Movie NERD

I LOVE THE 70's 80's & 90's

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME- 1981 By Ronnie Clements from "Movie Gems".

Movie Gems 80's Flashback ...

Happy Birthday To Me (1981).

Quite possibly (along side Sleepaway Camp) this is my favourite horror-slasher flick from the 80's!

Review ...

No spoilers!

The 1980's era was certainly the heyday of the slasher film. Most were formulaic with a bunch of unlikeable characters and woefully lacking in any concrete story line. Happy Birthday To Me is actually quite the exception. It does have a solid plot, the characters are mostly endearing and its twist at the end is totally unexpected. The film is certainly a cut above (pun intended) most of the 80's "slice 'n' dice" movies and it is a shame that it has not really gathered the cult status it deserves.

For a short time, Happy Birthday To Me was the highest ever grossing Canadian film until Porky's came along the next year. Unlike a lot of slasher movies that went straight-to-video, it had a mainstream release and was cleverly marketed with the promo line "Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see" together with a suitable gory "manufactured" still from the film. In fact the poster outside the movie theatre was what attracted me to go see it in the first place!

Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) is a teenager who attends the traditional Crawford Academy and belongs to a group of wealthy friends that are referred to as The Top Ten. She had a serious car accident a couple of years previously in which her mother (Sharon Acker) was killed and now lives with her father (Lawrence Dane). Virginia is still receiving psychological treatment from the prominent Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford) because she has frequent blackouts (after regenerative brain
surgery) but she is slowly recovering her memory.

Suddenly Virginia's friends start disappearing one by one, the work of a serial killer, and while we are witness to the events we do not know who the killer is. The film very cleverly attempts to throw us off the track many times, even tricking us to believe the mystery is solved about half way through the movie. This is what makes the twist ending so unexpected and effective. Some critics have said, despite the plausible explanation given, that the ending doesn't make sense. But ... hey it's a slasher flick!

Happy Birthday To Me is rated R and only got that rating after cuts were made to the kill scenes which at that time were deemed too gory. Apparently there are some rare prints circulating on the Internet that have the complete and uncut murder sequences.

Compared to a lot of the slasher flicks made in the 80's the production value is quite high and in particular the lighting in the final scenes is extremely effective. The film's final shot is a knockout!

Even though the acting is uniformly strong, unfortunately most of the young principals have all but disappeared from the screen, the exception being Matt Craven who played Steve and who had a major role as Sheriff Fred Langston in the popular television series Resurrection (2014-2015).

If you are in the mood for a slasher flick with an interesting storyline and a good twist ending, Happy Birthday To Me is worth a look.

THE LION KING- 1994 By Scott Forbes of "The Forbes Film Review".

When I was 5 my parents took me on holiday to Toronto to visit my Great Aunt.  It was there that I had my first cinematic experience when I was taken to see The Lion King.  For that reason this film will always hold a special place in my heart.  It’s not only for sentimental reasons however that I love this film so much.


The Lion King tells the story of Simba, a young prince, who is deceived by his evil uncle Scar into believing that he was responsible for the death of his father Mufasa.  Sent into exile, it would not be until adulthood that Simba would discover the truth; and realise that he must return to fulfil the responsibility he inherited of becoming the new King of Pride Rock.


I always think the best ‘children’s films’ are the ones that work on various levels and appeal to all the family.  The Lion King explores themes of love, death, betrayal and revenge; and does so in a way that has a powerful effect whether you’re watching it as a child or as an adult.  I’m almost 29 years old and not afraid to admit that I still get slightly emotional every time I watch this movie.  I also still laugh out loud at many of the funny moments too.  I truly would consider this to be a timeless classic for all ages.  Interesting fact – The story of The Lion King is actually inspired by the Shakespeare play Hamlet.

The voice cast in this movie is incredible.  Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, Whoopi Goldberg, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane & James Earl Jones were all fantastic in their roles.  In 2019 director Jon Favreau will be bringing us a CGI version of The Lion King, which also boasts an incredible voice cast.  Interestingly he has recast one actor in the same role that he had in the 1994 original.  James Earl Jones will again voice Mufasa, one of my favourite ever Disney characters.


