SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains massive spoilers about the ending of Happy Death Day. If you have not yet seen the film, and don't wish for major details to be revealed, please bookmark this page and return after your screening!
In the subgenre of time loop movies, Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day is the unquestioned king. Released in 1993, the movie is as philosophically fascinating as it is hilarious, and in the last 24 years it has inspired many other features. The latest to arrive is the new horror/comedy Happy Death Day -- but one thing that separates it from most others is an actual awareness of Groundhog Day as a film. A reference is included as a wonderful punchline at the very end of the movie, and gets a big laugh -- but as I recently learned from director Chris Landon, that wasn't always how it played out. Said the filmmaker,
It was always the plan [to include it]. It's funny because I had it in a different scene. I had it in that cafeteria scene when they're talking and she's just sort of revealed to him what her situation is, and he doesn't totally believe her. And he very off-the-cuff says, 'Oh, this kind of reminds me of Groundhog Day.' It felt too soon - and when we changed the ending of the movie, that's when I realized that's the moment. That's the opportunity to do it. That's the punchline.
I had the pleasure of digging deep into Happy Death Day late last month when I sat down for both on-camera and print interviews with Chris Landon at the film's Los Angeles press day. Being not only a big fan of Groundhog Day, but also the new movie's method of reference, I felt compelled to ask the director about it, and he was happy to discuss. During the print interview, I asked if the nod was always part of the plan, and while he confirmed that it was, he also explained how it changed positions in the story.
The final scene of Happy Death Day -- which features Israel Broussard's Carter noting to Jessica Rothe's Tree that her ordeal sounds a lot like Groundhog Day -- is a great joke, mostly because there is a voice in the back of your head watching the movie wondering if the characters have actually seen the classic Bill Murray comedy. As Chris Landon pointed out to me, however, it also works on a second level, because it is in a way his way of communicating with the young members of the audience who may be like Tree and have no idea what Groundhog Day is:
Furthermore, it was funnier to me to that this character has no idea what that movie is. Because I also believe that tons of people who see the movie, young kids who see the movie, won't know the movie either. And I've seen people on Twitter, they say, 'Oh, this is Edge of Tomorrow. They stole Edge of Tomorrow!' or 'They stole Before I Fall!' And I feel like trolling them, 'Ummmm, go see Groundhog Day! It's the granddaddy.' And the biggest reason for putting in there was because I love that movie so much, and I wanted to pay my respects to it. I thought that was really important.
In case you couldn't tell, Groundhog Day was definitely on Chris Landon's mind making Happy Death Day -- but within that, it may surprise you to learn how many times he actually watched the film during development, filming and post-production. During my on-camera interview with Landon and producer Jason Blum, the director explained that he kept all other time loop stories at an arm's length during that period, essentially wanting to ensure that they didn't corrupt any of his creative energy. Said Landon,
I intentionally avoided watching any time loop movies while I was making this one. I just didn't want to be tainted by it. The specter of Groundhog Day was always over this movie, as it is over every time loop movie, I think. And it's why I referenced the movie at the end of ours. But I didn't want to be influenced by that stuff, and I really did want our movie to be its own thing. And I think that we have that, that we really pulled that off.
You can watch Chris Landon discuss not watching Groundhog Day during the process of making Happy Death Day by clicking play on the video below.