Home Of Pure Retro Movie Love.

Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days Of 80's Movie Slashers: 10/31 - Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

Day Thirty-one: Happy Halloween, kids!


Happy Birthday To Me
From Columbia Pictures
Original Theatrical Release Date: May 15th 1981
DVD: Yes


Plot: Poor Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson). She just might go bonkers. Someone is giving her the rather nasty gift of killing off her friends just in time for her Birthday.




You might remember that I love a good Scooby-Doo Slasher every now and then. Well my friends, it doesn't get any better than Happy Birthday To Me if that's what you're also looking for.


The elite Top 10 students at Crawford Academy are a strange bunch. They all seem to only want to party and act as if they are completely guilty of murder. I suppose the pressures of school and success can do that to you. I love that these crazy kids go to a pub called "The Silent Woman" and I love that they take the time to play pranks and upset the local senior lodge members. Why have endless scenes of academia when we can have moments of mice in beer? And when we do have some moments of Academia, thankfully it's hair raising moments like this:


Melissa Sue Anderson's Ginny (Definitely not to be confused with Amy Steel's Ginny from Friday The 13th Part II and my way of just mentioning Amy Steel once again in these posts) is a bit more aloof and serious than her friends. She tries her hardest to fit in as she's not from money like everyone else but has seemingly inherited her mother's crazy genes. Because these kids seem wacko themselves, they never take notice of her strange behavior. Melissa Sue Anderson does a great job in a very complicated role. She could have easily been unlikeable. Instead, we do care about Ginny and her mental health. But also, we can't help but wonder what she may be up to.

Okay, let's run this down again quickly...

I have a head wound.

I see a psychiatrist who was once a classy actor named Glenn Ford.

And my friends are weird. 

Am I losing my mind? Or did I stumble upon a lifestyle that just might be so much more awesome than yours. 

Happy Birthday's world is awesome and strange, indeed. We get treated to what the tagline calls "Six of the most Bizarre Murders You Will Ever See". Three of which taught such ever valuable lessons in life, like:

Never ever wear a scarf while fixing your motorbike, even if you think you're the biggest preppie stud on campus. It does not ends well. 


Always wear an athletic cup when you're lifting weights. There are many people out there who are just simply tempted to drop a heavy weight onto your package. 10 times out of 10 this will distract you and the heavy weight from the bar will crush your neck. This also hurts like balls.


And don't you dare sit by the fireplace and eat Shish Kebab with anyone you think you might be so comfortable with that they insist on feeding you food from a long, sharp poker. Secretly people don't like you, and this is their chance to let you know.


You know, I may have made it sound that way, but, High School isn't all fun and games that include motorbikes, working out and a good stick in the mouth. It's also about beheadings, brain surgery, bell towers and panty stealing. But then, all the best movies have at least some of those qualities. And if they don't, they really should get on that.


Happy Birthday To Me was produced by John Dunning and Andre Link, the Canadian geniuses behind My Bloody Valentine and Death Weekend. They hired Director J. Lee Thompson (The Guns Of Navarone, The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud, 10 To Midnight) to orchestrate this madness and the Film ends up with a polish so unlike other Films of it's kind of the time. With a great cast and a higher than usual budget for a Film of it's type, Happy Birthday is a step above it's other Slasher cousins and I tend to come back to it time and time again like an old friend. There's an indescribable comfort of watching a well crafted movie about some crazy nonsense that it ends up becoming even more therapeutic than the Hot Tub from Halloween II or watching Glenn Ford's open shirt and gold chain.

Hamlet this also isn't.

