense to the story, 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.

Most ads and posters for film carried a photo of a young man about to be orally impaled with a skewer of meat and vegetables, with the slogan “John will never eat shish kebab again”. However, there is no character in the movie with this name. It is most likely a reference to the producer, John C. Saxon

This is the only slasher film that J. Lee Thompson directed though he did direct a number of 18+ certificate rated pictures. Thompson did direct two other films in the horror genre, they being Eye of the Devil (1966) and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975).

For a short time, this was the highest ever grossing Canadian film until Bob Clark’s Porky’s (1981) came along the next year in 1982.

The brain surgery operation was performed by a real neurosurgeon but on a fake special effects manufactured dummy brain.

Many movie posters featured a long blurb that read: “John will never eat shish kebab again. Steven will never ride a motorcycle again. Greg will never lift weights again. Who’s killing Crawford High’s snobbish top ten? At the rate they’re going, there will be no one left for Virginia’s birthday party… alive. Happy Birthday to Me. Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.”.

Many movie posters utilized a marketing gimmick that had been used for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). They featured a warning that read: “Because of the bizarre nature of the party, no one will be seated during the last ten minutes… Pray you’re not invited.”.

Part of a 1980s cycle of slasher films with titles and subjects based around commemorative days and events that got made after the box-office success of Halloween (1978). The movies include that film’s sequels, Prom Night (1980), Graduation Day (1981), My Bloody Valentine (1981) for Valentine’s Day, the spoof Saturday the 14th (1981), The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), April Fool’s Day (1986), and Friday the 13th (1980) and its sequels.

Lisa Langlois auditioned for the part of Ann with the role instead going to Tracey E. Bregman with Langlois instead cast as Amelia.

Theatrical feature film debut of actress Tracey E. Bregman.

According to an interview with producer John Dunning at “The Terror Trap”, expert Thomas R. Burman and director J. Lee Thompson were “splashing fake blood all over the place” on the set. Dunning said: “The cameraman came to me and said, “John, you’ve gotta slow J. Lee down. He’s throwing too much blood around, and the camera lenses are always covered in it!”. He’d take a bucket of blood and whip it around. I had to go to him and tell him to tone it down so we could clean up the crew”. In an interview with actress Lisa Langlois also at “The Terror Trap”, Langlois said: “That’s something he [J. Lee Thompson] was very famous for on that set, slinging lots of fake blood all around!”.

Glenn Ford and assistant director Charles Braive were involved in a dispute on set where the actor allegedly hit the AD. In an interview with “The Terror Trap”, producer John Dunning said: “He hit our AD who had called a lunch break in the middle of one of Glenn’s scenes. I had to stop the police from arresting him. It was a mess. Glenn wouldn’t come out of his dressing room until the first AD apologized, who said he would never apologize to Glenn. But I told him that this might be the end of his career as an AD if he didn’t. So, he went and said he was sorry… and Glenn said he was sorry. They kissed and made up. As far as I know, Glenn never hit anybody else.”.

The film’s title logo in promotional materials formed a candle out of the letter “i” and a dagger out of the letter “t” in the word “to” in the movie’s title “Happy Birthday to Me”.

No official soundtrack was ever manufactured for the movie.

Reportedly, actor Glenn Ford was heavily drinking during the production of this picture.

One of two 1981 slasher movies made by producers André Link and John Dunning first released in that year. The other movie was My Bloody Valentine (1981).

Tracey E. Bregman (as Tracy Bregman) received an “introducing” credit.

This was the second picture in recent years distributed by the Columbia Pictures studio to show brain surgery as Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight (1973) had done this eight years earlier in 1973.

Thomas R. Burman replaced Stephan Dupuis as special makeup effects artist.

This film was the last movie that director J. Lee Thompson made before the start of his long association with Cannon Films and Golan-Globus Productions, starting with 10 to Midnight (1983), which would see out the remaining of his career, with only one other picture, The Evil That Men Do (1984), being made outside of this production house.

The nickname of Harold Wainwright (Lawrence Dane) was “Hal” whilst the nickname of Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) was “Ginny”.

The name of the educational institution was the “Crawford Academy”.

The name of the elite clique was “The Top Ten”.

Star Billing; Melissa Sue Anderson (1st), Glenn Ford (2nd), Lawrence Dane (3rd), Sharon Acker (4th) and Frances Hyland (5th).

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