Above all others however, the voice that most springs to mind when thinking of The Lion King, is that of Sir Elton John.  One of the things The Lion King is best remembered for is the incredible music.  At the 1995 Oscars, three of Elton John and Tim Rice’s now legendary songs were nominated in the Best Original Song category.  ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ won the Academy Award, with nominations also for ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’.  Arguably all 5 nominees that year should have come from The Lion King, as ‘Be Prepared’ and ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King’ are songs that most other years would be good enough to win the prize.  To this day you’ll struggle to find many musicals with as many top calibre songs as The Lion King.


As well as the songs, the Lion King was also blessed with a beautiful score which was written by Hans Zimmer.  Considered one of the best composers in the world, Zimmer has received 11 Oscar nominations to date.  His only win however came in 1995 for his score for The Lion King, which manages to be both haunting and uplifting in equal measures.

Although there are a lot of great ones to choose from, I think most people would probably agree that The Lion King is the greatest ever Disney film.  I don’t currently have a ‘Top 10 Films Ever’ list; but if I did I’m pretty sure The Lion King would feature, as I truly do believe that it is one of the greatest films ever made.




FRIDAY THE 13TH- 1980 by Lee Butler from Lee's Movie Reviews


In the 80’s, the biggest genre for young film makers was easily the slasher film. Possibly the most well known of the early entries into that genre is the 1980 film Friday the 13th. Directed by Sean Cunningham and written by Victor Miller, Friday the 13th follows a bunch of young adults helping to refurbish the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake and get picked off one by. It was the film that proved that Halloween wasn’t a fluke. That audiences really wanted this kind of horror film and, looking back on it now, it’s fascinating to see how good the original Friday is.


 The film making definitely feels a little older, some of the sound is a little weird and they’re clearly still working out just how to work the steadicam (which had only been in use for around 5 years) but for what they were trying to do, it works. Some moments are uncomfortable thanks to the times changing, it was made back when things like actually killing a snake on camera was considered acceptable, but they’re brief enough that you can mostly look over it. There’s also great moments of subtle filmmaking that don’t get enough praise, things like a glorious shot of the shadow of an axe behind someone or the creative use of POV shots create a great sense of tension that goes throughout the movie.


The characters are well defined people with different personalities that play well off of each other. Even all these years later, the charm of Alice Hardy or the extreme insanity of Crazy Ralph still works. It never feels like a cliché, they actually made you care about these people which makes it all the more heartbreaking when they end up pierced on the end of a machete.

Speaking of that, the effects work by Tom Savini is some of the best in his legendary career. He not only understood how to make the kills look incredible but also how to trick the audience into believing the weapons for the effects were real. An axe will hit a light with a loud *clink* sound before it hits someone’s face, making the weapon seem completely real to the audience. That kind of thing happens several times throughout the film and it’s subtle, but brilliantly effective. There’s only about 4-5 on screen kills in this movie, but they’re saved for the most important kills in the film and set the stage for the kind of effects we would end up coming to expect from this series.


Harry Manfredini’s soundtrack is incredible. The score is a character in itself. That iconic “Ki-Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma-Ma” is so simple but works wonderfully. That specific Friday music induces terror in anyone who hears it, or at making people feel safe just before the biggest scare in the film. I genuinely think this might be one of the best scores in horror, it’s so simple and effective that it’s impossible to not be terrified when you hear those iconic high pitched notes.


Friday the 13th is still one of the greatest horror films I’ve ever seen. It’s still terrifying, it’s still a lot of fun and it still has some of the best effects work the genre put out at that time. It’s the film that pushed the horror genre to a new level and while it would create a series that would go on to such low points as “The Not-Really New York One” or “DEMON JASON INSIDE BODY OF DEAD RELATIVE”, the first movie is an absolute classic that should be watched more often by everyone.





Who's Harry Crumb?- 1989 By Movie NERDS own Hillary Beth.

One of my favorite comedies, Who's Harry Crumb is the story of a bumbling private detective played by John Candy, who uses a number of disguises throughout the film. Jeffrey Jones is excellent as Elliot Dreisen. A relatively clean movie, the comedy revolves around Harry and his earnestness and naivete you could say. A lot of viewers will laugh at Harry, but I laugh with him as he tracks down the kidnappers - and find them he will! A number of good lines, interesting dialogue, funny disguises, and cool cameos. Plus this movie actually makes Annie Potts a believable sex object.Harry Crumb is a great comic impossibility. Don't watch it if you prefer to keep your dignity (wink).


