Sunday, October 18, 2009
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (Canada; 1981)
D: J. Lee Thompson
W: John Saxton
There's a reason Anchor Bay's new release of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME has turned up for as little as five dollars in certain big box retailers in the U.S.: it's an awful movie.
The infamous tagline "Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see!" is of course part and parcel of the old-school hucksterism used to peddle these "event-related" slasher movies back in the 70's and 80's, but here it's more of a blatant case of false advertising than was usually the case back in those days. Sure, in concept, some of the murders are a little off-the-wall (kebab-skewer through the mouth; weights across the nuts 'n neck, motorcycle spokes to the face, etc.), but they all happen so quickly there's little time to find them anything but frustrating (and upon rewinding, you discover how little you actually see). This movie more likely earned its R-rating for its now-quaint profanity than it's gore (of which there is little) or it's nudity (of which there is none).
By 1980, when this was shot, veteran director J Lee Thompson still had some craft left in him, if barely, but he was clearly painting by numbers on this outing, and sloppily so, as in two key scenes involving cars. Early on (and early enough to be an omen) one character's snazzy Trans Am jumps a rising river bridge, firmly planting (and utterly destroying) it's nose end on the other side, but a moment later, the car's in pristine condition. A little later, the car occupied by our possibly deranged heroine (Melissa Sue Anderson) and her crazy mother becomes lodged between the rising panels of the same bridge, eventually falling into the water below on it's roof, a plunge captured from three different camera angles, all of which are shown in sequence. Then, a fourth shot of the plunge completes the sequence, only this time, the car lands on it's wheels! How stupid did the filmmakers think audiences were in those days, anyways?
And poor Glenn Ford. He took a lot of flack at the time for appearing as Dr. Faraday in this, and his name value is really all he brings to it (as well as the opportunity for the filmmakers to insert another blatantly obvious red herring ("I'll never let anyone hurt you" he reassures Anderson in a disquietingly creepy fashion). One surmises that he took the role because it brought him back to Quebec, the land of his birth. He certainly wouldn't be the first actor to wrangle a free vacation out of a film role (Paging Michael Caine!).
The whole picture is sloppily made and poorly thought out. The red herring count is high, but it's also egregiously stupid, with virtually every character required to do bizarre things or exhibit strange behviour that no human being would ever do or exhibit (especially among a group of friends) in order to supposedly keep us guessing. It's insulting, as is the "rip off that rubber mask" finale straight out of the old Scooby Doo mysteries.
This would be a one star review were it not for the fact that Anchor Bay offers a very nice transfer on this edition, with the original music restored, thus the second star. The film itself barely merits one star. The only extra on the disc is the trailer.