Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
By: Devon B. on June 8, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Columbia Pictures (Australia). Region 2,4 & 5, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono German DD 2.0 Mono English, German, Czech, Danish, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Turkish Subtitles. 106 minutes
The Movie
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Tracy Bregman
Screenplay: John Saxton, Peter Jobin, Timothy Bond
Country: USA
In the US, Happy Birthday to Me was released on DVD with a crappy picture of a girl with glowing eyes holding a birthday cake on the front cover. This is an utter travesty, because I know the reason I first checked out this movie was the original cover: An image of a young man about to have his tonsils added to a shish-ka-bob. Thankfully, the R4 release restores the original image, but I recall the tagline being something more like 'Six of the most bizarre deaths you'll ever see,' not 'It'll be a killer party!'

Also on the R4 cover is a blurb from Brian Saltzman, from amazon.com. My first thought was, 'Oh, for fuck's sake, they did NOT grab a quote from an Amazon customer for their sleeve, did they?' The actual disc contained no answers, so I had to do some research. No, the quote doesn't come from some schlep who wrote a review about a product on the website, it's Amazon's official promotion review. I'm still not sure that I agree with using this as a blurb, given that Columbia are essentially quoting an add for the film, but whatever. It was good I did the research, though, because I also learned that Happy Birthday to Me has suffered a fate similar to The Abominable Dr. Phibes and, perhaps even more sadly, MTV's The Real World, and been re-scored due to music clearance issues. I confess I didn't notice this myself, but I only saw the film once in the late 80s, so big time fans take heed (or indeed those who've just seen the film twice).

Happy Birthday to Me is the story of a troubled young girl (played by Melissa Sue Anderson in an escape from the Prairie) who has undergone treatment for memory loss and blackouts. The DVD sleeve says she's a high school senior (equivalent to a year 12), but she, and her friends, all look a bit old for that. Speaking of her friends, they keep dying. Or do they? It's a mystery! Bodies don't turn up, but people are definitely missing. I guess it's pretty clear that at least one of them dies, because you see him getting shishy with it on the cover, although the photo is not an entirely accurate representation of what happens in the movie.

Okay, so plot isn't Happy Birthday to Me's strong point. In fact, it has no real strengths. However, it is an 80s slasher, and I have a soft spot for them, so I enjoyed it. The viewer is treated to a hefty offering of stereotypical 80s youth, silly plot devices, and a downright cluttered ending. You've seen it all before, you've even seen it done better, but here it is done again.

Now, as for those aforementioned bizarre deaths, really most aren't that odd at all. And, let's be honest, shish-ka-bobbing isn't really that bizarre, it's just a variation on the standard stabbing. There is supposedly some extra gore footage that was shot, but as of yet has not been restored, so maybe the additional blood makes the movie's deaths really odd.
Happy Birthday to Me is presented at 1.85:1 in a very nice 16x9-enhanced print. The video transfer is quite sharp and mostly free of grain, with only minor speckling.
The audio is presented in English or German mono. Normally I don't mind the original mono tracks being used for a DVD, but this clearly isn't the original mono track, since the score's been redone. If the music needed changing, why not also give this a stereo mix? Oddly, the German language track appears to have the original score, so if you want to hear the original music, I suppose you could watch the film in German with English subtitles.
Extra Features
Well, we do get the original art…and for those who still buy the trailers as extras there are ads for Hellboy, Gothika, and Secret Window.
The Verdict
Happy Birthday to Me is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine, and does feature a plot device that may have inspired sections of the Tom Cruise version of Mission: Impossible. I have no justification for liking Happy Birthday to Me, but I do. Although this is obviously not a definitive release of the film, it does retail for under $15, and it might be awhile before we see it with the original music and any real extras.
Movie Score
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