[31 Days Of Horror ’19] Mini Reviews: Goodnight Mommy (2014) and Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

Mini Review Day 28: Goodnight Mommy (2014)

Goodbye Mommy (2014) is perhaps one of Austria’s biggest horror films, putting eyes back on Austrian horror cinema and it made waves around the world. This film isn’t a straight forward horror film, generally horror from Europe isn’t, with this focusing on the psychological aspects of a small family living in isolation. Not since Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) has an Austrian horror film had such an emotional and hard hitting impact.

The film takes place in rural Austria, where two twin boys Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) live with their mother in a huge house, at first it seems like the twins are alone, but their mother returns with her face bandaged up having had some type of surgery. The twins feel like their mother has changed, she ignores Lukas and is hard on Elias, not the sweet woman she was before she went away. Elias and Lukas start to suspect she isn’t their real mother, and hatch a plan to find out the truth.

Perhaps Goodnight Mommy has more in common with The Other (1972), as its main focus is on the twin boys, and they are whom the audience spends the most time with. Much like that film, the performances of the twin boys are excellent, they may look the same but their different personalities shine through that they can be told a part. For both Lukas and Elias Schwarz this is their only film role to date, and it is something to behold that their performances are so strong with no real prior experience. Susanne Wuest as the Mother is also fantastic, a very difficult role that she handled extremely well, especially with having to act with her face covered for a large portion of the film.

Despite the ‘twist’ in the film being predictable if you watch for the clues, it absolutely does not take away from the impact it has and the film is just as engaging from start to finish. The psychological aspect of the film is more subtle, it doesn’t quite take center stage but through the third act it really hits hard. Writers/Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have crafted a strong film, that will stay with the viewer for some time. They are two talented people, whose films need to be added to must see lists with Goodnight Mommy being an excellent beginning to what will surely be memorable careers.


Mini Review Day 29: Happy Birthday To Me (1981)

The slasher sub-genre really made waves through the 80’s, thanks to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) being a massive hit. More and more slasher films would come out, with classic villains like Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger becoming popular and saturating the market. While there were many slasher films and big villains, there were also many one off slasher films that came out in the 80’s and one of those early films was Happy Birthday To Me (1981). This film may not have become as well known as some others, it did leave an impact and influenced films that came after it. With a well known director in J. Lee Thompson who directed The Guns Of Navarone (1961) and Cape Fear (1962), Happy Birthday To Me remains one of the more unique horror films to come out of the 80’s.

The film takes place around the ‘elite’ students of Crawford Academy, the elite students are known as the ‘Top Ten’ and they hang out together and cause trouble together. One of the ‘Top Ten’ Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson) has a sad past, her mother died and she has been recovering from a bad brain injury. Questioning her own sanity, her friends in the ‘Top Ten’ begin disappearing, no one knows where they are or what has happened to them. Virginia begins to wonder if she has murdered them, or is there someone sinister out there with revenge on their mind?

Happy Birthday To Me isn’t a bad film, it is however an overly long one that struggles to hold attention for the almost 2 hour running time. The characters aren’t entirely likeable, they are elitist teens who do whatever they want and don’t care about anyone else. Virginia seems to be the only one who doesn’t act the way they do, and it makes it difficult to care what happens to them because they just aren’t relatable. If the film was perhaps 20 minutes shorter, with the characters being less pompas, the film could have been much better. It would become a staple in slasher films where the characters aren’t likeable and it becomes fun to see them get killed, but that obviously wasn’t the intention here. The pacing isn’t very tight and by the time the end rolls around with a twist ending, it is difficult to really care even with a pretty decent twist.

The direction and performances are mostly good, with Melissa Sue Anderson being a stand out as Virginia. There are moments of excellent tension and well shot murder scene’s that don’t revel in blood and gore. There are perhaps too many red herrings with who is responsible, that the surprise while good just isn’t as impactful as it could have been. Overall Happy Birthday To Me is quite different from other slasher’s and horror films, which does make it quite an interesting watch. It is a shame that the film is let down by a few aspects, which could have elevated it from being good to great.


Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea


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