HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) Reviews and overview


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‘John will never eat shish kebab again.’

Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 Canadian slasher horror film directed by J. Lee Thompson (10 to MidnightCape Fear) from a screenplay written by John C. W. Saxton, Timothy Bond, Peter Jobin and [uncredited] John Beaird. Produced by John Dunning and André Link (My Bloody Valentine), the Cinépix production stars Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane and Sharon Acker.

The film’s make-up effects were the work of Tom Burman (Cat People; The Beast Within; Prophecy; The Devil’s Rain; et al).

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At the 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…


“Directed by journeyman Thompson in a ponderously academic style, full of crane shots and shock cuts, and boasting expansive production values, Happy Birthday to Me is a lacklustre addition to the teenage horror cycle initiated by Halloween (1978).” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Shameless in its conventionality and ludicrousness […] it assaults/cheats us with, Happy Birthday To Me is a moderately entertaining ‘old-school’/vintage slasher which makes attempts at originality with its wildly implausible twists and turns, moments of gothic horror, macabre humour and gruesome kills.” Behind the Couch

“It’s an above-average slasher, although it overstays its welcome at 111 minutes. While I appreciate the character-building – something that many slashers lack – many of the characters are nothing more than irredeemable brats waiting to be killed. With so much fat that should have been trimmed, the pacing suffers.” Broke Horror Fan

“A slasher audience wants insane (but not cheesy) violence, young hot naked females, blood, gore, a fun story and a badass killer. HBTM has none of those things. There’s very little violence, the killer is weak, zero nudity or even attractive females, only a handful of blood, zero gore and the story is long-winded and overly complicated.” Happyotter
“The performances hit the mark, with Anderson showing a darker side to the sweet daddy’s girl most know and the ‘top ten’ giving us fairly believable (if not necessarily loveable) teenagers, with taxidermy fanatic Alfred, easily the most intriguing. Whilst the running time could be trimmed slightly, the film manages to maintain its momentum…” UK Horror Scene

” …there’s nothing to be said for the acting, direction or story, which is monumentally stupid, dependant throughout on a frail girl to kill and carry the bodies away so they can’t be found, taking time out along the way to dog up a casket and haul away the contents.” Variety, May 13, 1981 HappyBirthdayToMe
“On the one hand, this is one handsome devil of a horror film, with well-crafted photography and characters drawn beyond the airhead regulars associated with sharp-object wielding killers. The Yin to this Yang is that it thinks above its station to some degree, attempting to spread its wings beyond the boundaries of what the audience most probably expected back in the day.” Vegan Voorhees

they came from within caelum vatnsdal canadian horror cinema

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Cast and characters:

Melissa Sue Anderson … Virginia Wainwright
Glenn Ford … Doctor David Faraday
Lawrence Dane … Hal Wainwright
Sharon Acker … Estelle Wainwright
Frances Hyland … Mrs Patterson
Tracey E. Bregman … Ann Thomerson (as Tracey Bregman)
Jack Blum … Alfred Morris
Matt Craven … Steve Maxwell
Lenore Zann … Maggie
David Eisner … Rudi
Lisa Langlois … Amelia
Michel-René Labelle Michel-René Labelle … Etienne Vercures (as Michel Rene Labelle)
Richard Rebiere … Greg Hellman
Lesleh Donaldson … Bernadette O’Hara (Abnormal Attraction; Swamp Freak; Curtains; Funeral Home)
Earl Pennington … Lieutenant Tracy
Murray Westgate … Gatekeeper
Jérôme Tiberghien … Prof. Heregard (as Jerome Tiberghien)
Maurice Podbrey … Doctor Feinblum
Vlasta Vrana … Bartender
Walter Massey … Conventioneer Leader
Griffith Brewer … Verger
Allan Katz … Ann’s Date (as Alan Katz)
Ron Lea … Amelia’s Date

Filming locations:

Concordia University, 1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montréal, Québec, Canada (Crawford Academy)
647 Rue Main, Hudson, Quebec, Canada (Virginia Wainwright’s house)
Phoenix, New York (vehicle stunts)

Technical credits:

111 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono

Production and release notes:

Principal filming was completed in September 1980.

The movie was picked up by Columbia Pictures and released in North America on 15 May 1981.

UK cinema and 1986 RCA/Columbia video releases were culled from a longer print with slightly gorier footage of the weight-lift and shish kebab death scenes, plus the original music score.

The initial 2004 DVD release from Columbia Pictures featured a new soundtrack and completely different cover art (not original poster art), which most slasher fans did not appreciate. In October 2009, Anchor Bay released a DVD with the original poster art as the cover and utilised the film’s original score.


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