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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Happy Birthday to Me (1980)

"It may be very painful, but we've got to find the link between your trauma and your friends."
- Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 25, 2004

Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane, Sharon Acker
Other Stars: Frances Hyland, Tracy Bregman, Lisa Langlois, Jack Blum, Matt Craven
Director: J. Lee Thompson

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, gore, language, surgical scenes and disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:50m:36s
Release Date: October 26, 2004
UPC: 043396060142
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BBB- D+

DVD Review

In the wake of the huge success of Halloween (1978), cheaply- (and poorly-) made teen slasher movies poured forth by the dozens. But some entries into the genre stood well above the others, and Happy Birthday to Me falls into that select group thanks to some ingenuity in the scripting and some solid talents behind and before the cameras.

Seventeen-year-old Ginny Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) is part of the Top Ten clique at the exclusive Crawford Academy. But Ginny was badly injured in the car wreck that killed her mother a few years before, and she has suffered from blackouts and memory losses due to an experimental brain surgery that brought her out of a coma. Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford) attempts to treat Ginny and retrieve her lost memories. But in the days before her 18th birthday, her friends start to disappear one by one, and Ginny has visions of gory murders of them. Is she only hallucinating, or is someone really disposing of the Top Ten in creative ways as she believes she's seeing?

Melissa Sue Anderson had already spent years before the camera, having grown up on Little House on the Prairie through the 1970s. She makes for a good lead, never quite sure whether she's become a homicidal maniac or just having disturbing delusions, or both. A slumming Glenn Ford makes for a sympathetic ear as the psychiatrist who tries to help Ginny but seems just a little too interested in seeking out the secrets of her past. Director J. Lee Thompson had a solid track record from such classics as the original Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone, and he treats the story seriously, even though it's in a genre that gets little respect.

But the real star here is the clever script, which not only features some bizarrely creative murders (including the poster image of a shish-kebab through the back of a character's throat, among others). The script anticipates the postmodern horror of Scream in more ways than one, and the denouement certainly seems to have been a direct influence on that film, though the final unmasking is a bit weak. The inevitable birthday party finale is truly demented, with a tableau that would not be out of place in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There's a clear reference to the Italian gialli as well, with the black-gloved killer motivated by psychosexual incidents that happened in childhood.

Alas, the film has been released to DVD with the cuts demanded by the MPAA to receive an R rating, which means that much of the blood and mayhem is gone missing. Reports on the internet also indicate that much of the score has been replaced for some reason; that would seem to be true since substantial chunks sound like a refugee score from a circa 1978 porn film. Syreeta's rendition of the theme song over the ending credits is, however, intact. This classic of the genre really deserves much better than it gets here.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks fresh and colorful. The picture is a bit soft, probably to disguise the age of the supposedly teen actors. A little ringing is visible, but there doesn't seem to be any substantial edge enhancement. The picture is rather grainy, with mild speckling visible throughout. Otherwise, the source print has no noticeable defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono is undistinguished, with moderate hiss and noise audible in quieter segments. Dialogue is plain enough, but the replacement score sounds fairly cheesy. Some sound effects, especially during the brain surgery sequence are unsettling and well rendered.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring I Know What You Did Last Summer, Identity, Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The extras are scant on this release. The box cover art is hideous and inexplicably makes the film look like an Exorcist retread. Thankfully, one of the extras is an insert that reproduces the original poster art. It nicely slips into the keepcase cover and makes for a much superior cover to the monstrosity that Columbia has seen fit to use to sell these DVDs. The only other extras are three unrelated horror film trailers, with I Know What You Did Last Summer in nonanamorphic widescreen format and the others presented with 16:9 enhancement. Chaptering is quite inadequate for the nearly two-hour length of this film.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

A classic of the slasher genre, with some clever twists but much of the gore remains scissored. The transfer is acceptable but there are no significant extras.

 


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