review for Happy Birthday to Me on AllMovie

Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
by Donald Guarisco review

Happy Birthday to Me stands out from the slasher movie pack of the early '80s because it pushes all the genre's elements to absurd heights. The murders, plot twists, and, especially, the last-minute revelations that are dished up in the final reel don't just deny credibility, they outright defy it. However, this quality doesn't make Happy Birthday to Me unwatchable. In fact, this film can be quite entertaining if viewed in the proper tongue-in-cheek frame of mind. The background performances suffer from the thin characterizations they are saddled with, but the lead performances are quite good. Melissa Sue Anderson wisely plays the material straight and comes off quite sympathetic, and Glenn Ford's solid work as Dr. Faraday lends the film a much-needed element of credibility. Behind the camera, J. Lee Thompson allows the pace to be a bit too slack, but brings an old-fashioned "studio director" sense of polish to the material and stages the film's show-stopping murder scenes with gruesome aplomb. Most importantly, the screenwriters work overtime to create a story line that will keep viewers guessing, despite its often ridiculous excesses, and pepper it with plenty of solid shocks (squeamish viewers should beware the infamous shish-kebab scene). The end result is often quite silly, but anyone with a soft spot for 1980s horror will find it difficult to take their eyes off the screen. Ultimately, Happy Birthday to Me is probably a little too over-the-top and relaxed in its pacing for most modern audiences, but it provides an interesting history lesson for new horror fans who think the slasher genre begins with Scream.