Happy Birthday to Me (film)

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Happy Birthday to Me
Happy birthday to me.jpg
Theatrical Poster
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Produced by John Dunning
Stewart Harding
Andre Link
Written by Timothy Bond
Peter Jobin
John Saxton
John Beaird
Starring Melissa Sue Anderson
Glenn Ford
Lawrence Dane
Sharon Acker
Frances Hyland
Tracey E. Bregman
Lisa Langlois
Music by Bo Harwood
Lance Rubin
Cinematography Miklos Lente
Edited by Debra Karen
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) 15 May 1981
Running time 110 min.
Country Canada
Language English
Budget $3,500,000 (estimated)

Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 slasher film filmed in Canada and directed by J. Lee Thompson, written by John C. W. Saxton and starring Melissa Sue Anderson and Glenn Ford. It was released on 15 May 1981, and has since become something of a cult classic among fans of the slasher genre, with its bizarre murder methods and twisted climactic revelation.[citation needed]


Virginia "Ginny" Wainwright is a pretty and popular high school senior at Crawford Academy. She is one of her school's "Top Ten": an elite clique which comprises the richest, most popular and most snobbish teens at the Academy. The Top Ten meet every night at the Silent Woman Tavern, a pub near Crawford's campus.

One night en route to the tavern, Top Ten member Bernadette O'Hara is attacked in her car by a killer whose face cannot be seen. Unable to flee, she struggles and then plays dead to catch the killer off-guard, before running to get help. She finds somebody whom she is familiar with, only to have her throat slit by this person with a razor (whom the audience still cannot see) who is actually the killer.

The Top Ten is briefly concerned when Bernadette fails to show up at the Silent Woman. They soon get over it when their argument with another customer results in one of them putting a pet mouse into his beer; mayhem ensues, and the Top Ten flee the scene.

On the way home, the Top Ten see a drawbridge going up and decide to play a game of chicken: all cars in the game must make it across before the bridge is completely raised (to allow the passing of ferrys). A protesting Ginny is shoved into a car by fellow Top Ten member Ann Thomerson. Every car jumps the drawbridge save one. As the car goes over the drawbridge Ginny yells "Mother!" and makes it safely across. After the car stops Ginny runs from the vehicle into the darkness home.

On the way home she stops by her mother's grave to tell her she's popular and hangs out with the Top Ten all the time. Ginny is confronted by her father about coming home after her curfew. Unbeknownst to either of them, Top Ten member Etienne Vercoures, a French foreign exchange student has followed her home. He enters Ginny's room, steals a pair of her underwear and escapes without being seen.

Ginny shares a handful of lost, repressed memories with her on-call psychiatrist, Dr. David Faraday. She underwent an experimental medical procedure, involving surgery to restore brain tissue, after surviving a harrowing accident at a drawbridge.

As Ginny attempts to resume her normal life, her fellow Top Ten members are murdered in very vicious and violent ways: Etienne is strangled when his scarf gets caught in the spokes of his motorcycle (à la Isadora Duncan); Greg has his neck crushed while lifting weights, and yet, the killer, who always sports a pair of black gloves, is never seen. Until one night, Top-Ten member Alfred, who's had a strong crush on Ginny, follows Ginny to her mother's grave and is then gutted with a pair of garden shears by Ginny.

On the weekend of her 18th birthday, Mr. Wainwright leaves on a business trip. After a school dance, Ginny invites Steve, another member of the Top Ten, to her place for a midnight snack. She prepares shish kebabs, and feeds him, while they drink and smoke marijuana. Then, Steve unsuspectingly leaves his mouth open and Ginny shoves the kebab skewer violently down his throat; leaving little doubt that Ginny may be the killer at this point.

The following morning, Ginny is taking a shower fighting to remember everything up to that point. In flashbacks, the following is revealed. Ginny's mother, a newly inducted socialite, invited the Top Ten to Ginny's birthday celebration four years earlier. Instead, the Top Ten went to Ann's party. Drunk and unstable, Mrs. Wainwright confronted the grounds-keeper. Ginny's mother learned that she had a reputation as the town whore; ergo, neither she nor her daughter were welcome at the Thomersons'. This led to Mrs. Wainwright attempting to drive across a bridge that was in the process of opening. With Ginny screaming, her mother finally stopped in the middle of the bridge as each side was still raising. The car fell in between the bridge halves and Mrs. Wainwright drowned in her car, although Ginny swam to safety.

Ginny realises that she may have killed her friends after all, including Ann, who had just paid her a visit. With Ginny's 18th birthday steadily approaching, she struggles to get answers from Dr. Faraday; when he fails to provide any, she kills him with a fire poker.

Mr. Wainwright returns from his business trip, ready to celebrate his daughter's 18th birthday. Entering their house, he sees blood and frantically attempts to locate Ginny. Instead, Mr. Wainwright finds Greg's girlfriend Amelia in shock in the courtyard clutching a gift, his late wife's grave (which recently has been robbed) and Dr. Faraday's corpse. Entering a cottage which serves as the Wainwrights' guest quarters, he makes a ghastly discovery.

The corpses of all the murdered Top Ten members are seated around the table, which has been set to look exactly as it did four years ago. The corpse of Mrs. Wainwright is seated there as well. Then Ginny enters, carrying a large cake and singing "Happy Birthday" to herself. Already distraught, Mr. Wainwright bursts into tears when his daughter casually admits to committing the murders. Ginny then slits her father's throat with the same large knife she used to cut the cake. He never sees the real Ginny, who is sedated, seated at this table as the killer's only living guest.

