Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
|Category||Horror||Trailer-Hellboy, Gothika, Secret Window|
|Year Of Production||1981|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||J. Lee Thompson|
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Melissa Sue Anderson
Tracey E. Bregman
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||Unknown||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
- Virginia entices Steve with one of her tasty shish kebabs
Following a car accident that left part of her brain damaged and her mother dead, Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) returns to high school after a long rehabilitation. She is accepted into the school’s b****y social clique and her life appears to be back on track.
However, when her friends start to vanish and the only clue is a pool of blood left behind from the latest victim, Virginia starts to doubt her sanity. As her eighteenth birthday looms closer, memories from her past come flooding back and lead her to believe she may have something to do with the disappearances.
Like Black Christmas, Terror Train, Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine, J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday to Me was one of a number of successful slashers to escape out of Canada. Although it adhered to expected genre conventions in tone and execution to satisfy its core audience, the film resembled its Canadian siblings in that it stood out from the glut of other slashers of the time due to its inventive death sequences, lurid backstory and above average acting and characterisations.
While many slasher films laboriously padded out the running time with inane chit-chat and lurking camera shots, Happy Birthday to Me held the attention of jaded horror enthusiasts by spicing the narrative with a vainglorious whodunit Giallo sensibility. Director J. Lee Thompson shrewdly sets up each key character as a suspect and even goes as far as teasing the audience with the killers’ familiarity to the victim - “Oh…It’s you,” says one teenager before suffering a rather nasty fate. The camera then swoops and quickly cuts away from the leather-gloved killer’s murderous intentions, thereby letting the viewer’s imagination fill in the gory aftermath.
Although dismissed by most critics as being ludicrous and contrived, the film has been a cult favourite among slasher fans since its release. The curious casting of sickly sweet Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie) as a troubled teen, slick production values, some adrenalin-charged action sequences and an unexpected “twist” ending that was quite a shocking revelation, have all added to its enduring appeal.
The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is also 16x9 enhanced.
For a film a quarter of a century old, this is a very good-looking transfer. The print is crisp and clean with only a small amount of lo-fi grain and softness appearing now and again.
At times, print darkness can obscure on-screen action during the few outdoor night-time sequences (see 17:21 and 31:29). However, this appears to be mainly due to subdued lighting, rather than a problem with the transfer. Shadow detail clarity is penetrating, especially where it counts during the macabre death scenes and the final shocking revelatory sequence. Black levels are deep and show no signs of low level noise.
Colours are generally vibrant and well-saturated. Most notably, the redness of the blood looks appropriately sticky and rich in texture.
Skin tones often take on a strong pinkish hue, particularly evident when Melissa Sue Anderson undresses to have a shower (19:16) and during a classroom scene (22:42), where the sea of bright pink faces look unnaturally amusing.
Although the disc has a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono mix, the main concern for fans of the film will be the number of unfamiliar soundtrack and ambient score re-workings that have mysteriously appeared on this DVD release.
The creepy, synthesised violin and piano theme played over the opening title sequence from the original Australian RCA VHS edition has been replaced here with an irritatingly infectious disco track. With lyrics like “Suddenly out of the blue…It’s got to be you…This feeling is new…” (groan), the song is counterproductive and flattens the eerie tone set up by the original opening theme. The same song (which would sound at home on the b-side of Olivia Newton-John’s Let’s Get Physical) can also be heard playing over the soundtrack during the film’s disco scenes at 68:44.
There are other numerous examples of soundtrack and score changes throughout the film. Interestingly, the composers are still credited as Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin and the “new” disco track is not listed during the closing credits.
The differences in the soundtrack and score have been the subject of much speculation. A number of websites have blamed copyright problems or that Columbia Tristar hired new composers in an attempt to endow the film with a modern 80s feel so that it would appeal to the post-Scream generation. However, the overwhelming silence from Columbia’s public relations department suggests that they simply made a mistake and inadvertently released an alternative version of the film’s audio.
To rectify the problem, Columbia has included the majority of the film’s original soundtrack on this Region 4 disc via the German language option. It’s highly recommended that if you’re not familiar with the film then play the first five minutes with the German language and English subtitle track turned on.
Confusingly, the Happy Birthday to Me song performed by Syreeta over the closing credits can be found intact on the English-language version of the Region 4 release. However, on the German language track, the vocals have been removed so only the music plays.
Dialogue is clear and easily understood. There were no lip sync issues detected.
Being the original mono mix, the surrounds and subwoofer are silent.
|Surround Channel Use|
Hellboy (2:20) There is a secret agency dedicated to protecting humanity…
Gothika (2:06) Dr. Miranda Grey is an expert at knowing what is rational…until the day she woke up on the other side.
Secret Window (2:00) For Mort Rainey every story is a window to another world…but some windows should never be opened.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
In comparison to the Region 1 Columbia edition, our Region 4 release is superior as it includes the soundtrack and score familiar to fans - even though you have to play it via the German language track with the English subtitles turned on.
The Region 1 is also ridiculously overpriced and contains Regional Coding Enhancement, which will not allow it to play on a number of multi-region DVD players.
Apart from a few subtitle options, the Region 2 (English and German) editions are identical to our own.
With a recommended retail price of $14.95 our Region 4 is the cheapest and best option.
Happy Birthday to Me is an above-average slasher from the gloriously blood-soaked early 80s. The lack of extras is disappointing, but almost made up for with excellent picture quality and the addition of the original soundtrack – even though it’s in German.
|DVD||Yamaha DVR-S200 (it came free with the plasma), using S-Video output|
|Display||Yamaha 106cm Plasma. Calibrated with Sound & Home Theater Tune Up. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built into amplifier. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Amplification||get a marshall stack, and crank it up.|
|Speakers||2 x Bose Speakers and 4 NX-S200 Yamaha mini-speakers.|