APRIL FOOL"S DAY - 1986 by Dan Cook from DC Movie Reviews.

In many ways, Fred Walton's 'April Fool's Day' could be seen as the death nail in the coffin of the slasher movie which had previously been so popular at the beginning of the 1980's. Despite boasting one of the more impressive casts in the sub-genres history and the talents of a director who had had horror success earlier in his career, 'April Fool's Day' is widely regarded as the poster child of why the entire craze had become so stagnant. In my opinion however, 'April Fool's Day' is one of the more ambitious and funnier slashers of this time period and if hadn't arrived so late on the scene, it would be regarded as one of the better entries in the sub-genre. Fairly restrained in terms of both terror and gore, 'April Fool's Day' bears much more resemblance to a traditional horror comedy than a straight-up screamer and because of this, the film seems lighter and less aggressive in tone than some of the more nihilistic slashers such as 'My Bloody Valentine', 'The Prowler' or 'Silent Night, Deadly Night'.



The movie tells the story of a group of teenagers who visit their friends island mansion for the April Fool's weekend where they fall victim to a number of light pranks. However amongst the frivolity and laughter, not all is at it seems and over the course of their stay, they are individually picked off by an unknown killer and the final few adolescents have to solve the mystery before they too are killed.

While this narrative may seem entirely conventional for a slasher, 'April Fool's Day' does contain a very clever and funny twist which while seeming convoluted, works well with the jovial nature of the film. By the end of the slasher boom of the early 1980's, horror audiences were becoming bored with the same, tired conventions that were being recycled by filmmakers across the world and and as result, the films were not performing well at the box office. Earlier films such as 'Black Christmas', 'Halloween', 'Prom Night' and 'Friday The 13th' had laid down the basic template for the contemporary slasher which was very to easy to replicate and by the end of 1981, nearly every major production studio in America had at least one horror movie success. Unfortunately, producers saw the huge box office potential of slashers and soon an endless stream of sequels were churned out with ruthless regularity. Every Summer, a new 'Halloween', 'Friday The 13th' or 'Nightmare On Elm Street' film would would be released and consequently, audiences were soon becoming numb to both the conventions and the gore displayed on screen.





It was at the end of this glut of slashers that Fred Walton (who had directed the highly astmospheric 1979 movie 'When A Stranger Calls') unleashed 'April Fool's Day' on the world. Starring such talents as 'Valley Girls' Deborah Foreman, 'Back To The Future' villain Thomas Wilson and 'Friday The 13th : Part 2's  Amy Steel,  the movie boasts one of the best casts in the sub-genres history and as a result, the acting quality is a lot higher than that of many other slashers. As a group, the characters are witty, likable and are completely believable unlike many teenagers in horror movies of this period. The direction from Walton is also very impressive, creating a palpable air of suspense and dread with comparatively little. Unlike many horror film makers of this time, Walton knew that little is more and with the use of close ups, tracking shots and well chosen music, he was able to create much more terror than with the overuse of gore that directors were using to death in other films. Those wanting a blood-strewn good time were going to somewhat disappointed with 'April Fool's Day'.



The score is written by Charles Bernstein, who is most famous for doing the creepy, brooding soundtrack for Wes Craven's 'A Nightmare On Elm Street'. Unlike 'Nightmare' however, the music for 'April Fool's Day' is much more melodious and classically infused than the synthesised, electric score that made Craven's film so tense. Because of this, the score for 'April Fool's Day' is less reminiscent of 'A Nightmare On Elm St.' and more comparable to Bernstein's own soundtrack for Lewis Teague's terrifying Stephen King adaptation 'Cujo'  (1983).

While 'April Fool's Day' is a solidly made and moderately scary film, the special effects and a lagging pace really do let the film down. While the slashers predating were getting more and more conventional, the artistry going into the gore was going up and audiences were being wowed by realistic looking decapitations, impalings and eviscerations thanks to the work of such geniuses as Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero. The effects in 'April Fool's Day' are nothing like the quality of Savini's work and as a result make the movie look a lot older than it is. As for the gore itself, there is a surprisingly small amount of blood - a rather laughable eye gouging is the most graphic moment on offer and even this lacks the crunchiness of some of the lighter films in the genre.



