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8 Terrible Cinematic Birthdays


Gifts and cake couldn't have done much to brighten these 'special' days...

Unhappy Birthday

I'm not one to toot my own horn, but my loyal readers here at Shadowlocked may be interested to know that today is my birthday. I'm not going to get into how old I am, but let's just say that I am now the atomic number of arsenic and leave this particular thread of conversation on that joyous note. Anyway, while initially deciding that I would take a day off from the chaotic party life that is Shadowlocked, the writing gnome in my mind took over and thought that the arrival of my birthday might be an enjoyable segway into a list of sorts.

Many movies have had a birthday party scene. Sometimes it's inconsequential filler and sometimes it's a key scene of foreshadowing or character development. Usually it is a festive occasion and a bonding moment between family and friends. But now and then, it's a clever tool for the filmmaker to turn what tends to be a happy time into a day gone very, horribly wrong. With tongue set firmly in cheek, here are a few of those choice selections for your enjoyment, in no particular order. And, as the Mad Hatter and March Hare famously sang, a very merry unbirthday to you all!

[Spoilers for some of the films listed]

1. Signs - An alien crashes the party

Signs' alien

Hard to get any worse than the sight that greets the group of Brazilian birthday party children in M. Night Shymalan's creepy Signs. While trying to enjoy a little celebration, South American style, the unfortunate group of partygoers has the bad luck to witness the vanguard of the alien invasion force in the form of a skulking alien scout. The scene is made all the more nerve-wracking by the screaming children (who profusely swear that they just saw something in a nearby grove of trees) and the shaky-cam filming by an adult towards the greenery-bordered road in front of their house, which shows nothing of note for several agonizing seconds... until an alien steps out from behind the trees.

2. Office Space - Bill Lumbergh's birthday "party"

Stephen Root as Milton in Office Space

All, or nearly all, of you have been there - the crushingly-horrible job with the life-sucking "tiny cog in the vast machine" work environment and ethos. In perhaps no other film is that feeling better portrayed than in Mike Judge's brilliant cult hit Office Space, and in perhaps no other scene in the entire film is the hopelessness of being a cubicle drone at Initech more hilariously put into focus than company man Bill Lumbergh's 41st birthday party. As the perpetually-demoralized office staff sings "Happy Birthday" with all the joy and enthusiasm of a funeral dirge, Lumbergh breezes through the ceremony with a well-practiced false humor and disingenuousness. And, as always, poor Milton gets screwed out of his piece of birthday cake.

3. 50 First Dates - It's Marlin's birthday every day

Blake Edwards as Marlin in 50 First Dates

For most people, birthdays are fun, because they're not only opportunities to be with those close to you, but they're spaced far enough apart to be something to look forward to. Not so for Marlin Whitmore, whose daughter Lucy was in a serious car accident a year before the film's events, and whose resulting injuries take a form of anterograde amnesia. Simply speaking, Lucy wakes up every morning thinking that it was the day that she was hurt in the crash - Marlin's birthday. To humor her, Lucy's family makes a show of watching the same football game, going through the same exact routine, and celebrating Marlin's birthday every single day, so as to avoid confusing and frightening her. A happy birthday? Probably not so much by the 300th go-round...

4. Sleeping Beauty - A curse in place of a gift

Aurora hypnotized

The first of this list's two instances in which somebody takes a non-invitation to a party as quite the serious snub, this Disney classic sees the evil fairy Maleficent getting left off the guest list of Baby Princess Aurora's christening ceremony. In a rage, she arrives anyway and places a curse upon the poor child. On her 16th birthday, Aurora will die from touching the spindle of a spinning wheel. Her three guardian fairies manage to weaken the curse enough so that Aurora is merely destined to 'fall asleep' (i.e. coma) upon touching the spindle. Terrified, Aurora's parents remove all spinning wheels from the kingdom, but on Aurora's 16th birthday, Maleficent just conjures one out of thin air and hypnotizes Aurora into touching it. Only when her betrothed, Prince Philip, heroically kills Maleficent and then kisses Aurora, does the princess awake. Let that be a lesson to you all - even if you have a creepy great-uncle or weirdo second cousin, you really do have to invite them to family occasions. That's just how it goes. If you don't, who knows what will happen...

