I did not come to this film in the 80s or even in the 1990s. The first time I saw HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) was when it was issued on DVD more than a decade ago. My memory from that single viewing was that it was pretty good - not great - but interesting enough to hold on to for possible future viewings. Now that I've watched it for the second time in my life I have to say that although it is problematic it's a pretty good film.
That's not to say that it's pretty good across the board because, quite honestly, it's far too long. Clocking in just 10 minutes shy of two hours it is a full 20 to 25 minutes too long for the type of story it's trying to tell. I'm not sure what I would eliminate from this overstuffed running time but it certainly needs to be a good deal shorter. Maybe remove a character or two? Maybe do away with the Glenn Ford character? Possibly one less obvious red herring scene? I don't know.
As a typical 80's slasher film it is built around one of my favorite things in the world - a whodunit plot. One of the better things about HBTM is that it's story isn't just built as a 'who is the killer' game but also as a 'why is this happening' tale as well. The film spends an inordinate amount of time pointing the finger at the main character of the story and making it pretty obvious that if she's not the killer then something really, really strange is going on. I mean damn! Melissa Sue Anderson's
has a pretty ntense set of
psychological problems including feeling partially responsible for her mother's
death! No, I'm not going to spoil the
film but I will say that the final third act twist ending is pretty damn
entertaining and does a good job of redeeming some of the more problematic
moments throughout the film. It doesn't make this a great movie but it does
make it a pretty fun one. I think I might want to watch this again one day. Maybe on a future birthday! Virginia