Happy Birthday to Me J. Lee Thompson

Happy Birthday to Me J. Lee Thompson
Revived by Anchor Bay is this forgotten entry from the age of Canadian tax shelter cinema, an era that produced numerous genre knock-offs of American films. While Happy Birthday to Meis no classic — barely even a cult film — it's not embarrassing and is worth a look for fans of slasher cinema. On the campus of Crawford Academy private school one-by-one students from an overachieving clique of friends are disappearing without explanation. While the students are in the dark, we, the audience, watch them get murdered in grisly fashion by an unknown assailant identifiable only by a pair of black gloves. Who can it be? A number of red herrings attempt to keep us guessing. Is it Alfred, the freaky geek with a pet rat and a taxidermy collection or Rudi, the hothead, jealous boyfriend or Etienne, the creepy Frenchman? Virginia (Ginny) Wainwright emerges as the hero: a girl suffering from painful memories of her mother's death and some kind of experimental brain surgery, which may have turned her into the sadistic killer. Veteran British director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, Guns of Navarone) directs with panache and a surprisingly classical style for a Canucksploitation film. The production values are top notch, rendering the film completely invisible to its Canadian-ness and if anything, is a decent, stylish knock-off of Brian De Palma schlock. The film has more integrity than most of its '80s contemporaries, as we're actually deprived of the youthful skin and bed-hopping we expect from having so many good-looking, young people in a picture. And the addition of an aging but distinguished Glenn Ford adds some gravitas to the role of Ginny's psychologist, Dr. Faraday. But what we're not deprived of is what the film's core audience craves: a number of gruesome deaths, including creative use of a shish kabob skewer, a bench press and more. The DVD is light on extras, giving us only a classic trailer to enjoy. (Anchor Bay)