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us title: Happy Birthday to Me
italian title:
year: 1981
director: J. Lee Thompson
composer: Bo Harwood/Lance Rubin
full details: IMDB
overall score: 65

Bottom Line: Entertaining
Nothing ground breaking here, but a fun time nonetheless.

WARNING: Spoilers Below

score analysis

It's no secret that the American Slasher film that rose to popularity in the 1980s was inspired by the Giallo. Already chock full of violence, nudity and knife wielding homicidal maniacs, the Giallo is notable for introducing the "body count" film (via Bava's A Bay of Blood) as well as the "stalk 'n slash" suspense technique (via Martino's Torso).

Certain Slashers embrace the characteristics of the Giallo moreso than others. And this is clearly evident in J. Lee Thompson's 1981 film Happy Birthday to Me. Despite its obvious ties to American culture and high production value, Happy Birthday to Me is a classic whodunit thriller with many nods to the Giallo formula.

The killer's identity is heavily guarded from the viewer with black gloves and POV shots. But even in the first murder scene Bernadette O'Hara knows who the killer is, allowing the viewer to start guessing right away. Once the Crawford Top 10 begin disappearing, Virginia is forced into the amateur detective role by trying to decipher a series of flashbacks related to her car accident, her mother's death and the birthday party that never happened.

As we race along the narrative at a consistent pace, we're treated to show-stopping murder set pieces, flashbacks, mistaken identities, multiple suspects, a motorcycle race, a spiral staircase, a psychologist and even a corpse in a bathtub. And if all of these aren't enough to remind you of the Giallo, let's not forget that David Eisner's character "Rudi" could almost be a doppelganger for Tony Musante's "Sam Dalmas."

But certainly the most defining characteristic of the Giallo is the "reveal" scene. The most entertaining Gialli find the perfect balance between plausible and ridiculous as the killer is unmasked, the motive is explained and the ultimate fate of the murderer is rendered. Happy Birthday to Me shines here as well. The ending provides a mind-boggling motive and no less than three effective twists complete with a literal "unmasking!"

The final score of 65 is huge for a film released 6 years after the end of the genre's classic period and with no ties to Italy. These differences account for no less than 20 points and would put the film within the top 10 of Gialli scored here if they weren't omitted. I can't label this film as a classic example of the genre simply because it's too American, or more precisely it's not Italian enough. But it is definitely a slasher for an audience who appreciates a little more mystery than a figure in a hockey mask.

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score breakdown

Hint: Hover over a score item for more details
Staples : 40/60
Hidden Identity10 points
Black Gloves5 points
Amateur Detective5 points
Motivation: Psychological Trauma/Revenge10 points
Avoid Capture: Acciental Death/Suicide10 points
Standards : 17/30
Body Count >= 34 points
Flashback Revelation3 points
Mistaken Identity2 points
More than one killer or accomplice4 points
Suspects >= 34 points
Signatures : 8/10
Bathtub Murder1 point
Car or Motorcycle Racing1 point
Dolls/Dummies1 point
Photography/Glamor/Modeling/Art1 point
Priest1 point
Psychologist1 point
Spiral Stairs1 point
Visual Misinterpretation1 point
Total Points : 65/100



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Published: 2015-01-05