If there ever was a film that could adequately warn against the dangers of eating shish kebab then 1981 Canadian horror Happy Birthday to Me is that film. In this comic book slasher, Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) has begun to experience flashbacks to the day her mother died. Fortunately, she has her friends, a clique known as the ‘Top Ten’, to support her. Unfortunately, someone is killing each of them one by one.
Directed by J. Lee Thompson, the whole affair perhaps has more in common with his output for Cannon in the ‘80s, such as Death Wish 4, than his Oscar nominated work on Guns of Navarone. Despite his presence and that of Glenn Ford – who apparently had great issues with being in the film – this is a pulpy affair that sees college students being bumped off in ghoulishly imaginative ways, including weight lifting, garden shears and the aforementioned kebab. In between these macabre moments, most of which offer gratitude to giallo movies, the script serves up lashings of twists that see the rug being pulled from the audience on numerous occasions.
So many twists in fact, they become the film’s biggest weakness and, coupled with numerous lengthy scenes of the ‘Top Ten’ watching each other play sports, pad the film out to a running time of just under two hours. With other classics of that era, such as Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine, making the most of 90 minutes, this bloatedness is a shame. Cutting off the fat would do wonders.
Putting that on the back burner, there is still a lot to enjoy, so to speak. A cult favourite to many due its black sense of humour and nonsensical ending, Happy Birthday to Me will be a bewilderment to others for exactly the same reasons.