"Happy Birthday to Me" isn't your average slasher film. For one thing, its connection to its titular holiday is tenuous (unlike, say, "My Bloody Valentine," "Halloween" or "April Fool's Day"). For another, it's helmed by a real director: J. Lee Thompson, who did "Cape Fear," "The Guns of Navarone" and two of the "Planet of the Apes" sequels.

It also had me fooled. More than once.

While not exactly strong on story and rather lengthy for its premise, it at least knows what it's doing. Melissa Sue Anderson (shedding her squeaky-clean "Little House on the Prairie" persona) stars as Virginia, part of a prep-school clique of 10 rather smug students. She 's the nicest of the bunch, which may be part of some experimental brain procedure she underwent, which we see in teasing flashbacks and remains unexplained for quite some time (too long, one could argue).

Her circle of friends quickly thins when a black-gloved killer begins to off them, in increasingly creative ways, from a motorcycle tire to the face and barbells to the neck, to the cr

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