Home » Happy Birthday to Me is a Clever Giallo-Inspired Slasher [Retrospective]

Happy Birthday to Me is a Clever Giallo-Inspired Slasher [Retrospective]

Happy Birthday to Me

A deviant in black gloves is eradicating the coolest clique at The Crawford Academy, The Top Ten. The killer’s identity is a mystery. We know only that he or she has a deep-seated resentment for the members of The Crawford Top Ten. One by one, the overly privileged Top Ten get their comeuppance. If someone doesn’t put a stop to this, it will be curtains for all of the coolest kids at Crawford Academy.

Happy Birthday to Me was an attempt by Melissa Sue Anderson to distance herself from Little Hose on the Prairie. Fortunately for her, most horror fans were able to separate her from her well-known television character. She has acted steadily since and continues to work frequently as a voice actor and in television.

Melissa Sue Anderson’s performance (as well as those of her fellow cast members) isn’t exceptionally memorable. But the performances are all competent enough not to hurt the overall success of the film. There are no bad performances in Happy Birthday to Me. There just aren’t any exceptional moments of brilliant acting on display either.

J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear 1962) served as the director of this slasher/murder mystery. His prowess as a director is apparent in Happy Birthday to Me. Some critics felt that a horror movie was beneath him but I think it’s great that Thompson made Happy Birthday to Me. The film’s atmosphere is genuinely creepy and the way the picture progresses from scene to scene is intense and thoughtfully executed. This 1981 slasher is truly elevated by Thompson’s involvement.

The script is reminiscent of a giallo: The killer wears black gloves, the kills take place from his or her viewpoint, and his or her identity is not revealed until the final scene of the film. That sense of mystery makes Happy Birthday to Me more unnerving than the typical 1980s slasher flick. The flashback sequences point to an intriguing reveal and the final scene where we learn the identity of the killer is quite exciting.

The deaths are exceptionally creative. I would have never thought of death by shish kabob but it works. All of the kills are fairly inventive and help to elevate the flick beyond a run of the mill horror picture. The onscreen violence is fairly significant. The total body count is high and the practical effects are well executed. The quality of the effects speaks to the FX team’s prowess with prosthetics and makeup magic.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out Happy Birthday to Me, it is a suspenseful, giallo-inspired, horror picture with a tightly written script. Definitely worth your time.


Director(s): J. Lee Thompson
Writer(s): Timothy Bond, Peter Jobin, John Saxton
Stars: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford
Year: 1981
Studio/ Production Co: Columbia Pictures
Budget: $3.5 Million (Estimated)
Language: English
Length: 110 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Slasher

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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dog, and cat hat(s).
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