The slasher genre is an interesting one because, while it has a wealth of great entries with mainstream appeal, its real value is found in the schlock. Happy Birthday to Me doesn’t go full B-trash (as so many of the most delightful slasher films do) nor does it strive for the legitimacy of a Halloween. It lives in some happy middle ground where you can both laugh at its frequent ridiculousness, but also be regularly gripped by its gory murder sequences.
The film follows a group of high schoolers who humbly refer to themselves as the “Top Ten”. The group runs the usual range of 80’s high school movie cliches from the jock to the prom queen to the nerd. The main focus of the film is Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson), the sweet new girl who seems to have appeared out of nowhere and has ingratiated herself with the Top Ten. Oddly, but somehow inconspicuously to onlookers, around the time of Ginny’s (re?)appearance, the Top Ten begin to disappear one at a time.
I don’t know whether it’s fair to say that Happy Birthday to Me will keep you guessing. You’ll likely see some of the twists coming from a mile away. However, others are so absurd that they’re inherently surprising. One thing that the film cannot be described as is boring. It is wall-to-wall action and insanity even in its nonviolent moments.
One of the things that I adore about Happy Birthday to Me is how hard it tries to be a normal teen film. Outside of its bloody murder sequences, it is filled with all the right tropes. There are love triangles, goofing off, carefree and irresponsible teen behavior, and that trademark cheesy dialogue that is the mark of so many 80s films about groups of young friends. With all of this corniness, Happy Birthday to Me can genuinely be scary. The murder sequences that unfold as the Top Ten fall one-by-one are tense and remain unsettling. Even when the murderer is revealed the gore is somehow intimate: gore among friends.
I can’t speak specifically about the ending of the film. To spoil it would be criminal as it’s one of the most delightfully ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. What I can say is that if you’re looking for a fun and exciting viewing that may also give you a laugh or two, look no further this October than Happy Birthday to Me.
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