slasher

Shaun vs. Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

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Directed by J. Lee Thompson

Starring Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford and Lawrence Dane

Released May 15, 1981

Rated R

A female student who survived a terrible car accident years earlier begins to remember the repressed memories from back then which are triggered when a serial killer starts taking out her nearest friends near her birthday.



Review

Ginny (Anderson) is part of a clique known as the “Top Ten,” who are among the richest, most popular students at an elite high school academy.  Years earlier, she was in a terrible car accident when her drunken mother drove off a bridge and plunged into the water with only Ginny surviving though not without sustaining a brain injury.  She can’t remember all the details of the accident though they start to creep back when a gloved killer targets her friends in the “Top Ten” just a few days before her birthday, leading up to a party no one will ever forget.

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I’ll give the writers some credit, they really put together quite the script for this flick.  It’s much larger in scope than most slashers in the genre and you’ll never guess the ending because there’s nothing shown on screen hinting at who the killer is, so good luck guessing who it is because no matter how obvious some of the red herrings are (and boy are there some obvious looking suspects) you’ll never piece together the convoluted, Scooby-Doo-like ending.

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The group of teens we have here are just like any other group in the early 80s, they like to party and horse around.  The cast does well enough though there are moments where they’re practically screaming “LOOK AT ME, I MIGHT BE THE KILLER” with the way they act one moment, they must obviously be the killer but a few minutes later everything seems to be fine.  A perfect example is when a couple of the students happen upon the head of one of their missing friends and another schoolmate comes out and plays with the severed head just to show that it’s fake and he actually made it himself.  He’s a huge suspect until he gets killed off later.  Very bizarre, but that’s how the film was marketed!

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Yeah, a lot of the advertisements for the film was based on the “bizarre” murders that take place in the film.  It’s even the tagline for the film, “Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.”  I didn’t count, but there were more than six in the film but maybe the filmmakers didn’t count the regular stabbing/slashing kills?  Some are pretty wicked though, for example, one guy’s scarf gets thrown into the spokes of a motor bike’s wheel that ends badly.  The killer drops a heavy weight on the crotch of another victim who was trying to bench press a lot of weight, also ending badly.  You can probably guess what happens with shish kebob skewers just from looking at the box art.  It’s not super gory, but the kills are designed more to shock and they will.

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See? Scooby-Doo shenanigans!

The film is far from perfect, the story especially is a complicated head scratcher by the end of the film.  Along with the gruesome deaths and a few awesome car stunts, though, this flick was a fun surprise to watch.

TL;DR

Story: 5 – There’s a surprising amount of character development (slashers aren’t usually known for putting much effort into making characters more than slabs of meat) but there’s a lot of obvious red herrings and there’s a frustrating amount of scenes where the victims recognize the killer but only ever refer to that person as “you” like people talk like that.

Blood:  6 – I already gave away a few of the shocking death scenes so I’ll leave the rest for you to watch, but while they’re aren’t super gory, they are bloody enough to give a quick shock to the audience.

Nudity: 1 – We see Melissa Sue Anderson in a bra, that’s the best we get.

Overall: 6 – The film could be borderline silly for some, but it’s more than entertaining enough to warrant a watch.

Trivia

-Actor Glenn Ford, mostly well known for playing Jonathan Kent in the original “Superman” film, did not enjoy being in a lowly slasher film and reportedly threw several tantrums and punches at the filmmakers.  

-There was a draft written that would have had Ginny as the killer, possessed by her dead mother’s ghost.  That would’ve been easier to swallow as an ending, but the ending was rewritten late in production to make it more climactic.  Good job…?

-Prior to this film’s release, there were holiday/gimmick slasher films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, New Year’s Evil, Black Christmas, Prom Night, Mother’s Day, Graduation Day, My Bloody Valentine (which was from the same producers as HBTM) and probably more. 

Bonus movie theme music!

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