MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*
I'm gratified to note online info that others besides me regard HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME as an "American giallo." Most slashers of the eighties, good or bad, tend to follow a fairly linear plot, in which some psycho-killer slowly slays victim after victim without much controversy about the murderer's identity. Even when such films end with the revelation that the killer wasn't the expected culprit, the overall narrative isn't substantially different because of the twist ending.
Giallo-makers, though, love to complicate the main plot with tons of data, whether relevant to that plot or not. In the most extravagant Italian productions, the writers often seem to be mocking Poe's basic idea of the "ratiocinative tale." It seems unlikely that director J. Lee Thompson or the four credited writers of BIRTHDAY were intentionally emulating the Italian movies. Even though the 1981 film was one of the more successful slashers, it's possible that the filmmakers were just trying to meld the popular tropes of the slasher-story with more traditional Hitchcockian thrillers.
Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson) belongs to the "Top Ten," a group of privileged high school seniors who hang out and sometimes scandalize the older residents of the city with dangerous games. Then a black-gloved killer slays two members of the clique before anyone realizes that anyone is in danger. Ginny, who previously underwent brain surgery a few years ago, slowly begins to wonder if she herself may be committing crimes due to some mental abnormality in her psyche, brought on by the death of her mother. It takes a long time for anyone-- Ginny, her father Hal (Lawrence Dane), or Doctor Faraday (Glenn Ford)-- to allude to the accident that took the life of Ginny's mother. For roughly the film, Ginny and her clique-members just go about their daily business, slamming one another or trying to sleep with one another.
Though the first murder is a simple throat-slashing, subsequent deaths are more imaginatively mounted-- again, along the lines of the giallo for "artistic" deaths. One of the standout set-pieces involves a young man getting a deadly shish-kebab shoved down his throat, and arguably the lobby card of this scene remains one of the most famous examples of lurid slasher-art. Some scenes eat a great deal of run-time even when they don't contribute that much to the overall story but the creation of red herrings, as with a continuity involving one of the boys sabotaging the pull-rope of a church-bell. But Thompson et al do an admirable job of keeping tension up even in what are essentially throwaway scenes.
Anderson carries most of the movie with her innocent but determined protagonist, seeking the truth even if she herself is unmasked as a lunatic. Lawrence Dane is equally good, even though it may take a while for viewers to get a handle on his character. Aside from Ginny, none of the Top Ten are more than ciphers, but of the young actors, Traci E Bregman and David Eisner prove better than average.
I can't say that all the complications add up to a complex symbol-tapestry, but I admire the bravura flourish of the big finish, which the writers reportedly changed during filming-- IMO, for the better. The sociological trope of "killer going after privileged classes" doesn't really gel into anything meaningful, but that too reminds me strongly of Italian giallos.
I can't say 2008's APRIL FOOLS DAY reminds me of much of anything. This DTV movie is, as one may anticipate, a loose remake of the 1986 faux-slasher APRIL FOOL'S DAY, which I reviewed earlier. I don't think the original movie is considered one of the better slashers of the decade, but it has a certain iconic fame for having been among the many such films to play off famous holidays or social events.
And here's all anyone needs to know in comparing the original to the remake:
APRIL '86 was a slasher-take on the tropes associated with TEN LITTLE INDIANS, a mystery.
APRIL '08 is a slasher-take on the tropes associated with I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, which was already a slasher. And since SUMMER was a decent enough slasher, why would anyone watch a hack-version of the previous movie?
All the young men and women being stalked by a killer are flawlessly good-looking, and dull as dirt. I haven't seen the movie that propelled the writer-director team "The Butcher Brothers" to fame, but it's got to be better than this soulless junk. The terrible dialogue, which seems like 75% exposition, fails to put across any character enough to make one identify with any of the protagonists.
I'm trying to think of one positive thing to say about this dismal DAY, but this time, I just can't do it. Unlike BIRTHDAY, DAY participates in the trope of the phantasmal figuration.