I also want to celebrate the release of My Soul to Take
on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a birthday movie on steroids – the plot is about seven kids who were born when a serial killer was killed, and how they fear he will come back on their 16th birthday. The film’s trailer was pretty bad, and the added cost for 3D was hardly enticing, since it didn’t look like the type of film that would lend itself to the format (you know, the type with big robots or monsters or aliens or Nic Cage), so it came and went in theaters with minimal fanfare. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the most batshit movies I’ve ever seen released from a major studio, to the extent where saying it was “good” or “bad” is almost pointless. Featuring incomprehensible teen slang that no teen actually uses, a climax that is largely comprised of lengthy bursts of exposition (including one from a mortally wounded character who uses dying breath to explain how he got inside the house), and the best school project scene ever filmed, it’s something truly special. If you read a negative review that bashed the film for being generic or something along those lines – that person didn’t even see the film. It would be like reviewing The Room without mentioning that the main actor was kind of awkward.
Anyway, some birthday horror! And if today is your birthday, then I dedicate the article to you.
(In release date order)
One of the “classier” slashers to pop up during the early 80s boom, Happy Birthday To Me boasts both an A list director (J. Lee Thompson of Guns Of Navarone fame) and a golden era star (Glenn Ford, in one of his final theatrical roles), plus one of the genre’s all time best taglines – “Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see!” (not to mention the odd point at the top of the poster “John will never eat shish kebab again.”). Of course, the movie didn’t quite live up to these claims, since some of the deaths are fairly bland (a stabbing isn’t very bizarre, and that accounts for a couple of them), though I guess I will give it credit for not spoiling anything, since no one is named John (Steve is the guy who gets kebab’d). But it’s got better acting all around than most of the era, a pretty fun soundtrack (make sure you get the DVD with the original music! The first DVD release had replacement stuff due to some rights issues), and a crazy ending that takes place at, yes, a macabre birthday party. Also, even though he’s never mentioned it as one of his influences to the best of my knowledge, Kevin Williamson is apparently a fan, as (slight spoiler) the killer’s motive in Scream was nearly identical to the one in this film (albeit with the sexes reversed). It’s a bit long, but it’s one of the better slashers from the class of 1981.
(aka And When She Was Bad)
This movie is actually pretty similar to Happy Birthday To Me at times, especially at the end, which occurs at another birthday party where most of the guests are propped up corpses. But what separates it is the fact that this one is batshit pretty much for its entire running time, as one of the killers is a dog, our heroine teaches some truly awkward deaf kids, and there’s an Asian handyman walking around talking to himself in his native language (sans subtitles) for a good three minutes before getting killed. Oh, it’s co-produced by Italians, which explains most of its puzzling moments. If you find Happy Birthday To Me a bit too highbrow, I highly recommend this as an alternate.
My mom was pretty lenient when it came to letting me watch R rated movies as a kid, but I remember her taking some convincing to rent Bloody Birthday back when I was 7 or 8. Maybe it was because the kids themselves were killers and thus she was afraid that could influence me to push my own father down the stairs, or play “ambulance” in graveyards, or any of the other inappropriate things that occur in this movie. Or maybe I myself was born during an eclipse and thus have no soul (the explanation given in this film) and she didn’t want me to “awaken”. Well, whatever the reason, I got to see it, and it’s stuck with me since. Severin is re-releasing the film on DVD this June, featuring what looks like a gorgeous new transfer – if you have a horror fan friend with a birthday that month, picking it up should be a no-brainer.
This is my least favorite of the Paramount Fridays, due to the bland, largely hateful teens, bloodless kills (MPAAs fault, to be fair), and unusually lax approach to established continuity (since when are the houses right on the lake? And when did the town name get changed back to Crystal Lake from Forest Green?). But there is a lot to like; Jason’s look is one of the best in the entire series (certainly the best “zombie Jason” look), and it was the first appearance of Kane Hodder in the role – for my money, the best Jason of all (even though he was in most of the weakest films). And bloodless as they may be, the kills are pretty fun – in addition to the usual machete and axe kills, Jason uses a party favor, a weed whacker (!), and of course, a tree and sleeping bag combo, a kill that remains a favorite in the series. Also, it’s somehow the first one to focus on a bunch of kids partying for a birthday of one of their own – somehow the previous six films always skipped this fairly obvious excuse to throw a bunch of good looking kids together.
There’s no real birthday party for Andy Barclay, but unlike some other movies that feature birthdays (Last House On The Left, Sisters), it’s safe to say that the movie wouldn’t have happened if not for Andy’s birthday wish coming true. All the kid wants is a Good Guy doll, and he hates his new clothes and other non Good Guy presents so much that his mom is forced to buy one from a homeless dude, as they are all sold out in stores (shades of Cabbage Patch Kids – apparently all kids had the same birthday in the state of Illinois). If the little shit was just happy with the presents he got, a lot of folks might be alive today. But hateful child protagonist aside, the first film is easily the best in the series; it’s the only one that’s actually kind of scary, with the humor kept to a minimum and Tom Holland’s direction actually keeping it a bit of a mystery for a while (i.e. is it Chucky or Andy?). Also, the male lead is Oscar nominee Chris Sarandon. The male lead in the sequel was the guy from Terror Vision. ‘Nuff said.
MTV is of course one of the most wretched and disposable channels on the dial, shining the spotlight on (and giving careers to) some of the most awful people on the planet with their original programming. Yet somehow, a TV-safe modern slasher movie spun off from the absolute lowest of the low (My Super Sweet 16 – a show about horrible teens demanding their parents throw them the “best” birthday party) turned out to be a pretty fun time. Sure, it’s got problems, such as the wall to wall generic pop soundtrack, and the curious choice of casting Julianna Guill as a 15 going on 16 year old (since her claim to fame was playing the girl with the “stupendous” breasts in the Friday the 13th remake), but I enjoyed it all the same. The killer’s costume is both goofy and creepy, the kills are inspired (roller skate decap!) and director Jacob Gentry actually put some effort into it, which I’m sure was just as much of a surprise to MTV execs as it was to audiences. So if you go in with the same low (and I mean LOW) expectations that I did, you should come away feeling surprised and entertained. And now that it’s out on DVD, you don’t even have to suffer through ads for Jersey Shore. Win-win!
This indie has a truly odd take on the typical slasher tale, with the killings (which take place at a birthday party) actually being the fictional story that our protagonist (Henry Thomas!) is seemingly making up as he goes along as he “bonds” with his new lady friend, played by Kelli Garner. Obviously there’s more to it than that, and the ending occasionally tries too hard to be clever, but the framework and unusual relationship between the two (they pretty much hate each other) makes it a memorable alt-slasher. Also the murderer uses an alligator for one kill, which is indisputably awesome. Much better than Red Velvet milk, at any rate (yes, that exists).
I know there are a few others with birthday themes (Omen II, Molly Hartley, Don’t Go Near The Park) – this isn’t a definitive list. Plus I focused on the ones where the birthday party (or in Child’s Play’s case, the gift itself) was sort of the “main event” for the film, because I like the prospect of people being killed with noisemakers. But if you know of any others that are more like the ones I discussed above, feel free to inform me in the comments below – my birthday is in 4 weeks, I’d love an appropriate movie to enjoy on it. I’ve lucked out on all my birthdays so far, let’s keep the streak alive (it’s been kind of a bad year so far – I’ve only really liked maybe 7 or 8 of the 30+ movies I’ve watched for HMAD in 2011).
Brian Collins watches a horror movie every single day, and has done so now for four years. To read his cries for help, visit Horror Movie A Day, the original and still the best daily horror movie site.