Ginny's doppelganger rants about having done all of this for Ginny, who then awakens to discover that the second Ginny is really Ann in disguise. Ann has been embittered by the revelation of her father's affair with Ginny's mother. It turns out that both girls are half-sisters. Ann slaughtered the six main members of the clique, that never showed up for her birthday party, expressly for the purpose of framing Ginny – who suddenly breaks free, takes Ann's knife and kills her with it.

As she stands over her half-sister's corpse, a detective walks in on Ginny and the horrifying carnage that surrounds her. He stares at Ginny and demands, "What have you done?" The audience[citation needed] is then left to wonder if Ginny will be cleared of the killings or arrested for them.

We hear Ginny singing "Happy Birthday to Me" as the film ends.


Critical reception[edit]

AllMovie gave the film a mixed review, writing, "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."[1]

DVD and Blu-Ray releases[edit]

The initial DVD release from Columbia Pictures featured a new soundtrack for the film and a new completely different cover art (not original poster art), which fans did not appreciate. Which also caused many slasher fans to beg for a re-release of the film with the original soundtrack that was heard in theatres and on the Columbia VHS.

Anchor Bay Entertainment released a new DVD with the image from the original poster artwork as the DVD cover and using the film's original soundtrack. The DVD was released on 13 October 2009.[2]

In 2012, the film was released on Blu-Ray through Mill Creek Entertainment on a double feature disc with the original When a Stranger Calls. This release, like the 2009 DVD, features the original 1981 audio.


The film's score varies from copy to copy. Some video releases contain the original theatrical score, whereas others contain a newer, completely different score and ending theme. The original score was written and composed by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin, respectively.

The film's ending theme, "Happy Birthday To Me" was sung by Syreeta Wright, (credited as simply Syreeta in the ending credits) and written by Lance Rubin (music) and Molly-Ann Leikin (lyrics). Subsequent releases (primarily the recent DVD copies) feature a disco track in place of this theme.

There was no official soundtrack release, however fan-made copies exist over the internet.


  • After the 'game' of flying over the drawbridge in cars, Ginny runs away into the forest with just her scarf. In the forest she has her scarf and handbag.
  • When the investigator pulls up to the house to inform the Doc and Ginny about the discovery of Ann's empty car, as he gets out the car and the camera shot is from the back of the car, you can see a crew-members face reflected in the small rear-view mirror.
  • When the last car flies over the drawbridge, its flies right into the ground and the front gets smashed, one headlight breaks and the front left tire flies off. When Ginny runs out of the car after they stop, the tire is back, the headlight is fixed and the front of the car seems totally intact.
  • When Ginny arrives at the inn, as she sits down, she holds her brown handbag in her hand, but in the next shot as she sits, the handbag is on her shoulder.
  • The film's eye-catching poster, which promised "Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see", has its subject named "John" as the one who receives the fatal shish kebab death; when it is actually a character named Steve Maxwell (played by Matt Craven).
  • In the scene when Rudi went inside Virginia "Ginny" Wainwright's house, he closed the window. At another scene the window was left open.
  • In the scene recounting the death of Virginia's mother, the car is seen falling from various angles but always on its roof. The last time it is shown and the scene were it submerges, it is obviously right side up.

Production information[edit]

  • Director J. Lee Thompson was renowned for tossing buckets of blood about on the set of Happy Birthday to Me to up the gore factor. According to producer John Dunning, with the assistance of special effects man Tom Burman, Thompson "would be splashing blood ALL over the place."[3]
  • UK cinema and 1986 RCA/Columbia video releases were culled from a longer print with slightly gorier footage of the weight-lift and shish kebab death scenes, plus the original music score. The 2004 DVD release is the edited R-rated version with the alternate music.
  • The press reported that to keep the "twist" ending a secret several endings were shot. This is untrue but helped hide the fact that while shooting, the film had no ending. The script was written with one ending that made sense to the story, but did not have a twist. So producers proceeded to film while tinkering with a twist. This explains why there is no build up.[original research?]
  • The movie was not popular with most critics; film historian Leonard Maltin considered it a bomb, stating that "Glenn Ford must have been desperate for the work" and said that Ford had "hit rock bottom with this appearance."
  • Lisa Langlois auditioned for the role of Ann but the role went to Tracy Bregman instead.[4]
  • According to an interview with Lisa Langlois, her character Amelia was originally killed off. In the first cut of the film, her character got an axe to her head. Langlois was told by David Douglas (a cameraman on the set) that the film would have been rated X if they kept that scene intact. So instead, the producers decided to make her look like the sole survivor in the final release.[5]


  1. ^ Guarisco, Donald. "Happy Birthday to Me – Review – AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  2. ^ However, some Wal-Mart stores released it a week earlier with a huge selection of other horror movies for only $5.Weekly DVD & Blu-Ray Chopping List 13 October 2009
  3. ^ "R.S.V.P. or Die!: An Interview with John Dunning – March 2011". The Terror Trap. 
  4. ^ "The Beauty & the Beasts: An Interview with Lisa Langlois – June 2011". The Terror Trap. 
  5. ^ "The Beauty & the Beasts: An Interview with Lisa Langlois – June 2011". The Terror Trap. 

External links[edit]