You do not have to question your sanity when you love a Film like Happy Birthday To Me. You might as well have come from a parent who was impossible to deal with and ends up drowning in her crazy sorry, or you might have the urge to act like Quasimodo for no good reason, and you may even feel the need to don a mask that just so happens to look exactly like a good friend or relative of yours that you hate. You do absolutely have to be in the mood for the classiest, sharpest cheese you can find at your local grocery or video store or wherever you happen to shop. The aromas, the texture, the aged beauty of a 30 year old Slasher Film is a wonderful thing. They can easily be paired with a good Red Wine in the Cabernet, Pinot Noir family or whatever you might have on hand. I myself prefer a nice single malt scotch. The more developed the flavors such as a good nutty or peaty quality seem to work well. I can sit around in the dark admiring Ginny's eyes as she looks off into the none too distant crazy future. I can watch as her friends drop away, coming back to say hello in the final act with their best birthday wishes (which they really should have done all those years ago). I can also learn to play "The Game"... I wonder if my car would make it off the bridge in time.

Watch Happy Birthday To Me no matter if it is or isn't your Birthday. If you do end up watching it alone, don't get too upset with the friends you invited that didn't show up. It's not good to hold a grudge. And someone just might want to frame you for their murders. I won't say who, but, you just might want to check to see if their face is real or not. I sometimes have to do that in life. Call me crazy, but, you just never know.



Trailer:




For more Happy Birthday To Me Lovin' please see The Hysteria Continues' inaugural podcast which covered the Film. The show is hosted by 4 loving fans of the genre and their coverage on the Film for their first show which was back in January of this year is superb. Check it out on iTunes. Just scroll down to episode #1 right here: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME/HYSTERIA 


As for more 80's Slasher Film Recommendations, here's just a quick list of Favorite Films I wanted to cover this Month, but just couldn't get to. 31 Days is just not enough!


1980
Fade To Black
Friday the 13th
Funeral Home
He Knows You're Alone


1981
Bloody Birthday
The Boogeyman
Dark Night of the Scarecrow
Deadly Blessing
Friday the 13th Part II
Madhouse
Nightmare
The Prowler
Strange Behavior

1982
Death Valley
Don't Go to Sleep
The Dorm That Dripped Blood
Hospital Massacre
Madman
The Slayer

1983
10 to Midnight
Mortuary
Night Warning
Sleepaway Camp
Sweet Sixteen

1984
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Girls Nite Out
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Scream For Help
Silent Night, Deadly Night

1985

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

1986
Psycho III

1987
Blood Rage
Blood Sisters
Hunter's Blood

Return to Horror High
The Stepfather
Slumber Party Massacre II

1988
Bad Dreams
Child's Play
Evil Laugh
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

1989
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Hell High
Rush Week
Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland

Happy Halloween everybody!




Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 Days Of 80's Movie Slashers: 10/30 - Halloween II (1981)

Day Thirty:


Halloween II
From Universal Pictures
Original Theatrical Release Date: October 30th 1981
DVD: Yes



Plot: Michael Myers returns to further stalk newly appointed sister Laurie Strode while she is recovering at a hospital. Slutty nurses and hot tubs ensue.


30 years ago this very month in 1981 John Carpenter released the sequel to his masterpiece, Halloween. While the inevitable Halloween II was ushered into Production to make a Halloween Release for the year (and to nicely tie in to NBC’s Broadcast Premiere of the Original Film) Carpenter was already at work on Escape From New York for AVCO-Embassy, so he would be working this time in a Writer/Producer capacity along with his partner Debra Hill. Rick Rosenthal was assigned Directing duties, but watching Halloween II, it’s clear that John Carpenter’s stamp is all over it. And thank goodness for that!


Carpenter had some Production problems on his previous Film, The Fog, and had learned in the editing process that his Film just simply wasn’t scary or visceral enough. He ended up re-shooting and adding additional scenes to that Film, greatly upping the Tension and Terror. As it turns out, Halloween II would be a similar affair. It’s not to say that Rosenthal’s work on the Film was not completely working, It’s just that the film needed to have more of what made the Original Film work so well, as well as additional scares, and Carpenter was clearly the only man for the job. With some re-shoots, Carpenter not only created a more impactful Halloween II, but he also had the duty of adding some scenes for the Television release of his Original. NBC needed to pad out the Film after the necessary cuts that was made for a Broadcast Release, and Halloween was already only a 91 minute Movie. This was Carpenter’s chance to expand on the mythology of the first Film that would be carried over to Part II, making both Films adhere closer to each other.


