Movies & TV

A Bloody Good Time: ABGT Face-Off – Happy Birthday to Me vs. Bloody Birthday

October 12, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Bloody Birthday


Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

You would think that there would be more birthday-themed horror films, but those are sadly few and far between. It seems like an easy thing to center a horror film around, considering I’ve seen horror movies with flimsier reasons for existing. And yet, there are only really two movies that standout when you mention the words “birthday” and “horror” together. With the imminent arrival of Happy Death Day this Friday (a slasher film unfortunately rated PG-13), I thought we should take a look at two other big birthday horror films and have them face off!

That’s right, it’s two of what I feel are the most underrated slashers of the 80s, Happy Birthday to Me and Bloody Birthday, which both came out in 1981. Yes, two birthday-themed horror films both came out in the same year. I swear I don’t plan this. The same thing happened in the Lost Boys vs. Near Dark and Chopping Mall vs. Deadly Friend face-offs. I guess there just happens to be a lot of similar ideas.

Except these two movies aren’t really that similar. There are birthdays and there are deaths and that’s about it. The plots are vastly different, which is probably how they both ended up being memorable to me in spite of their similiarities in theme. So let’s look at them both and see which one is better.

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Round 1: The Story

Happy Birthday to Me is a pretty typical slasher movie that ends with a soap opera twist but somehow it works. In fact it works better than a lot of the slashers of its decade, outside of the big ones like Friday the 13th or The Burning. The film follows a super selective group of elite high school students called the “Top Ten”, who are killed off one by one by a mysterous assailant. At the end of the film (because I have no problem spoiling a film older than I am), it’s revealed that Ginny and Ann are half-siters, Ann is psychotic and has been killing people dressed as Ginny this whole time. Honestly, it’s the insanity of the twist that seals it in the same way as Sleepaway Camp.

Meanwhile, over in Bloody Birthday, we’re following a slightly more complicated story of three kids who were born during a solar eclipse. Ten years later, it turns out they’re all psychotic and will kill people to get their way. Only two other kids no the truth but no one will believe them. It’s a fairly dark movie given the subject matter, as while evil kids had been done before, they weren’t quite as evil as these kids seem to be.

So which film has the better story? I’d like to give it to Bloody Birthday, simply because it has a story, but Happy Birthday to Me has that insane twist at the end. The twist makes the movie for me while Bloody Birthday wins in other ways.

Winner: Happy Birthday to Me

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Round 2: The Cast

In Happy Birthday to Me, we have Melissa Sue Anderson as the star. You might know her as Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. I didn’t, but I didn’t that show no matter how many channels had it on syndication in the 90s. But she’s there, as is legendary golden age actor Glenn Ford in one of his last roles. So there are some names here, and they help the rest of the cast through what is, again, a pretty standard slasher until the finish. I don’t want that to come off as a complaint, you just have to know that a lot of these movies don’t try as hard with their characters because you’re there for the body count.

In Bloody Birthday we have Jose Ferrer and of course, a bunch of child actors. It’s a mixed bag too, because in some cases, like Billy Janye as Curtis, the kid is having a blast and is somehow able to play a crazy person well. On the other hand, the kids who are meant to be our heroes aren’t very good. So it’s a toss-up.

As for which is better, I’m still going to give it to Bloody Birthday. I’m not entirely sure what Billy Janye did with the rest of his career (imdb says he worked until 2000), but man he was a lot of fun to watch. Maybe he likes playing evil a little too much, but he definitely works harder than the rest of the cast and makes things fun to watch.

Winner: Bloody Birthday

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Part Three: The birthday theme

Hey, if we’re comparing two birthday-themed horror movies, it only makes sense that we compare which movie makes the best use of it.

Happy Birthday actually has a lot to do with the theme. The titular finale when all the twists are revealed takes place at a macabre birthday party with all the dead guests around the table. It also takes place on Ginny’s 18th birthday, so there’s that. In addition, Ann’s motivation to kill the teens is because they didn’t show up for her birthday party several years prior. But as far as, say, birthday-themed kills or whatnot, there are none

Bloody Birthday has a birthday party in it, but outside of the set-up for the story there isn’t a lot to do with the theme. The kids are evil because of when they were born (at least that’s what the story hints at) but there’s not a lot of birthday-themed kills or even a lot of use of the concept. It’s more about the evil kids than anything else. There is a great scene with a birthday cake that may or may not be poisoned, so I’ll give it that.

However, Happy Birthday does more with its themes so I’ll give it the point.

Winner: Happy Birthday To Me

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Part Four: The kills

Alright, so one of these movies is mean-spirited and the other is very violent for its time. And yet I already know what I’m going to pick. The answer is Happy Birthday to Me and it’s not even close.

Bloody Birthday‘s kills are mostly basic and uncreative. There is a nice arrow kill and some offscreen deaths, but it’s nothing compared to what you get in the competition. Happy Birthday to Me is fairly infamous for its murder scenes, which include a guy getting a shish kebab rammed through his mouth. It was so nasty it became the film’s poster (although not quite as depicted there). There’s also another who gets crushed by his weights and another who gets his face shredded by a running motorcycle.

So yeah, Happy Birthday wins.

Winner: Happy Birthday to Me

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Round Five: Quality

This category is about the film’s overall quality and rewatchibility. Considering these are both B-movies, it really depends on your personal taste.

Happy Birthday to Me has a lot going for it. The acting is, overall better (even though I did award the category to its competition), the story has that crazy twist at the end and there are some memorable kills. Once you know the twist is coming, does it change the quality? No, because Melissa Sue Anderson does a great job of selling it. This movie doesn’t have nearly the amount of love other slashers have from its time period and that’s really irritating to me. It’s at least better than Slaughter High (which I enjoy) and that’s getting a super-deluxe blu-ray at the end of the month.

Bloody Birthday has the performance of Billy Jayne and like I alluded to, some mean-spirited kills. They’re not particularly gory or overly violent, but they have a darker edge to them because it’s children doing it. I can and have watched this multiple times, because it’s a decent enough “psycho kid” movie. I enjoy it quite a bit.

But at the end of the day, I think Happy Birthday to Me has the overall better package. Everything else just clicks better and while it’s fun to watch kids act unrepetant about murder, I do appreciate the other film a little more.

Winner: Happy Birthday to Me

So if you’re keeping track, I gave Happy Birthday to Me the win with a score of 4-1. What do you think? Which birthday party is your favorite? That’s what the poll is for!


Ending Notes:

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Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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