5. Batman Begins - The destruction of Wayne Manor

Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins

In this Batman incarnation, Bruce Wayne begins his evolution as Batman by getting the ever-loving crap kicked out of him by expert trainer Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), under the employ of mysterious vigilante Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). In his last test, al Ghul asks Wayne to lead his League of Shadows in ridding the world of evil through highly-draconian measures. Wayne refuses and is forced to kill al Ghul, save Ducard from a burning building, and escape. Once back in Gotham City, Wayne uses what he has learned to terrify the city's mob element and begins to turn the tide against corruption and evil. On his birthday, the playboy-turned-crimefighter throws a huge celebratory bash at Wayne Manor. All is well... until Ducard appears out of nowhere to confront Wayne and reveals himself to be the true Ra's al Ghul. Feigning drunken belligerence, Wayne rudely drives the crowd away, right before al Ghul's men burn Wayne Manor to the ground in retaliation for his refusal to join their League. Some people have no respect for holidays.

6. New Moon - Bella almost becomes vampire food

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan in New Moon

(In all honesty, I'm only using this example because it was so easy to find and research. In no way am I advocating anybody reading or watching the Twilight novels or films, as they are embarrassingly-awful. I do this for my craft and so that you don't have to. Now, onward and upward!).

In the opening reels of New Moon, Edward (glittery vampire) and his family are throwing a birthday party for his semi-girlfriend Bella (clingy girl). It is meant to be a moment of levity in a relationship that is increasingly strained by mythological rivalries and various adolescent difficulties. The good times don't last long, however, as Bella manages to get a paper cut while unwrapping a gift (has this happened to any of you, ever? Anyone?). In a scene that foreshadows the novel's 'trust nobody' theme, Edward's own brother, Jasper, suddenly loses control, tries to kill Bella, and has to be restrained. No word on whether any of her subsequent gifts contained a useful crucifix, garlic, or wooden stake.

7. Problem Child - Junior hates being uninvited

Michael Oliver as Junior in Problem Child

Junior in Problem Child is Dennis the Menace with a mean streak. Maybe just a shade less evil than Rosemary's Baby. His entire childhood is an elaborate concoction of plots designed to maim, torture, and leave a swath of destruction and shell-shocked adults in his wake. As intolerable to everyone as Junior first appears, in films like this, where there is a character whose sole purpose is to make other characters miserable, there is often a shift at some point in which he turns from an antagonist that torments likable characters to a protagonist of sorts that begins tormenting those who rightly deserve it. Thus is the fate of Lucy, snooty neighborhood girl who pointedly uninvites Junior from her widely-anticipated birthday party. Leaving the little devil out of the fun is a mistake that Lucy soon regrets, as Junior decides that if he can't have fun, nobody can. Think Home Alone, but more malicious and vengeful, and you've pretty much got the idea.

8. Harold and Maude - Going out on a milestone

Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon as Harold & Maude

Teenager Harold is obsessed with death. Constantly browbeaten for his strange tastes and indifference to his socialite mother's blind date setups, he regularly stages elaborate fake suicides to gain her attention, with no results. His depression is finally lifted, however, by a chance meeting with 79-year-old Maude at a stranger's funeral. While Harold is dark and moody, Maude is a free spirit and acts much younger than her years. A romance soon blossoms between the two, as Harold and Maude's two opposing personalities serve to spiritually balance each other out. With Maude's 80th birthday approaching, Harold announces to his mother and psychiatrist that he means to marry her, much to their horror and disgust. It is not to be, unfortunately, as Maude intentionally overdoses on sleeping pills on her birthday, her opinion being that 80 years old is a proper age to die. Maude has one last dance with the unsuspecting Harold before collapsing and eventually dying. Faced with his first real view of death and all it entails, Harold commits one last act of faked suicide in Maude's honor, the film implying that he is now 'cured' of his strange behavior because of his time with Maude. Unfortunate and ironic that it took an old lady committing suicide on her birthday to bring him around.

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#1 Brian De Palma's "Sisters" Carl 2011-03-30 22:15
If you're going to present a birthday cake to a demented woman, don't give her a butcher knife to cut it. In fact, don't give her any knives.

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