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Saturday, June 8, 2024 | Cryptic Collectibles


Released in May of 1981, Happy Birthday to Me is one of the most offbeat horror flicks to come out of Canada during the slasher boom of the early ‘80s. Directed by veteran British filmmaker J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear) and starring Melissa Sue Anderson (TV’s Little House on the Prairie), respected Hollywood actor Glenn Ford (The Big Heat, Superman: The Movie), genre film favourite Lawrence Dane (Scanners) and soon-to-be soap star Tracy Bregman (The Young and the Restless), the Montreal-shot film was produced by the renowned Canadian producing duo of John Dunning and André Link through their company Cinépix. The company had previously helmed the David Cronenberg body-horror classics Shivers and Rabid and the iconic slasher My Bloody Valentine (also released in 1981).

Anderson plays wholesome, well-liked student Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright, a senior at the prestigious Crawford Academy, and a member of the exclusive “Top Ten” – a clique consisting of the school’s most affluent or popular students. The recipient of experimental brain surgery several years earlier, Ginny – who is under the care of compassionate psychiatrist Dr. Faraday (Ford) – suffers from blackouts during which she is unaware of her actions. As her birthday draws near, the young woman’s friends begin dying in horrifically inventive ways. Could the perpetrator be the increasingly mentally unstable Ginny – or someone else? 

Released by Columbia Pictures and reportedly earning a respectable $10.6 million at the box office on a $3.5 million budget, the film received mixed to negative reviews (what slasher film from the ‘80s didn’t?) but has long enjoyed a devoted fan base – due no doubt to its great performances, fantastic musical score (including the memorable closing theme song by Syreeta), and deliciously over-the-top climax. While it’s a popular entry in the slasher canon, Happy Birthday to Me did not spawn merchandise such as a novelization or soundtrack album as many horror films from the era did. 

Now, 33 years after its original release, the film has finally received an officially licensed (by Cinépix) novelization, courtesy of Stop The Killer. Penned by author Armando Muñoz – who has also written novelizations for My Bloody Valentine and Silent Night, Deadly Night – this hardcover book features beautiful dust jacket artwork by Lynne Hansen. The company has also produced a solitaire-style card game, dubbed a “Hex Deck” (designed by Stop The Killer owner Anthony Masi, with illustrations by Yannick Bouchard) for the film and has made it available with the book. These are the first pieces of officially licensed Happy Birthday to Me merchandise. For more information on the creation of this and other Stop the Killer releases, check out my in-depth feature on horror film novelizations (“Attack of the Paperbacks”) in issue #217 (March/April 2024) of RUE MORGUE.

The novel (complete with a bookplate autographed by the author), double-sided bookmark and card game can be purchased as a bundle for $49.95. A limited number of these are still available, so visit the Stop The Killer website to grab a copy of the book before they’re gone!

James Burrell has been fascinated with monsters and all things scary since the age of three. Growing up in Toronto during the 1970s and ‘80s, he fed his insatiable appetite for horror with a steady diet of Hilarious House of Frightenstein and Saturday afternoon TV matinees of Universal, Hammer and Amicus flicks - all while eating too many bowls of Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Franken Berry. An avid collector of monster figures, model kits, vintage board games, tie-in novels, records, comics and movie posters, James continues to search for that next item to add to his eclectic and ever-growing collection of horror ephemera. He is the recipient of the 2010 Rondo Classic Horror Award for Best Interview, for his feature on Sir Christopher Lee that appeared in Rue Morgue’s 100th issue and penned two volumes in The Rue Morgue Library.