Most fads only last a few years. Like with music. The first wave of true rock and roll died pretty quickly, and that watery Neil Sedaka crap seeped into the picture. Same with Punk, New Wave, Grunge. A brief, exciting time and then it all goes soft.

The original slasher movie cycle is no exception. It was kickstarted with Halloween and Friday the 13th, and from late '79 through around 1984 there was a plethora of imitations being produced and released. Some good ones, and a lot of poorly executed cheapies. To be honest I kind of liked them all. People have attempted to recreate the phenomena, but the efforts have mostly failed.

For those few glorious years, it was a kind of paradise for many of us. Serious critics bemoaned the whole thing, and they not only condemned the filmmakers, but also those of us who loved the movies. Siskel and Ebert, Harlan Ellison, and others were apoplectic. I wasn't offended by it. I thought the whole thing was hilarious.

By the time things get really big, the death knell was tolling. This was not before the studios were clamoring for slasher movies to fatten their bank accounts. No slasher of the time was bigger than Happy Birthday To Me.

A big name director was brought on for Happy Birthday To Me: J. Lee Thompson. The guy who made The Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear, and high-profile studio projects like Planet of the Apes sequels making a lowly slasher movie? Now we might see that, but then? It was astonishing.

Ad campaigns for Happy Birthday To Me were enticing. More deaths than ever before were promised. Well-known actors were on board. Melissa Sue Anderson, from Little House on the Prairie, was the star. Hollywood legend Glenn Ford was a supporting actor. Slasher movies had hit the big league!

I loved Happy Birthday To Me at the time. I hadn't watched it in many, many years, but a friend and I rolled the bluray the other night. This time? Well, yeah, I like it, but not as much as before.

Happy Birthday To Me is well shot. Thompson obviously knew his way around a film set. The actors are mostly on their marks. Glenn Ford being an exception. He looked like he hadn't quite come off of a ten-year drunk. Stories of difficulties surfaced, such as Ford punching an assistant director.

The death and gore scenes, courtesy of Tom Burman, are good. However, there is an abundance of plot to get in the way of the proceedings. I realize they were going for something classy, but we were there to see young adults killed in creative ways. Sure, a little backstory about the killer's past, maybe an explanatory flashback or two, but Happy Birthday To Me has a lengthy, murky plot involving psychological manipulation.

It all does come together in a suitably wicked birthday party for our dear heroine, complete with gorily posed dead friends as guests.

Happy Birthday To Me was filmed, in Canada in 1981, and released in the States in 1982. When it was conceived, slashers were the thing in movies. By the time it came out, the cycle was winding down. The movie made its money back, but it wasn't the success Halloween or Friday the 13th were. Happy Birthday To Me did bear the distinction of being part of the whole Video Nasties controversy in England at the time.

I look back today at the slasher era with infinite fondness. Critics are kinder to this sort of thing these days. Horror movies are accepted. That's cool and all, I suppose, but I sort of miss the days when they were despised by the mainstream.

Written by Mark Sieber



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