Canadian slasher Happy Birthday To Me makes its UK Blu-ray debut courtesy of Indicator. Laura Shearer takes a look at this early example of stalk and slash before the genre was overpopulated by self-aware exploitation.
Canadian B-movie slasher film Happy Birthday to Me gives a broader scope to the high school horror genre that American independent cinema made so popular in the 1980s. Off the back of the Halloween (beginning in 1978) and Friday the 13th (first seen in 1977) franchises in the USA, the Canadian horror scene saw the introduction of a few similarly themed exploitation films. These features offered an arguably darker slant on matters “teen” and “high school” when compared to Canada’s southern neighbours, perhaps premising the popularity of high school-centric horror features globally.
Traumatised by horrifying events that happened in her past, Virginia’s lead up to her 18th birthday party is more eventful than intended. In 1981’s Happy Birthday to Me, we see the teenager’s tight knit group of preppy school friends start to go mysteriously missing. The fact that Virginia survived a deadly accident and regenerative brain surgery starts to pop some interesting questions as she tries to piece events together.
Dubbed as “six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see” at the time of release, the death scenes are likely to pale in comparison to modern gore. However, they still hold up as extreme death scenes in my eyes, maintaining the “guess who” element that holds the narrative together throughout.
It’s as if Carrie had a birthday party but didn’t have any powers to use, just weaponry fashioned out of household items. The film’s original posters boasted the famous kebab death sequence, which holds out as one of the most memorable deaths I’ve seen.
Armed with a decent budget for its time, Happy Birthday to Me has the added benefit of an 1980s aesthetic, unnerving through its on-screen violence and maintaining an underlining “hook” through its veil of ambiguity.
Written by Laura Shearer
Top 10 Films reviewed Happy Birthday to Me on Blu-ray courtesy of Indicator which released the film on dual format DVD/Blu-ray in the UK December 12, 2016. The stand out feature on the release is an audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues team: Justin Kerswell (author of Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut) Joseph Henson, Erik Threlfall and Nathan Johnson.