"Happy Birthday to Me" is a fairly entertaining slasher from the early 1980s, in which the main target is composed by a bunch of hateful know-it-all teenagers who basically deserve the worst possible deaths. There's nothing really spectacular about that, but "Happy Birthday to Me", delivers a well developed combination of butchery for the gore-lovers, but also offers a pretty intriguing and disturbing mystery surrendering the main character. As a matter of fact, the main premise in this film is the main character's deeply troubled mind and her desperate efforts to try to rebuild a part of her life that seems to be missing inside her head. Naturally, throughout the entire film, the deeply troubled girl appears having incomplete flashbacks that develop an atmosphere full of drama and deception. This slasher is fairly enjoyable for the most part, until the awful ending arrives and somehow ruins the entire thing. I intend to keep this humble review free from spoilers, so I won't give any specific details. However, I am going to say that "Happy Birthday to Me" is one of those films that promise a pretty unsurprising ending without a 'Eureka!' revelation. It is patent from the get-go that one of the characters is clearly the one behind the murders and even though this could sound, shall we say…sub-standard?, I myself, think it would have been a lot more reasonable to leave a mildly expected ending instead of this soap-opera-like final sequence. Let's see: first of all, the killer's so-called identity was only predictable to a certain extent. Let's just not forget that sometimes, the killer's identity in a slasher film looks so obvious, that we end up discarding that possibility because it looks so obvious. So if we keep in mind this simple rule, then I guess we can say that none of the character was suspicious enough to add such a grotesque twist. Honestly, the whole film works as a charm and then, all of a sudden, it's like the writers felt compelled to mock the audience by yelling 'Gotcha!' while pointing and laughing as if the whole movie was a damned high school prank. Unexpected endings are good sometimes, but I think this was just way off. One thing is to deceive the audience and trick them into believing something that eventually is not true, I'm okay with that, because there are several slasher movies like that. However, pulling such a disastrous and stupid explanation to avoid a predictable ending seems to me like a desperate attempt from the writers to be a part of the 'cool gang' of the horror filmmakers. Overall, the film is enjoyable and it would have been one of my favorite slasher films if it wasn't because of that incredibly far-fetched final revelation. As an extra bonus, most of us who grew up watching "Little House on the Prairie" are going to be delighted by seeing Melissa Sue Anderson leaving behind sweet Mary Ingalls for a moment and turning into a totally disturbed teenage girl who drinks alcohol, swears, goes out with guys and… a little bit more than that. Enjoy the movie, but be prepared for the ending, because… oh, boy!, just trust me on this one and be prepared.
**_Unique, lush slasher with a notable cast fumbles at the end_** A teen returns to a hoity-toity private academy in the Northeast after a seriously traumatic experience (Melissa Sue Anderson) where members of the so-called Top Ten circle start to perish one-by-one. Who’s the killer and why? Glenn Ford is on hand as the girl’s psychiatrist. "Happy Birthday to Me" (1981) is both a slasher and a whodunit, similar to “Friday the 13th” from the year prior, except with the milieu of a prep school. The lush setting, mostly taking place at night, is noteworthy and the unique perspective of director J. Lee Thompson gives the flick a different ‘feel’ compared to other slashers from the period. Furthermore, you can’t beat the female cast. This was Melissa Sue’s feature film debut as she took time off from Little House on the Prairie to do it. She was 18 during shooting in 1980 and very beautiful (in an on-edge way), but appears at least five years older than she really was. Meanwhile Lenore Zann as Maggie is certainly a highlight and Tracey Bregman has a formidable role as the protagonist’s best friend. If you don’t remember the latter, she’s iconic of ’80-’90’s soap operas, mostly The Young and the Restless. I would give this relatively obscure slasher a higher score, but it has two glaring flaws. For one, it’s overlong by about 15-20 minutes with certain useless scenes that could’ve easily been cut with no harm done, like the brain surgery sequence. Worse, the creators changed the ending at the last minute because they thought the original was too predictable. Unfortunately, the alteration almost singlehandedly ruins the movie because it's just not believable (I’m not going to give it away). Such a climax may work for Scooby-Doo, but not a live-action story that takes place at a 'real-life' private school. The creators should've just stuck with the original ending they had in mind, predictable or not. Sure, it's "just a slasher," but even slashers have to be done in an intelligent way so that the viewer 'buys' what's happening as within the realm of plausibility. When they're not, they're eye-rolling and forgettable. Still, up till the last 12-15 minutes there’s a lot to appreciate here. The film runs 1 hour, 50 minutes, and was shot in Montreal, with Concordia University standing in for Crawford Academy, and nearby Hudson (the Wainwright manor), as well as Phoenix, New York (the town with the drawbridge), which is about 200 miles southwest of Montreal. GRADE: B-
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