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1981 Movie Reviews – The Fan and Happy Birthday to Me

by Sean P. Aune | May 15, 2021May 15, 2021 10:30 am EDT

Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1981 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.

We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly three dozen.

Yes, we’re insane, but 1981 was that great of a year for film.

The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1981 so that it is their true 40th anniversary. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.

This time around it’s May 15, 1981, and we’re off to see The Fan and Happy Birthday to Me!

Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to numerous episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.

The Fan

Sometimes this project of mine presents me with films I don’t even remember being released. I would have been nine years old when The Fan hit theaters, and I have absolutely no memory of it. And now that I have seen it, I will gladly go back to forgetting it.

The Fan starts off as a thriller about an obsessed fan that gradually tries to move its way into being a slasher film and somehow ends up a borderline camp classic. Lauren Becall plays the aging Sally Ross who is the obsession of Michael Biehn – yes, as in James Cameron’s favorite actor – Douglas Breen. He’s obsessed with her and will do anything to get her attention, including killing those closest to her.

The film takes some odd turns making you question not only Breen’s motivations, but his sexuality as well. Add in one completely improbable attack – “Hey, anyone think maybe we shouldn’t let anyone out of this pool until we figured out who used a straight razor to slice this guy open?” – and the film gets sillier by the minute.

And then the Broadway musical complete with sequins breaks out in the end.

The Fan feels like a film that started as one thing and ended up being changed as production moved along. Perhaps it was just going to be a straight-up thriller at one time, but then it branched into a quasi-slasher film. Whatever it was intended to be, it just turned into a mess in the end that is completely forgettable.

Happy Birthday to Me

I really wasn’t aware you could make a slasher film this boring. For the first time in ages I hit the button to see how much time was left and to my horror discovered I was just nearing the halfway mark.

Happy Birthday to Me tries to mix in techno-babble about regrowing brain cells following an accident to explain how you could be convinced you committed murders when it’s really your unknown sister wearing a super realistic mask of your face.

Yes, that’s really the plot.

Aside from a few creative kills, this movie is just a slog of nonsense. You would be far better served by just looking up a highlight reel of the kills online than putting up with the rest of the film.

Fun side note: When it comes time for Etienne to be killed – the guy killed by having his scarf tossed into a rotating wheel – the killer really only had to wait for him to kill himself. Who works on a motocross bike in a completely closed basement room with the engine of the bike running? He was probably going to die of asphyxiation in short order. And by this point of the film, I kind of envied him.

Bad, bad, boring movie.

The 1981 movie reviews will return on May 22 with The Legend of the Lone Ranger and Outland!

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Sean P. Aune

Sean Aune has been a pop culture aficionado since before there was even a term for pop culture. From the time his father brought home Amazing