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Humor, horror and groundhogs drive "Happy Death Day"


Jessica Rothe (“La La Land”) plays birthday girl Tree Gelbman who wakes up from one death to relive the same day again and again. (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, profanity, some drug material and partial nudity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube; streaming in 4K on iTunes

Best extra: “Worst Birthday Ever!”

HORROR fans know. Some of the best flicks made blend frights and fun like Joss Whedon’s “Cabin in the Woods” and Jordan Peele’s Oscar nominated “Get Out.” There’s nothing like that jump-laugh rush.

“Happy Death Day,” from producer Jason Blum who created “Get Out” and “The Purge,” falls into that category. “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day’ meets ‘Scream Queens,’” says Jessica Rothe (“La La Land”), who plays birthday girl Tree Gelbman. “It’s kind of this kooky thriller-horror film meets coming-of-age story.”

Tree is a super-mean sorority sister. She already has birthday issues; it’s not her favorite day and being murdered doesn’t improve it. When she wakes up from one death to relive the same day again and again, it only gets worse.

Right. “Happy Death Day” sounds completely forgettable, but give it a try. Director Christopher Landon of “The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” and the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, knows what he’s doing.

“The biggest challenge of a time loop movie was ‘How do you keep things interesting,’” he says in the “Worst Birthday Ever!” featurette, one of five extras on the Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. “We really wanted to make each day feel different. We started the film with very steady camera moves, but then as her time loop evolves the camera work changes. It starts to become shaky and frenetic … because we’re living her nightmare.”

Birthday girl Tree with fellow college student Carter Davis (Israel Broussard)

It’s not just Tree reliving her day; everyone around her is caught in the same loop. Landon credits the actors, which include Israel Broussard and Ruby Modine (“Shameless”). “Because we’re running through multiple days in the same location, we would shoot one angle and run through all the different days.”

Face it folks, we’re not here for the cinematography even if award-winner Australian Toby Oliver (“Get Out”) handled the cameras. Digitally shot, the 1080p picture (2.39:1 ratio) looks good; saturated color, detail and contrast are consistent throughout “Death Day’s” nonstop action. Fleshtones, in a variety of complexions, are realistic. Black tones provide decent detail in shadowed areas.

A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack delivers dialogue and effects right where they’re needed. We especially liked how effects never overwhelmed the speakers or subwoofer, while subtle, atmospheric environmental sounds were distributed throughout the room. The amazing Bear McCreary (“The Walking Dead,” “Black Sails,” “Outlander”) composed the score.

Extras also include an alternate ending and deleted scenes, and two additional featurettes. “Behind the Mask: The Suspects” runs through the mystery killer list, while Landon, Rothe and Blum present “The Many Deaths of Tree.”

“Happy Death Day” was unexpectedly entertaining. Engaging, too, as Tree evolves through her trials. Yes, the murders are gruesome, but gore is minimal, another nice surprise. The characters keep us involved, and that’s all to the good.

- Kay Reynolds

Movie Trailer



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