M.L. Miller here! As I go into my tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Seven of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2017 and going through September 30, 2018. I have posted Best of lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on November 3, 2018. Available on Blu-ray/DVD, On Demand, and digital download!

HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017)

aka HALF TO DEATH, AGAIN
Directed by Christopher Landon
Written by Scott Lobdell
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Jason Bayle, Rob Mello, Rachel Matthews, Ramsey Anderson, Brady Lewis, Phi Vu, Blaine Kern III, Cariella Smith, Tenea Intriago, Jimmy Gonzales, Billy Slaughter, Donna Duplantier, Dane Rhodes, Caleb Spillyards, Missy Yager, Tran Tran
Find out more about this film here!

HAPPY DEATH DAY could have just been a teenie bopper GROUNDHOG’S DAY knockoff, but it turned out to be so much better than that and one of the most successful mainstream genre films of the year.

Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a normal college student; partying, hooking up with boys, taking part in sorority programs, and occasionally going to class. But on her birthday, she finds herself waking up in an underclassmen’s dorm and being stalked by a serial killer dressed as her school mascot. When the killers murders her, Tree wakes up on the same morning of her birthday and she has to live her day, over and over, until she can find out who killed her.

Now, this would be a rip-off premise if not for the fact that the lead, Jessica Rothe, wasn’t so much fun to follow for basically the entire film. We are on her shoulder experiencing this GROUNDHOG DAY right along with her during the entire film. Tree is played as a somewhat typical college airhead, but Rothe actually adds some witty character moments along with a strong sentimental edge to the character to make her tough to not like. While she does have some very bad qualities about her, it is undeniably watchable to see Tree react to this crazy situation she has fallen into. Simply because Rothe is the star of HAPPY DEATH DAY is about 80% of why this film is so watchable and fun.

The other 20% has to do with the story. Writer Scott Lobdell is a comic book writer and things like time travel and wonky physics is something comic book writers deal with on an issue to issue basis. While time travel/time loops are something that is only seen in BILL & TED movies and of course GROUNDHOG’S DAY ripoffs, it’s in every other story arc in most comics. I think that’s the reason why all of the physics of HAPPY DEATH DAY are simplified down to bare bones and told in a manner that doesn’t make your brain go in knots. It helps that Bree isn’t that versed in physics and time travel, so we as the audience begin to understand it as she does. This helps immensely to tell an entertaining story set in a story structure that could easily lose a viewer if you go too much into the physics of it all. Lobdell, and I’m sure director Christopher Landon too, really do make the film both highlight Tree’s infectious character as well as simplify the hard stuff to make this a film that you can’t help but become invested in.

As far as the killer goes, the giant baby head mask really doesn’t do anything for me. It’s a little creepy, but nothing about it really causes any kind of scare for me. If you’re jumping at HAPPY DEATH DAY, it’s mostly because of the Don Music piano bangs that occur with much frequency. I will admit I jumped a bit, but it was because of the burst of loud music rather than actually being scared. There are a few decently choreographed scenes of cat and mouse between Tree and her stalker, but for the most part, this is a comedy thriller that is much more successful with the comedy than the thrill department.

I can understand why HAPPY DEATH DAY became as popular as it did (spawning a sequel that is less effective, but still manages to cause some laughs and thrills along the way, so I don’t hate it). It introduces a new generation to the time loop story concept (something that has since been overdone with RUSSIAN DOLL and the recent Andy Samberg Hulu film PALM SPRINGS, and the criminally underseen BLOOD PUNCH). HAPPY DEATH DAY ended up dropping just at the right time when no other teenage horror films were in theaters. Which I could care less about. What elevates HAPPY DEATH DAY to Best of status is that it’s got a likable protagonist and utilizes that protagonist in a clever and fun way in a story that could have been too complex for modern filmgoers to get, but wasn’t. At the end of the day, I’m glad a lot of people had fun with HAPPY DEATH DAY. I ended up falling under its spell as well.

Click here for the trailer!


THE 2017-2018 COUNTDOWN!


#19 – HAPPY DEATH DAY
#20 – MOM & DAD
#21 – THE LANDING
#22 – TONIGHT SHE COMES
#23 – THE RITUAL
#24 – THE BABYSITTER
#25 – MARROWBONE
#26 – BETTER WATCH OUT
#27 – THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
#28 – BE MY CAT: A FILM FOR ANNE
#29 – PYEWACKET
#30 – TERRIFIER
#31 – MAYHEM


M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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