by Sheri White
When I was a teen back in the early 80s, I loved going to horror movies (I still do). Guys I dated loved this because I wasn’t dragging them to “chick flicks.” And of course I would bury my face in my date’s shoulder or cling to his arm. Win-win all around.
One of my favorite activities was going on double-dates with my best friend Joanne. Poor girl wasn’t crazy about horror movies, but she was a pretty good sport about it. We saw movies she liked too, but when it was double-date time, horror was the choice.
One of my favorite 80s horror movies is Happy Birthday to Me. Sometimes I think Joanne and I and our dates were the only ones who saw it. It’s about a girl named Virginia – played by Melissa Sue Anderson who was “Mary” on Little House on the Prairie (!) – who suffered a rough childhood and was not popular at all with her peers. She tried to have a birthday party once and invited the “cool kids,” but nobody showed up.
But things change after the car accident that kills her mother and leaves Virginia with a brain injury. She recovers from the injury and attends the boarding school the other rich and popular kids attend and finally becomes one of them. But as she approaches her 18th birthday, her friends start dying gruesomely. Virginia, suffering blackouts as a result of the accident, is afraid she might know who the killer is…
My very first date (at the tender age of 14!) was to see the first and original Friday the 13th with a boy I was crazy about. So I was used to graphic horror movies. Poor Joanne wasn’t. Not only were there gruesome killings, we were also treated to flashbacks of Virginia’s very graphic and realistic brain surgery. The murders include the usual stabbings and throat slashings, but a few are pretty creative. The shish-kabob murder is the one that pretty much made Joanne stop trusting me with picking out movies.
Horror movies today are pretty graphic, but many of them veer more towards “torture porn” as it’s called. Movies like “The Human Centipede” and “Hostel” are just violence for violence’s sake; they don’t have heart like the old horror movies did. It seems like the people who make these movies are just trying to outdo one another in how gross they can get, not what kind of story they can put together. Sure they’re shocking, but once you get over the squick factor, what’s left?
Happy Birthday to Me isn’t just about the gore; there’s a real story in there, with a great twist ending. In that way, it was different from the other slasher flicks at the time. Most of the other horror movies, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Maniac were good movies, but were pretty much all about the body count. I realize that Halloween was innovative for its time, but it’s still a body-count movie. It was just one of the first.
It’s thirty years later now. Joanne lives on the West Coast now, so we don’t get to see each other. I’m sure, though, that she still wouldn’t trust me to pick out a movie for us to see together. I don’t blame her. I put her through a lot of blood and guts in the 80s.
If you haven’t seen this movie before, put it in your queue. Unfortunately, I understand that when the DVD was issued in 2004, there were changes made such as replacing the original cover (the girl on the DVD cover looks NOTHING like Melissa Sue Anderson) and replacing the original beautiful score with canned pop music. But the movie itself is still intact, and it’s a lot of fun to watch with a bowl of popcorn and someone to grab onto.
Happy Birthday to Me Trailer