Release Date(s)2017 (January 16, 2018)
Studio(s)Blumhouse Productions (Universal Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C-
In development since 2007, Happy Death Day had a 10-year journey to the big screen when Blumhouse Productions picked it up and Christoper Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) signed on to direct. The film focuses on college student Theresa, or simply Tree (Jessica Routhe), waking up on her birthday hungover in the bed of another student named Carter (Israel Broussard). As she proceeds to go about her normal day as a less that savory person to the people around her, she winds up murdered on her way to a party later that evening. Suddenly waking up back in Carter’s bed, she finds herself reliving the day’s events over and over again until she finds out who her murderer is and stops them from killing her, all while learning to be a better person along the way.
I must emphasize that I was initially skeptical going into Happy Death Day. When a film starts with negative or annoying characters, it takes a lot of my will power not to reach for the remote control. Tree is not a nice person, but it’s necessary for the purpose of allowing us to grow with her and learn to care about her more than we do at the outset. It helps that Jessica Routhe is extremely good at playing both sides of the spectrum. While the multiple deaths that occur to her are sometimes played for overt laughs, there’s also a bit of a ticking clock element built in as well. When she comes back, she’s weaker and weaker each time, meaning that eventually she won’t back at all. It just gives the narrative a little more momentum and is better with it than without it. The film’s mix of genres doesn’t blend as thoroughly as they should, but it ultimately doesn’t matter as it still manages to tell a compelling story with a strong central character.
With fun performances and good characters, as well as a healthy dose of set up and pay off, Happy Death Day is a surprisingly enjoyable movie, more so than a lot of modern horror films that I’ve seen lately. Granted I haven’t seen all of them, but many of them tend to take themselves seriously nowadays with hardly any wiggle room for anything a little more laid back (in a mainstream sense that is). Happy Death Day also pays many nods to films of the past, including Groundhog Day (obviously), Sixteen Candles, and Halloween II, but also Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, They Live, and Repo Man, among others that I haven’t noticed yet.
Happy Death Day comes to Blu-ray with a mostly pleasant high definition presentation. Shot digitally, there’s some flatness that doesn’t allow for an enormous amount of depth, unfortunately. However, detail is quite strong, as is the film’s color palette. Multiple hues in all scenes, particularly during parties, daytime campus walks, or indoor disco light-sourced scenes, all feature great color reproduction. Skin tones are also very natural. Black levels are deep with excellent shadow detail while brightness and contrast levels are perfect. I didn’t notice any major instances of noise or defects along the way, so other than a lack of depth, it’s a fine presentation. There are also several audio options, including English 5.1 DTS-HD, Spanish and French 5.1 DTS, and English 2.0 DVS Dolby Digital, as well as subtitle options in English SDH, Spanish, and French for those who might need them. The 5.1 track on this release is outstanding. It’s an aggressive presentation with crystal clear dialogue, a strong score, and sound effects that are all over the place. Atmospherics during nighttime scenes are enveloping, as are daytime scenes during various activities, such as Tree’s multiple treks across the campus courtyard. LFE activity is potent as well. It’s definitely a film that had its sound design just as much in mind during its development as much as it did its visuals, if not more so.
As for the extras selection, most of it is pretty standard studio-produced material. Included is the film’s alternate ending, which was screened for test audiences and rejected (rather obviously); a set of 3 deleted scenes, which really don’t add much that wasn’t already there; Worst Birthday Ever! and Behind the Mask: The Suspects, two 3-minute EPK featurettes, The Many Deaths of Tree, a 1 1/2 minute EPK featurette; trailers for Before I Fall, Death Race: Before Anarchy, and Bring it On: Worldwide #Cheersmack (which open the disc and scan be skipped at any time); a DVD copy; and a paper insert with a digital HD code. At the very least, I would have liked to have had an audio commentary with Christopher Landon and Jessica Rothe. Having the deleted and alternate scenes are better than having nothing at all, but there’s definite room for improvement.
Although Happy Death Day did well enough when it was released, making its budget back and then some, one can’t help but seeing it as having major cult appeal. A sequel has already been announced, and what that might be I don’t know, but for now, having this little gem pop up is a nice little surprise. Hopefully when it’s eventually re-released, whether on Blu-ray or 4K UHD, a better extras package might be pulled together for it. Regardless, it’s still a disc worth picking up for a rewatch, just to see what you might have missed the first time around.
- Tim Salmons