Saturday, January 30, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

(J. Lee Thompson, 1981)
It's disarming and a little disorienting that this slasher pic looks and behaves like a 'real' movie. Old pro Thompson has a lot of fun teasing us with red herrings and timing tricks, Miklos Lente's cinematography is lush and deep, and most shocking of all, the sizable teen ensemble manages to establish differentiated, relatively sympathetic characters with a bare minimum of exposition. The film is also focused and coherent enough that the fun doesn't stop when the identity of the villain becomes (apparently) obvious; if you're paying attention, the focus merely shifts to the villain behind the villain. Is it the absentee father? The drunken social-climber mother? Glenn Ford's probing psychoanalyst? Experiemental brain surgery? Adolescent morbidity gone viral? You'll never guess, and that's the idea: while the random shocks and razzle-dazzle gore sequences play with the minds of the kids at the drive-in, the ending quite knowingly performs the same operation on the complacent film-text analyst. It does make a kind of sense too, tying up thematic threads and resolving our discomfort about the strangely sympathetic demeanour of the victims. (No gods of carnal vengeance in this one - even Ford gets offed!) Thing is, it's still pretty stupid - even Raymond Chandler couldn't get away with that pulling-off-the-mask bit. But any slasher pic that leaves you expecting greater depth and coherence than it delivers has got to be doing something right.

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