A pretty beefy 80s slasher flick, at least as far as running time is concerned. At 110 minutes it’s certainly one of the longest hack and slash movies I’ve seen but it paces itself out nicely for the most part. Often seen as a sister film to My Bloody Valentine as both are Canadian productions made by the same team, Happy Birthday to Me isn’t as distinctive or unique as its relative but does have some fun selling points of its own.
Directed by J. Lee Thomspon (Cape Fear, Guns of the Navarone), the film feels more prestigious than most films of this ilk and is told on a bigger canvas which accommodates much of the supporting players and locations. It doesn’t feel throwaway like a lot of slasher movies do. When you sit down to watch Happy Birthday to Me, you’re definitely settling in for something substantial. The presence of actors like Glenn Ford and Frances Hyland adds a bit of semi-cinema royalty to the proceedings too which offsets the young ensemble of unknowns. There are some fun kills (look at that kebab on the poster) and the reveal of the killer is so surprisingly illogical and dumb that it’s actually kind of brilliant.
It strictly adheres to the traditional slasher format though and the extended length isn’t the best fit for something so familiar. There’s a mid-section sag that could have been tightened up but the film’s “final girl”, played by Melissa Sue Anderson of Little House on the Prairie fame, is likeable and unusual enough to sustain the audience’s attention. The final scene is a doozy so it all goes out on a gruesome high accompanied by a creepy end-credits lullaby. There are a bunch of scenes in here that have definitely been burnt into my mind, and considering the company it keeps is so cluttered – I’ve seen hundreds of these damn slashers at this point – that’s definitely worth something. A lower-tier classic of the era which feels every bit of its 1981 release date, but is all the better for it.