Bloody Birthday (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-06-13 08:11

Written by: Ed Hunt and Barry Pearson
Directed by: Ed Hunt
Starring: Lori Lethin, Melinda Cordell, and Julie Brown

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“This is Debbie's chart. It's really weird. Because there was an eclipse the day she was born, both the sun and the moon were blocking Saturn. There should be something missing from her personality."

Even by 1981, it seems like slasher film-makers had caught on to the fact that the genre was going to perpetuate through the use of gimmicks, such as setting their films on certain days or holidays. Bloody Birthday is obviously out of that vein (and was accompanied by Happy Birthday to Me, so it was a bad year to blow out the candles), but it also mashed itself up against another horror trend: the creepy kid picture (which had actually already happened in Devil Times Five, but I digress). This new bunch of cinematic bad seeds only had one wish for their birthday: for everyone to die in horrible fashion.

One night in 1970, a trio of kids is born at the height of a total eclipse. Ten years later, a couple of horny teens attempt to get to know each other a little better, and are offed for their troubles by an unseen assailant. At this point, you think you’re about to see another typical whodunnit unfold. However, we soon find out that the three eclipse-born kids have grown up with a total eclipse of the soul, and they've taken to slashing, shooting, and strangling. When a little boy (K.C. Martel) and his older sister (Lori Lethin) figure out they’re living down the street from apparent demon spawn, the devlish trio plot to kill them…and anyone else that gets in their way.

I don’t think that being of total eclipse-born will cause you to become a psychopath at the age of ten, but it sure makes for a good excuse for a slasher flick. As you might expect, Bloody Birthday doesn’t really offer an explanation (nor does it really need to); instead, it assumes you’re rolling along with its trail of carnage, which is littered with corpses (eight of them by film’s end). There is something quite sinister and malevolent about seeing the kids perpetrating it though. That reveal might come a bit too quickly in the narrative, but it’s rather shocking in its bluntness, a literal bludgeon to the head. These kids are really diabolical too--they treat attempted murder the same way most kids treat their typical misdeeds: with gleeful abandonment, fully knowing what they’re doing is wrong. Imagine if Dennis the Menace set out to sling an arrow through Mr. Wilson's head, and you’ll have a decent grasp of what Bloody Birthday has to offer.

The unique nature of its killers is about the only thing that sets it apart from most body count flicks. Aside from one really good gag, most of the murder sequences are pretty tame and rely on the disturbing sight of kids brandishing knives and shooting guns. The movie also throws in the usual slasher clichés (read: boobs and stupidity, both of which are surely welcome), but there’s also a nice mix of action, suspense, and general creepiness too. Arlon Ober’s score helps with the latter; it mixes up Manfredini-style stings with some ambient piano noodling to create some nice atmosphere. But for the most part, it’s kind of silly due to the premise, despite the odd mean streak flowing through the whole thing. At times, it’s awesomely discordant and perversely violent, a sort of gritty, even more twisted take on The Bad Seed.

This is also one of those slashers that has an interesting cast; it had a couple of veterans in Susan Strasberg and Jose Ferrer, each in rather thankless roles. Strasberg’s spinster, disciplinarian teacher would be a natural foil for the killer kids if she were around long enough. There’s also a few familiar faces before they went on to more well-known roles, such as Julie Brown (whose early nude scene is immaculate), Joe Penny, and Michael Dudikoff (who unfortunately displays no America Ninja skills to ward off the little bastards). Lethin is one of those semi-recognizable 80s “Scream Queens” that also popped up in The Prey and Return to Horror High, and she makes for a fine final girl. The three birthday kids are rather memorable because they manage to exude both innocence and evil; they go from jumping rope to strangling victims with it in soulless fashion, as if they’re a long-lost brood from The Village of the Damned.

If you’ve seen a decent amount of 80s splatter movies, Bloody Birthday isn’t going to carve a whole lot of new ground for you. However, that’s kind of the fun in these types of movies--they’re oddly comforting in their formulas, and it’s really the subtle twists on those formulas that are most interesting. This one has an interesting enough variation to warrant a look, and Severin Films’s upcoming DVD release makes it an even more worthwhile gander. The film has been restored in HD from the original elements, and the anamorphic transfer is pristine; the two-channel mono track is similarly well-done, with the score and sound effects especially shining through. Special features include an audio interview with Hunt, an interview with Lethin, trailers for upcoming Severin releases, and “A Brief History of Slasher Films” featurette, which is basically Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film condensed into fifteen minutes. It’s a pretty good, quick introduction for those who aren’t overly familiar with the genre, but it probably won’t tell hardcore fans anything they don’t already know. Kind of appropriate, since Bloody Birthday will play pretty much the same way for enthusiasts--you’ve got sex, blood, rock and roll, and a decent amount of fun. In other words, the stuff slashers are usually made of. The parents probably should have aborted the little shitheads, but we would have missed out on some bizarre festivities. Rent it!

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