Happy Birthday to Me revolves around the top ten students of the uppity Crawford Academy. Normally this type of thing would be tallied through GPAs, or possibly standardized test scores. However, membership in this group seems to be a matter of privilege and status. It’s really just a license for some spoiled rich twerps to drink, smoke, jump a bridge in a car while it’s opening, and, most importantly, murder each other. The movie wants it clear that anyone of these assholes can be the killer. Therefore, everyone acts suspicious at different points, even if it just means furrowing one’s brow at the camera in a menacing manner.
The lead is top 10 member Melissa Sue Anderson (of Little House on a Prairie) and her intense quizzical moping (we get a brief respite from this intensity when she undresses to a semi-funky soft rock tune). She has repressed the trauma she experienced from a car accident on her birthday four years prior. Not only was her birthday party not attended by the cool kids, her father didn't show up and her mother died in the accident. No amount of cake can make that birthday happy.
Melissa thankfully survived the accident, but with the aid of an “experimental” form of brain surgery. I don’t know about you, but if a doctor came to me wanting to perform some “experimental” brain surgery, I’d punch him in the balls and run for the hills. All of this repressed memory stuff, the loss of her mother, and her distant, status quo maintaining father, causes Melissa to spiral into a psychotic depressive tizzy. Glenn Ford is the doctor responsible for the aforementioned surgery, and therefore feels responsible for helping Melissa sort out her mental hullabaloo. She also may or may not be responsible for the murders, despite obvious evidence that may or may not be to the contrary. All of this is daftly revealed in the super twist ending that manages to be both balls out and balls deep in equal measure.
Here a slasher that is ultimately based in an unspoken tragedy of teenage life; that is, when a young person celebrate a birthday party and nobody shows up (asshole relatives don’t count). This scenario was particularly well illustrated in the film Teen Witch, where our heroine Louise is left spending her sweet sixteen with her parents. She is forced to wear a hideous Krueger-esque sweater her parents gave her as a gift, and blows out candle after candle, like a series of steps in a Bataan death march. HBTM takes this idea a few steps further (well, more than a few steps further) into horror territory. If I explain things any further, I'll have blog mobs after me and I don't need that kind of stress in my life.
HBTM is one of the best slashers ever in my esteemed opinion, and a lot of the credit goes to J. Lee Thompson. He takes a Scooby Doo on steroids script riddled with gimmicky murders and turns it into a slick, hyper-emotional funhouse of repressed trauma (his direction here reminds me, coincidentally, of Scorsese with the Cape Fear remake). The material is taken seriously, and amped up to reflect the inner turmoil of the characters, all anchored by Melissa Sue and her borderline method performance. It’s a shame those assholes at the academy couldn’t throw her a bone, but I guess any movie that has a poster showing a beef skewer being jammed into a dude’s mouth automatically eliminates itself from Oscar gold.
P.S. Review number 8 in the lazy baker. It's the last week and I got some work ahead of me yo.