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  Happy Birthday to Me This Takes The Cake
Year: 1981
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker, Frances Hyland, Tracey E. Bregman, Jack Blum, Matt Craven, Lenore Zann, David Eisner, Lisa Langlois, Michel-René Labelle, Richard Rebiere, Lesleh Donaldson, Earl Pennington, Murray Westgate
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: College student Bernadette (Lesleh Donaldson) is jogging through the campus night to get to her friends in the local tavern when she is tripped by a lead; it's one of the teachers, Mrs Patterson (Frances Hyland), walking her dog and she tells off Bernadette for being out so late and not taking her studies seriously. The student makes her excuses and continues, but when she gets to her car she has a nasty surprise coming because there's someone hiding in the back seat, someone who grabs her around the neck and tries to strangle her. Bernadette manages to get away - but not for long...

Happy Birthday to Me, for the most part, travels a road that even by 1981 was a well-worn one, as it was part of the original cycle of slasher movies that flooded the screens of the world's cinemas during the late seventies and early eighties. However, when you know that it was filmed without an ending being decided upon, you may find hints that this was to climax in a sequence of outright ludicrousness, for nobody could take seriously the hasty resolution of the plot threads that is on offer here. Which naturally makes it all the more worth waiting for.

Another point of interest is that this was the film that Melissa Sue Anderson, playing the lead, chose to do after it became clear her time on popular and sentimental television series The Little House on the Prairie would soon be over. I don't know whether she thought she could become the next Jamie Lee Curtis with this career choice, but, well, she was not and the film remains an odd footnote in the careers of those involved. A Canadian production, it also secured the services of fading star Glenn Ford as the doctor who took care of Anderson's Melissa through a difficult time.

That being the struggling with guilt over the death of her mother in a car crash which Virginia barely survived and the subsequent brain operations which may have been pioneering, but leave the poor girl suffering flashbacks at the drop of a hat, either to her surgery or dear old mom, who on this evidence was the world's most embarrassing mother. She only wanted the best for Ginny, which in practice meant drinking to excess when she and her offspring could not climb the social ladder and mix with the rich. But now Ginny is accepted among their number, so what's the problem - could it be a grudge-induced psychosis?

Predictably, the cast begin dropping like flies, but their bodies remain mysteriously undiscovered, so nobody is aware what has happened to them. Apart from us in the audience that is, who get to see the throat slicings and unfortunate interfaces with running machinery that bump them off. But even then there are red herrings, so we're not sure until the halfway mark who is committing the killings, especially as it seems to be a different culprit every time. Ginny is our main suspect nevertheless, and when we see her push a kebab down some hapless would-be boyfriend's gullet it would appear we have our killer. You would be reckoning without the most preposterous ending in slasher fiction, however, a hilarious sucession of audience double crosses that make no real sense, but are good for laughs. For that reason Happy Birthday to Me is still recalled with, well, maybe not affection, perhaps disbelief would be appropriate. Music by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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J. Lee Thompson  (1914 - 2002)

Veteran British director frequently in Hollywood, usually with stories featuring an adventure or thriller slant. Among his many films, including a number of Charles Bronson movies, are capital punishment drama Yield to the Night, adventures Ice Cold in Alex and North West Frontier, the original Cape Fear, Tiger Bay, wartime epic The Guns of Navarone, What a Way To Go!, horror Eye of the Devil, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes and slasher Happy Birthday to Me.

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