By 1981, The Slasher Film was in full swing and Carpenter & Company had to deliver a Movie that would hold up to it’s newfound peers. Halloween II really delivers. Freeing itself up a bit as a sequel rather than a stand alone Film that ultimately became a Masterpiece in Filmmaking, Halloween II’s goal was to entertain and to give us the goodies you’d expect in a Film of this kind. Fans wanted what made the first Halloween work so well, but once you cross into sequel territory, they also expect a bit more. Halloween II has all the amped up violence and suspense of a Horror Sequel, but also delivers on the atmosphere and impending sense of doom that permeated the First Film. Halloween by it’s very name conjures up feelings and mood within us, so naturally a Film with that moniker should do the same.


The hospital-set Halloween II serves as a great way to follow Laurie Strode’s natural progression from her survival into the night evil Michael Myers came home. Poor Laurie, she’ll never get any rest as Mike doesn’t seem want to stop until she’s dead. Along the way, he racks up quite a few more bodies in gruesome and memorable ways. Halloween II. Like the previous year’s Friday The 13th, Part II has some very unique death scenes that stand out, even after all these years. Notably when hospital workers are falling prey to their objects of healing... Needles and therapeutic hot tubs oh my! John Carpenter’s wonderful score (here with additional help by Alan Howarth) also adds greatly to the proceedings and atmosphere as it did with the first Film. It isn’t Halloween until you hear Carpenter’s music.


Jamie Lee Curtis does an admirable job with a role that was a bit underwritten and requires her to be almost comatose for a large part of the time. It’s too bad they fit her with such a terribly distracting wig. Curtis had cut her by the time the Sequel rolled around and considering that she’s the lead of the Film, they should have sprung for something a bit more natural looking. As always, Donald Pleasence is fun to watch as the obsessed Dr. Loomis. He has to make the ultimate sacrifice at the end of the Film, and somehow makes it all believable. It’s no wonder the franchise was really hard to watch in some of it’s later installments. Pleasence’s great talents were often wasted. I also enjoy some of the new characters from Part 2. Especially Gloria Gifford as sassy head nurse Mrs. Alves, Leo Rossi as horny nurse fondler Budd and Lance Guest as nice guy EMT Jimmy and potential new love interest for Laurie. Speaking of love interests, poor Laurie doesn’t know that her beloved Ben Tramer dies in Part 2 as he’s mistaken for Michael Myers. Laurie Strode is having the worst night ever.

It's a good thing there's a sign right there.

You’ll never have such a bad night watching Halloween II. For me it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy Slasher Films so much. Slasher Sequels can be a lot of fun. And in some ways, a bit easier to watch than their predecessors. You don’t really have to hold the up against the gold standard. If they are good or at least fun to watch, you simply enjoy them over and over again. That isn’t to say the original Halloween isn’t the same for me. It’s actually my favorite Horror Film of all time. And the first Film I remember seeing at the Cinema period. I can watch both of these films continually and leave them always with a smile on my face. The work their magic in both similar and different ways. Add the fact that they are set on one of the best days of the year and that it’s villain, arguably the most indelible of all Horror Films, shares my namesake, I would say these Pictures are the most special to me of all of the Slasher Films of the time.

Laurie Strode should get work as a sharpshooter. She has the best aim ever.

Spend your favorite Holiday with the big brother you never knew and watch Halloween II. If he follows you to the hospital afterward, skip the painkillers and get yourself to a town that isn’t named Haddonfield. Though Michael may continue to follow you. He just can’t help himself, the big lug.


Trailer:



TV Trailer:




I'd be upset if I'd have to wear that thing on my head as well, Laurie.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days Of 80's Movie Slashers: 10/29 - Just Before Dawn (1981)

Day Twenty-nine:


Just Before Dawn
From Picturemedia Limited

Original Theatrical Release Date: October 14th 1981
DVD: Yes


Plot: Campers find themselves up against not only the dangers of nature, but also the dangers of towering in-bred backwoods creeps who have really sharp knives.


