Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 American slasher movie filmed in Canada & directed by J. Lee Thompson, written by John C.W. Saxton and starring Melissa Sue Anderson and Glenn Ford. It was released May 15, 1981.
The picture was not well received by most critics; movie historian Leonard Maltin called it "...Just under two hours of bloody exploitation...Glenn Ford hits rock bottom with this one; he must have been desperate for the work." Despite this, the film has since become a cult classic among fans of the slasher genre...who hail the film for its bizarre (and vicious) murder scenes, and also for its twisted climactic revelation.
Virginia "Ginny" Wainwright is a pretty and popular 12th grader at Crawford Academy. She is one of her school's "Top Ten": an elite clique which comprises the richest, most admired - and most snobbish - teens at the Academy. The Top Ten meet every night at the Silent Woman Tavern, a pub near Crawford's campus.
One night, en route to the Silent Woman, Top Ten member Bernadette O'Hara is confronted by a Killer whose face cannot be seen. Unable to flee, she struggles and then plays dead to catch the Killer off-guard. She fights the Killer off, then runs for help. Bernadette encounters a student whom she obviously knows well. She pleads her ordeal...only to have her throat slit with a straight-razor, when this student (whom the audience still cannot see) turns out to be the Killer.
The Top Ten are briefly concerned when Bernadette fails to show up at the Silent Woman. They promptly get over it, however; the Top Ten have a long history of playing elaborate pranks, both on each other and on the locals. Their grievance with another tavern patron inspires just such a prank: they "borrow" the member's pet mouse, which they dunk into the lodger's beer - all the while pretending to apologize for their rudeness. The lodger discovers the mouse, mayhem ensues, and the Top Ten flee the scene.
En route back home, the Top Ten see a local drawbridge going up and decide to play a game of chicken: all cars in the game must make it across before the bridge is completely raised (to allow the passing of ferrys). A protesting Ginny is shoved into a car by fellow Top Ten member Ann Thomerson. Every car jumps the drawbridge save one. After the car in which Ginny is riding makes it over the bridge, Ginny has a meltdown and yells "Mother!". Ginny jumps out and bolts off toward her home nearby.
Ginny is confronted by her father Hal about coming home after curfew. Unbeknownst to either of them, somebody (whom the audience cannot see) has followed her home. The mysterious figure enters Ginny's room, steals a pair of her underwear, and escapes without being seen. A day later, fellow Top Ten member Etienne Vercures reveals himself as the thief (he "secretly borrowed" Ginny's underwear for use as a good-luck charm) after winning a local motocross.
Ginny shares a handful of lost and repressed memories with her on-call psychiatrist, Dr. David Faraday. Under his supervision, she underwent an experimental procedure to have her brain tissue surgically restored...after she narrowly survived a harrowing accident at the same drawbridge recently jumped by the Top Ten.
As Ginny struggles to resume a normal life, her fellow Top Ten members die violently: Etienne is strangled when his scarf gets caught in the spokes of his motorcycle (à la Isadora Duncan); Greg Hellman has his neck crushed while lifting weights; Alfred Morris is gutted with a pair of garden shears...by none other than Ginny.
Hal departs on a business trip, leaving Ginny to house-sit. She invites Steve Maxwell, another of the Top Ten, over for a midnight snack. She prepares shish kebabs, which she feeds him while they drink her dad's wine and smoke marijuana. Suddenly, as a drunk and stoned Steve leaves his mouth agape, Ginny viciously shoves a kebab skewer down his throat with fatal results.
The following morning, while taking a shower, Ginny at last recalls her blacked-out life up to that point. In flashbacks, the following is revealed.
Ginny's mother Estelle, a newly-inducted socialite, invited the Top Ten to her daughter's birthday celebration four years earlier. Instead, the Top Ten went to Ann's party. Drunk and unstable, Estelle confronted the grounds-keeper...and learned that she had a reputation as the town whore. Ergo, neither she nor her daughter were welcome at the Thomersons'. This led to Estelle attempting to drive across the drawbridge while it was opening. With Ginny screaming, her mother finally stopped halfway across - with both sides of the bridge still going up. The car fell between the bridge halves and into the river; Estelle drowned in her car, although Ginny swam to safety.
Ginny realizes that she may have killed her friends after all, including Ann. With Ginny's 18th birthday approaching, she struggles to get answers from Dr. Faraday; when he doesn't provide any, she bludgeons him to death with a fire poker.
Hal returns from his business trip, ready to celebrate his daughter's 18th birthday. Entering their house, he sees blood and frantically attempts to locate Ginny. Instead Hal finds his late wife's grave, which has been robbed; Estelle's corpse has been replaced with Dr. Faraday's. Entering a cottage which serves as the Wainwrights' guest quarters, Hal makes a ghastly discovery.
The corpses of all the butchered Top Ten members are seated around the table, which has been set to look exactly as it did four years ago. Estelle's decomposed body is seated there as well. Then Ginny enters, carrying a large and beautiful birthday cake. She sings "Happy Birthday" to herself. The already-distraught Hal bursts into tears when his daughter casually admits to committing the murders. Ginny then slits her father's throat with the same large knife she used to cut the cake. He never sees another Ginny, seated at this table as the Killer's only living guest. This Ginny, the real Ginny, is sedated.
Ginny's doppelganger rants about having done all of this for Ginny, who suddenly awakens to the shocking horror of her father and friends having been massacred by this impostor...Ann!
Ann has been embittered by the revelation of her father's affair with Ginny's mother. It turns out that both girls are maternal half-sisters. Ann slaughtered all six core members of the clique (who never showed up for her birthday party) expressly for the purpose of framing Ginny...who suddenly breaks free, commandeers Ann's knife and slays her with it.
As she stands over the body of her evil half-sister, a detective walks in on Ginny and the horrifying carnage that surrounds her. Immediately reaching the obvious-but-wrong conclusion, he stares at Ginny and demands, "What have you done?" Ginny can only stand there, triumphant in that she has survived her sister's murderous rampage, and yet defeated in that she must now answer for the deaths of her family and friends. The audience is then left to wonder if Ginny will be cleared of the killings or arrested for them.
We hear Ginny singing "Happy Birthday to Me" as the film ends.
- Melissa Sue Anderson - Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright
- Glenn Ford - Dr. David Faraday
- Lawrence Dane - Harold “Hal” Wainwright
- Sharon Acker - Estelle Wainwright
- Frances Hyland - Mrs. Patterson
- Tracey E. Bregman - Ann Thomerson
- Jack Blum - Alfred Morris
- Matt Craven - Steve Maxwell
- Lenore Zann - Maggie
- David Eisner - Rudi
- Michel-René Labelle - Etienne Vercures
- Richard Rebiere - Greg Hellman
- Lesleh Donaldson - Bernadette O'Hara
- Lisa Langlois - Amelia