Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

happy birthday to me poster 1981 movie
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Fun slasher

Unrealistic ending

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Happy Birthday to Me

Studio:  Columbia Pictures

Genre(s):  Horror

Release Date(s):  May 15, 1981

MPAA Rating:  R

happy birthday to me severed head

That kid is really, really good with make-up

The Top Ten are the elite of Crawford Academy’s senior class, and Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) finds herself among the Top Ten.  Suffering from amnesia and repressed memories after the death of her mother, something is beginning to bubble in Ginny’s subconscious as her doctor Faraday (Glenn Ford) tries to work with her.  Members of the Top Ten are disappearing, and a killer is hunting them…could Ginny be responsible?

Directed by J. Lee Thompson, Happy Birthday to Me is a horror slasher movie.  The film was released to mixed to negative reviews but gained a cult following over the years.

Happy Birthday to Me was the movie with Mary Ingalls in it.  As a kid, we watched Little House on the Prairie all the time so seeing her show up as the lead in a horror film was the most memorable part of the movie.  The “Mary Ingalls” horror movie has some twists and turns, but often falls back on cliché slasher material.  Due to aspects of the script, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

happy birthday to me melissa sue anderson glenn ford

He’s a very hands-on doctor

The story went through a lot of script changes from reports, and the movie sometimes shows this.  The movie is played largely as a mystery with lots of evidence pointing to Ginny as the killer.  At the same time, there is evidence that this isn’t possible.  Original plans for the movie indicate that Ginny was supposed to be possessed by her mother who was killing the children (which does make more sense with the story), but instead, Ann Thomerson (played by Tracey E. Bregman) is revealed to be the half-sister killer…in a perfect Ginny mask made by their friend Alfred.  It leads to a frustrating ending where Ginny still gets the guilt, and it doesn’t look like anyone will believe her.

The movie largely revolves around Melissa Sue Anderson’s character Ginny, and her doctor played by Glenn Ford with most of the meatiest scenes.  This was Anderson’s first starting role after leaving “the Prairie”, and she doesn’t show much range in it.  Ford allegedly was poorly behaved on set with his drinking increasing and his desire not to be in the film.  The rest of the cast is mostly made up of Canadian character actors (that are of course too old for their characters).

happy birthday to me ending melissa sue anderson

This birthday sucks…at least I didn’t go blind

The movie relies heavily on the gory murders to bring in viewers.  The poster promises a man skewered through the mouth and other murders also amped-up the gore.  The movie culminates with a birthday party with a number of various corpses mangled to different degrees.  The school setting for the movie does provide some laughs because you can’t determine how big of school Crawford Academy is since it sometimes appears to be tiny and other times appears to be a giant Ivy League style prep school.

Happy Birthday to Me was a favorite growing up, but I recognize that it isn’t a great movie.  It is a movie that I can watch pretty often and enjoy despite this.  The movie is fun and has everything you’d expect from an ’80s slasher.  Aspects of the story, good or bad, do feel a bit different than some of the standard slashers, and in a time where immortal killers were starting to develop, a non-supernatural slasher is a nice change…celebrate this birthday!

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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