I actually don’t do much on my birthday other than pore over whatever greetings sent my way (and this year has been good for people sending well wishes), while trying to stay out of trouble (so far, so good). It’ll be a light dinner (wait, pizza is light? It is when it’s your birthday!) and a glass of Chianti later tonight and maybe a movie or two, one of which may or may not be this 1981 slasher flick with the somewhat loyal cult following.
I’m aged enough to have first seen this one back in 1981 when it was initially released and while it’s got some effective, offbeat murders and a few cast members of note, it’s far from the best the genre has to offer. That said, it is fun to put together the plot’s parts and uncover the killer as you go, even though the film seems to want to surprise you with a twisteroo near the finale that may or may not make you want to stab someone…
As part of her school’s elite students and a member of the snobby “Top Ten” group, Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. She had a bit of an accident a few years back that damaged her brain, but thanks to surgery and therapy, she’s working through things with her shrink, Dr. Faraday (Glenn Ford!). However, as members of the Top Ten start turning up deader than door nails, Virginia seems to be the main suspect… which oddly enough doesn’t stop people from wanting to be around her. Then again, they don’t seem to suspect she’s a stone cold killer with a creative mind, so that Top ten gets whittled down by at least six members (plus a surprise non-member) before all is said and done. There’s a lot more here, but it spools out mostly in the half predictable horror movie fashion you’d expect, only livening up when there’s a death to see or cheap fright to be had.
Director J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Chairman, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, among many others) gets the bloody stuff going in good measure with those aforementioned offbeat murders, but the film tends to confuse more than it scares as all its pieces fall into place. Additionally, it’s tough to feel much for the rich kid victims who die in those weird ways. I mean, who the heck wears a scarf when near a whirling motorcycle chain, I don’t recall anything smart about eating kebabs off a skewer (I’m a coward and take stuff off that sharp wooden or metal poky thing) and even if you KNOW someone, when there’s a mad killer loose, you kind of want to keep those people at arm’s (or longer) length.
Then again, without the silly elements, it would be a terribly dull flick, I suppose.
The movie does yank the carpet out from under you with that ending that reveals the killer’s identity and just as you’re breathing a sigh of something resembling relief, the floor drops out from underneath and the credits roll. I actually liked that last shock the best because you’re left hanging out to dry and wondering what’s going to happen next. The good thing is this is one of those one-off flicks that didn’t need to be sequel bait. It does what it does and does it okay enough to be memorable yet utterly disposable at the end of the day – kind of like uneaten bits of birthday cake, if you will. Hmmm… I suppose I should borrow this one again and see if it actually scares me more now than the commercials did back in the “old” days.