Did you know, when you look up "Underrated Slasher Film" in the dictionary there's a picture and synopsis of Just Before Dawn? Picked up by a tiny company at the boom of the 80's Slasher for release in 1981, Dawn was unceremoniously ignored. Sometimes marketing can either help or distract away from a Film, but this one clearly needed a lot more help than the work that was put into getting this Film out there. It's a real crime when good Films are left ignored. Thankfully over time Just Before Dawn has found love through it's fans. Those who have seen the film have largely fallen in love with it. With good reason to.


There are so many things to recommend here. I can go into them in more minute detail, but for me a film like Dawn is best experienced rather than deconstructed. For those who love atmosphere, I think this is one of the very best Films of the time to really exploit that aspect of Horror Filmmaking. There's a lot of natural beauty in Dawn, and Lieberman seems to effortlessly catch it all. He often cites Deliverance as his inspiration and while looking at the film you understand why. This isn't the kind of Movie that uses the great outdoors as just a set. It's really a world where every sound, every tree and everything around them is something that the characters fully inhabit.


I really like the actors in this film. There are all a pretty likeable bunch, which is rare. Leads Gregg Henry (Body Double, Slither) and Deborah Benson (September 30 1955, Our Winning Season) are really good and believable as the couple with the camping experience and a seriousness about their passion. Jack Lemmon's son, Chris, is on hand as the more jokey of the bunch to serve as a nice counterpoint to the leads. Jamie Rose plays Megan, who would be otherwise known as the "slut" of the group but is actually, though very attractive and sexy, a surprisingly decent actress (she now teaches it in Los Angeles). Ralph Seymour (Killer Party, Rain Man) is always fun to watch. He's a pretty quirky guy and I love when he pops up in random things (Meatballs Part II, Fletch, Ghoulies, Empire Of The Sun, The Relic and so on). And I can't forget the character actor greats, Mike Kellin (Hell Is For Heroes, Sleepaway Camp) and George Kennedy (The Dirty Dozen, Cool Hand Luke). They each bring an additional weight and class to the Film. I love that George talks to his plants and horse, Lucille. His character is at first glance a tad unnecessary, but he's always a hoot to watch and gives the role a real dimension.


There are things that go down in Just Before Dawn that are pretty unique in Horror Films. I would like to say that the defeat of the villain is one of the best and most original I've seen. There's a sense of the primal that Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman taps into, and the Film is a lot more layered and intelligent than you might imagine. Going back to Deborah Benson and her role as Connie, there's a real interesting metamorphosis that goes on with her in the Film. Deborah brings a real quiet intensity, and Lieberman's Direction in those scenes are utterly flawless.


Intelligence and playfulness can be found in all of Lieberman's Film Work. From the Nature runs amok Squirm (1976) to the droll LSD Paranoia of Blue Sunshine (1978) to later films like the campy fun 50's Sci-Fi tribute Remote Control (1988) and the quasi-Slasher Satan's Little Helper (2004). I actually really recommend Squirm and Satan's Little Helper if you haven't seen them. Squirm is one of my absolute favorite movies about the dangers of Nature in the post-Jaws sweepstakes of the genre. And Satan's Little Helper is a Movie full of dark humor and a surprisingly nasty bite. It's a lot of fun to watch, especially around Halloween as that's when it's set.


Both Just Before Dawn and Jeff Lieberman should really be sought after if you love Horror. It's not all the time you walk away from a Movie feeling as if you actually watched something from someone with a real point of view. We need more Filmmakers like Jeff, and he needs to be making more Movies for us. In the meantime, watch Just Before Dawn with your favorite capable camping buddy who happens to be sporting a lot of eye makeup and short shorts. You just might need her to get your ass out of the forest one day.

Trailer:

Connie Before.

Connie after. Don't even think about messing with her.

PS:
This is the only Slasher Film that I know of that uses Blondie's Heart Of Glass on the soundtrack. Using Blondie in any Movie is always a good thing.
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