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This feature is loaded with spoilers for Happy Death Day 2U, so stop reading now if you haven’t yet seen the sequel.
Happy Death Day 2U does exactly what most sequels should aspire to do: Instead of just regurgitating more of the same that audiences liked about its predecessor, it steps back and looks at the first movie through a new prism. In doing so, Happy Death Day 2U shifts from a slasher-horror exercise into a dense, twisty sci-fi/time-travel adventure that still fits the pattern established by the original.
Naturally, when a movie plays with time travel, and established timelines, it needs to pay homage to one of the greatest time-travel adventures of our generation: Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future trilogy. There are a bunch of references to the BTTF films in Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day 2U, some blatant, and some that were less obvious. How many of these did you catch? And what ones did you see that we missed?
The BTTF conversation
Once Tree (Jessica Rothe) starts to describe the phenomenon that she might have woken up in a slightly different version of her reality, Carter (Israel Broussard) and Ryan (Phi Vu) immediately reference Back to the Future Part II. It’s a table-setting conversation, so that the audience will know that the references are coming. Yes, it’s funny that Tree admits to having never seen the BTTF films. But it also frames the plot of Happy Death Day 2U moving forward, so we can see how Tree and her friends will have to interact with the events of the first movie, and reset her timeline.
Biff’s Tree Cutting Service
At one point during the movie, Tree determines that it’s easier for her to commit suicide than it is to be stalked by the Baby Face killer. So as the time-travel team tries to run through scenarios that might close the currently open loop, Tree absorbs the science behind their trials, then kills herself in spectacular fashion to restart the day. In one such death, she dives head first into a woodchipper, and the company doing the work is Biff’s Tree Cutting Service, a nod to the bully Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) from the BTTF trilogy. Bonus Sighting: In another death in the montage, Tree skydives without a parachute .Right before she jumps, there’s a sign in the plane that says “Like A Leaf.” It’s a fantastic nod to the joke Biff always messed up, “Make like a tree and leaf.”
Tree knows that every time she dies, she restarts the day. She remembers what happens, but no one else does. After Tree decides to stay in the current timeline and live in an existence where her mother is still with her, she learns that Carter is murdered at the hospital. Tree can’t live with that, so she drives into a Power Station in order to kill the power in the city and stop Ryan’s time machine from resetting the loop. I know. It makes more sense in the movie. But as she’s racing toward the massive power grid, the camera shows Tree’s speedometer, and you bet your ass it’s on 88 miles per hour. Let’s call that scene, “The Power of Love.”
The dorm-room poster
This one is about as obvious as the actual Back to the Future Part II conversation. But whenever Tree wakes up in the dorm room, there are visible posters on the wall behind her. They Live! is prominent, as is Repo Man. The red poster right behind her, though, is a BTTF poster I’ve never seen before, and it’s so different from the traditional one-sheet with Marty standing in front of the Delorean, looking at his watch, that you might almost miss this blatant nod.
The Alan Silvestri musical cue
Back to the Future has one of the most memorable movie scores, thanks to the genius of Alan Silvestri. Happy Death Day 2U composer Bear McCreary puts musical nods to Silvestri’s score all over his sequel, though the most obvious is the twinkly, stars-falling music that happens at the :25 second moment of the above clip.
Should I stay, or should I go?
This one is a little more obtuse than the others. But the central conceit in Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day 2U finds Tree (Jessica Rothe) deciding between living in an alternate reality where her mother is no longer deceased, or going back to her “normal” existence, where she’s together with Carter (Israel Broussard) – and he’s no longer with the horrible Danielle (Rachel Matthews). While not a direct lift, it’s similar to the conundrum that Dr. Emmet Brown faced in the concluding chapter of the Back to the Future trilogy. Stranded in the Old West, Doc (Christopher Lloyd) meets and falls in love with Clara (Mary Steenburgen). So when Marty (Michael J. Fox arrives to “rescue” Doc, he has to make a very tough decision of whether he should stay in this world, where he’s happy, even if he knows he’ll be shot to death.
You don’t need to know much about the Back to the Future trilogy to fully enjoy Happy Death Day 2U. The movie works entirely on its own if you have as much knowledge about Robert Zemeckis’ seminal films as Tree does. Meaning, none. But you absolutely do need to watch the original Happy Death Day in order to get the most out of this sequel, as the events of the new movie intertwine beautifully with everything that you remember about the first movie. And though this sequel is a total genre switch from slasher to time-travel thriller, they work together in continuity.
Writer/director Christopher Landon told our own Eric Eisenberg that he does have an idea in place for a third chapter in this story. And our own Mike Reyes wrote about how the mid-credits sequence in Happy Death Day 2U shows where a third chapter might be going, if in fact enough people turn out to support this movie, and warrant the greenlighting of Part Three. Are you going to check out Happy Death Day 2U? Or did you go already, and spot more BTTF references that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.