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Happy Birthday to Me
Directed by none other than J. Lee Thompson in 1981, Happy Birthday To Me is centered around the The Crawford Academy, an ivy league-esque private school. Here, the various students attend classes and socialize, just as you'd expect them to. The so-called 'Top Ten' are the popular kid. Some find love, some don't, it's fairly typical school 'stuff' until someone starts killing people off.
The cops do what they can to try and find out who the killer is and why he or she is doing what they're doing. Meanwhile, a student named Virginia Wainright (Melissa Sue Anderson), one of the 'Top Ten,' starts to suffer a series of panic attacks and flashbacks that not only tie into her past, but also the school's present predicament.
Happy Birthday To Me is as entertaining as it is predictable. It won't take an especially seasoned slasher movie fanatic to figure out who the killer is, in fact, it's fairly obvious but the movie entertains regardless. Thompson, who doesn't seem to have been above taking ‘paycheck' jobs but who was a typically solid director regardless, keeps things going at a fairly good pace, especially in the first half, though as the movie moves towards its finish you realize that it could have been trimmed of twenty minutes and turned out for the better, as there are spots that do feel padded. Unfortunately, despite the really strong opening, the ending is goofy and hard to take seriously despite the fact that it does show off some effectively grisly makeup effects in grand fashion.
Performances are good, if never amazing, and some of the players will look familiar to fans of Canuxploitation pictures and/or those familiar with a lot of seventies and eighties Canadian television productions. It's fun to see Melissa Sue Anderson, probably best known for playing Mary Ingalls on Little House On The Prairie, show up in a horror picture, particularly when she's cast alongside someone like Glenn Ford, later in life and here playing a doctor. Supporting work from Lawrence Dane of Scanners (and The Littlest Hobo!), Sharon Acker of Point Blank, Jack Blum (who played Spazz in Meatballs)and Tracey Bregman of Days Of Our Lives (and The Littlest Hobo!) is also worth mentioning, and look for Lisa Langlois of Class Of 1984 as a student named Amelia to appear in the movie. The movie winds up with a pretty fun cast and is all the better for it.
Note that this does appear to have the original audio on it, as we get the moody instrumental song playing over the opening credits rather than the pop song that was used on the DVD release with the altered audio on it.
Kino Lorber brings Happy Birthday To Me to region free Blu-ray on a 50GB disc with the one hundred and one minute feature taking up just over 38GBs of space and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Overall, this looks pretty good. Colors look pretty nice and black levels are decent and we get solid shadow detail in the darker scenes. Grain is presents as it should be but it looks natural enough and there are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about. There's solid depth, texture and detail noticeable throughout. Overall, the movie looks very good on this disc, even if it appears that this wasn't recently remastered and would probably look better had it been given a new 4k scan.
Audio options are offered p on the disc in 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio options. Optional subtitles are offered up in English only. The mono mix sounds good, the score in particular has some good presence to it and the dialogue is clean and easy to follow. The 5.1 mix spreads out the score and effects into the rear channels here and there and keeps most of the dialogue in the front of the mix. Both are properly balanced and come through clean and clear.
The main extra on the disc is commentary track with co-screenwriter Timothy Bond moderated by filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer. They cover the slasher and horror movie boom that took place in Canada around the time that this movie was made, what Thompson was like as a director but not spending much time on set during the making of the movie, working with co-writer Peter Jobin, having to make changes to the ending of the movie, where parts of the movie resemble a giallo picture, details on the cast and crew including Melissa Sue Anderson and Glenn Ford, other projects that Bond has worked on over the years and quite a bit more. This sounds like it was recorded via conferencing software and unfortunately the audio quality on Bond's side of things is less than ideal, but it is an interesting track regardless.
There's also a featurette here titled Sister Slasher, which is an interview with actress Tracey E. Bregman that runs ten minutes. She talks about getting cast in this, her first movie, at seventeen after working on Days Of Our Lives, through her agent. She then talks about meeting Thompson when she auditioned with her mom in his living room, what he was like to work with and as a person, having a lot of fun with her co-stars, memories of shooting specific scenes, having to come back to reshoot the ending, the realism of some of the makeup effects used in the movie and how great the experience was for her overall.
The disc also includes TV spots, radios spots and a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for New Year's Evil, The Pit, House Of Long Shadows, Rawhead Rex, Return From The Ashes and The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud as well as menus and chapter selection options.
Happy Birthday To Me is a decent, if predictable slasher made more than watchable thanks to some fun performances, a few decent murder set pieces and some slick cinematography. The Blu-ray edition from Kino offers up the film in a solid presentation with the original audio and a few decent extra features as well. If the film isn't a masterpiece, it still comes recommended for horror movie and slasher fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.