Jack Blum (played Alfred Morris)
Q1: How did you get involved in HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME?
At the time I was a very busy working actor. MEATBALLS had been a big hit and most of the cast got opportunities in other Canadian films of the day. I don't believe I actually auditioned for the director, J Lee Thompson, but I did go in for a meeting with somebody. As I recalled I thought it hadn't gone very well and was surprised to hear from my agent that they wanted me. Later I learned that the script had been written (in part? in full?) by a friend of mine named Peter Jobin and he had had me in mind from the beginning.
Q2: It looked like a lot of fun to make! Was it as much fun to make as it is to watch?
What wouldn't have been fun? We were all young actors, quite well paid at the time. I don't remember exactly how much but I would guess that we would make in a day what our friends' straight jobs would pay in a month, so it was pretty heady. I would fly into Montreal from Toronto, limos to and from the airport, nice hotels, per diems, etc etc. So much of what took place around the shooting was great fun. The actual shoot was occasionally quite demanding - the climactic "birthday party" took several days and involved endless hours each day for all of us dead guys to replicate the blood, guts & etc. of being dead. Then we had to sit around for hours being dead. Not the most comfortable, but no one was complaining.
Q3: In the film you play Alfred, the nerdy one in the Crawford Top Ten. However, there's a number of times where you get to act sinister and throw a few arch looks. Were you always the red herring, or did you wonder if you might end up as the killer?
No, aside from the final reveal between Melissa and Tracy we all knew we were not the killer. Our own deaths were scheduled in the shoot, remember.
Q4: In one of those scenes Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson) and Ann (Tracey Bergman) discover a fake decapitated head in your special effects studio, modelled on the (by then) murdered Bernadette (Lesleh Donaldson). I always wondered why Alfred would have had such a thing hanging about! Can you cast any light on this?
Alfred's character was drawn to suggest weirdness at every opportunity. A morbid fascination with decapitation and taxidermy seemed in line with that.
Q5: The film's press notes say that three endings were shot for HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (and also boasts the cast wouldn't know which ending was used until they actually saw the film), but I've also heard that was just to cover up the fact that the ending hadn't really been written! What was your understanding of the situation?
You know I'd be delighted to learn what the other cast members remember. As mentioned above, I seem to recall that the final reveal in the birthday scene was a bit of a surprise to all of us but I honestly don't remember the details.
Q6: You were offed with a pair of garden shears to the chest. Were you disappointed you didn't get one of the more outlandish kills? Can you think of a more “bizarre” way for your character to have been done in?
I was delighted with the garden shears. From an actor's point of view, I wanted the easiest job possible. My friend Matt Craven's demise with the barbecue skewer was infinitely more complicated and difficult and his week as a dead guy entirely less comfortable (imagine trying to eat lunch with that makeup).
Q4: I also heard that all those around the climactic birthday table – in all their gory finery (including yourself!) – decided to wander around the neighbourhood and scare the locals. Did this really happen?
Again, memory fails but I dimly recall one of the actors (Matt? He was entirely capable of this kind of thing) wandering off set to have a bit of fun in that regard. I wouldn't swear to it, though, and I have no recollection of any kind of group mayhem.
Q5: The delightfully convoluted crescendo to HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is loved and loathed in equal measures. Naturally I love it! SCOOBY DOO'esque fun at its finest. However, did anyone think the mask ripping finale would be taken seriously, or was it a case of tongue very much in cheek? And most importantly, did all you corpses keep a straight face?
We're actors and we do what we're told. J Lee Thompson seemed to be entirely committed to the real horror of every moment. He loved blood and gore ("More blood! More blood!") and I don't believe that he thought he was doing any kind of sendup.
On the other hand, not being much of a fan myself, I'm not exactly sure of the mindset of those that create this kind of thing. How serious? How outrageous? I don't really know how to judge.
Q6: Did the cast get together to watch the film when it was released in May 1981?
Possibly. I don't remember, I'm afraid.
Q7: Have you seen the film recently? And if so, how do you think it holds up?
I don't think I've seen it at all since it was released. How do YOU think it holds up?
Thanks to Jack for taking the time to take a trip down slasher movie memory lane. Jack is currently a writer, producer, director, story editor, actor, educator and communications consultant based in Toronto. You can read more about him here.