Sunday, October 1, 2023

Misc. Film Fun: Music from Movies – Happy Birthday to Me (USA, 1981)

Happy Birthday to Me
is a late-career directorial project of the prolific British film director John Lee Thompson (1 Aug 1914 – 30 Aug 2002), whose final western film, The White Buffalo (1977), we took a look at some time ago. Although he was a director prone to genre-hopping, it is nevertheless sometimes difficult to compute that Thompson, the man behind films like The Guns of Navarone (1961 / trailer), the original Cape Fear (1962 / trailer) and What a Way to Go (1964 / trailer), ever went on to do some of the trash he eventually made — re: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972 / trailer), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973 / trailer) and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987 / trailer), among others. Luckily, however, he was a genre specialist who was never above pulp, so he left behind a remarkable oeuvre of entertaining cinematic sludge, including Happy Birthday to Me, his only body-counter slasher cum teen psychological thriller. (His only other two full-on horror films, if one does not count The White Buffalo, are more traditionally adult: The Reincarnation of Peter Proud [1975 / trailer] and Eye of the Devil [1966 / trailer].)
Trailer to
Happy Birthday to Me:
Filmed in Canada and New York State, Happy Birthday to Me was produced by the same team, John Dunning and André Link, of the far-more successful slasher My Bloody Valentine (1981 / trailer), which got remade in 2009 (review here). Happy Birthday to Me, the feature-film debut of former TV good girl Melissa Sue Anderson (of Little Gag Me House on the Prairie [1974-83], below from Happy Birthday to Me), received mostly scathing reviews and, despite doing well enough at the box office, quickly faded from most people's memories — only to gain a second life as a popular cult horror flick on video and DVD. In the UK, it was even a victim of the video nasty panic. Oddly enough, despite the film's original mild success and subsequent cult popularity, a remake never made it out of development hell during the slasher remake trend that hit during the first decade of this century.
Minor point of trivia: while the shish-kebab killing featured on the movie's instantly familiar poster does indeed occur in the movie, neither that dead teenager nor any of the other five murdered characters is named "John". (Don't you feel more fulfilled in life now that you know that factoid?) The character who gets shish-kebabed is Steve Maxwell (Matt Craven) — that's him directly below.
The plot, as found at The Abominable Dr. Welsh: "At the Crawford Academy high school, they are the 'Top 10' — the social elite of the student body. After surviving a car accident that took her mother's (Sharon Acker) life, Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) still struggles to find some normalcy with her friends. With no memories of what happened during the accident, Virginia's road to recovery only grows more difficult. Her psychiatrist, Dr Faraday (Glenn Ford), performed experimental brain surgery on her. Now she's suffering blackouts and slowly recovering pieces of the accident. And one by one, her friends in the 'Top 10' start disappearing. Someone is hunting down Crawford's finest, and Virginia slowly questions whether she may be the killer."
But what interests us right now about the movie is, of course, the movie's music. Contrary to what some might claim, Happy Birthday to Me did indeed have an original score when first released in 1981. Why Sony dumped it on their 2004 DVD release is a mystery to us, but at least all subsequent releases (including the cheap-shit Mill Creek version) went back to the original music by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin. Prior and subsequent to Happy Birthday to Me, Harwood did mostly "serious" independent movies like Cassavettes's Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976, with Haji). Rubin, on the other hand, came to Happy Birthday fresh on the heels of his soundtrack for the idiosyncratic trash classic Motel Hell (1980) — and, for Happy Birthday, wrote the song that is the reason why we're even looking at this film: Syreeta's closing track to the movie, which plays over the final credits, entitled Happy Birthday to Me. What a song!
Happy Birthday to Me:
Big Gay Horror Fan is likewise a fan of the song, and was moved over three years ago (March 2020) to write: "Known for the celestial soar of her range, the singular Syreeta (Wright) was often regarded in terms of her associations with other musicians. She was briefly married to Stevie Wonder, who produced her second album, and her work with Billy Preston resulted in her best known recording, With You I'm Born Again. But she was much more than a muse to great men, often writing her own material and holding her own in the often unscrupulous dealings of the entertainment industry. Horror fans, meanwhile, are in eternal thrall of her distinctive vocals from the theme of Happy Birthday to Me. Wright, chillingly, captures the haunting dynamics of this classic slasher [...]. Dying from complications from cancer at far too young an age, Syreeta is rightfully held in high regard not only by lovers of the Motown Sound, but by appreciative music lovers of all varieties."
Sing along with Syreeta:
(First Verse)
I'll have my party alone today. Who cares anyway?
I don't need them now

(Second Verse)
Who wants presents with pretty bows? Who likes party clothes?
I don't need them now

Can't I turn the lights? Can't I cut the cake?
A wish is just a wish; what difference does it make?

(Third Verse)
Now that everyone's gathered here, sing out loud and clear
Cheerful as can be: "Happy birthday" to me!

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