A distinct lack of gore and a prevalance towards comedy certainly didnt do much for 'April Fool's Day's reputation. However, it was the twist that is revealed at the end of the film which continues to divide horror audiences to this day. While some see it as a humorous postmodern slant on the slasher movie, predating 1996's much more successful 'Scream', others view it as a self - indulgent, over-thought middle finger to the audience. As a result, the movie suffered heavily at the box office, only barely breaking even. Many slashers before had fared badly but none so much as 'April Fool's Day' and horror filmmakers saw this as a sign that the sub-genre was finally done for. The slasher movie lay dormant for nearly a decade and it wouldn't be until 1996 when Wes Craven would unveil 'Scream' that a new life would be once again breathed into the slasher film.

Rating : ***1/2

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA- 1986 BY Ruben Shaw of "The Ruby Tuesday".

Big Trouble in Little China was released in 1986 and is directed by John Carpenter. It’s about an American Truck driver named Jack Burton (played by Kurt Russell). The wisecracking Burton lives his life on the road. His life is turned upside when his best friend Wang Chi (played by Dennis Dun) fiance gets kidnapped because she has green eyes and a 2000-year-old magician named Lo-pan wants to avoid death by scarifying her to appease the demons that chase him…you know that old chestnut. So Burton and Wang Chi are thrust into a supernatural adventure to save the girl with green eyes. There’s this unwritten rule, don’t go back and watch your old favourites because they are never as good as you remember them. Thankfully that’s not the case here.

Don’t get me wrong it has aged but the atmosphere in this film is thick and tangible. The world that Carpenter has created is a living one. The way the film is edited is unique and something you don’t see too much of anymore. The editing style creates a sense of tension where needed which is all synched to the tone of the synth music. The attention to detail on the sets made China town look really real (it was a set in LA), yet felt like you could go there. Knowing when to add a duck in a cage at the right moment is what makes this film stand out in its edit. There are also subtle art department choices in the environment that you catch in the corner of your eye, which adds to a sense of adventure that can’t help but spill onto you, through the screen. The music plays a huge part. The Synthetic sounds of the 80’s mixes into the score like it was meant to be there. Would it surprise you to Don’t get me wrong it has aged but the atmosphere in this film is thick and tangible. The world that Carpenter has created is a living one. The way the film is edited is unique and something you don’t see too much of anymore. The editing style creates a sense of tension where needed which is all synched to the tone of the synth music. The attention to detail on the sets made China town look really real (it was a set in LA), yet felt like you could go there. Knowing when to add a duck in a cage at the right moment is what makes this film stand out in its edit. There are also subtle art department choices in the environment that you catch in the corner of your eye, which adds to a sense of adventure that can’t help but spill onto you, through the screen. The music plays a huge part. The Synthetic sounds of the 80’s mixes into the score like it was meant to be there. Would it surprise you to know that John Carpenter was in charge of the music?

There are however some questions you should not ask when watching. Things like how do the bad guys see and fight so well? There’s a scene where a henchman has a ridiculous pair of glasses on, even worse than Arnolds in Terminator 3, glasses he could not see out of. Or why does Lopan have neon tubing in his lair filled with ancient artifacts? You shouldn’t be asking those questions and here’s why. This film was always meant to be a bit tongue in cheek and an off the wall supernatural movie. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have both said how the film pretty much bombed at the cinema when it was released because people didn’t get the humor. Everyone expected Russell to play the guy who kicked ass in the film. Instead, he played the guy who knew nothing. He doesn’t know martial arts like everyone else and gets by with cheesy bravado and cheesy lines like, “I was born ready!” Both Carpenter and Russell say that it was a love project for them and you can see this to be true by what comes out of the film in the attention to detail in every shot. From the practical monster effects to the neon colors in the extravagant sets. The film did eventually find its audience.
That was the home cinema experience. Which is why Big Trouble in Little China now has cult status. I urge you to watch it with cheesy 80’s glasses on your face, it’ll put you in the right frame of mind.