Bloody Birthday (1981) [Blu-ray]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2014-06-30 23:33
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Bloody Birthday (1981)
Studio: Severin Films
Release date: July 8th, 2014

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman




The movie:

It sure didnít take long for someone to look at the success of Friday the 13th and decide ďhey, letís do that but with ten year olds!Ē And thus, Bloody Birthdayóthe Bugsy Malone of 80s splatter flicksówas born and set to raise hell in 1981. Obviously not the first of its kind (Hollywood tapped into the total schlock of having kids commit heinous deeds decades eariler) but arguably one of the wackiest, Ed Huntís macabre take really embraces the silliness of the concept and doesnít give a damn about shying away from it.

I mean, thereís barely any pretense to the madness, which is motivated not by demons or a prophecy from Revelations. Instead, the killer tykes here are a trio of star-crossed psychopaths who happened to be born during a solar eclipse. On the eve of their tenth birthday, they suddenly become murderous little assholes for no good reason other than itís their destiny, apparently.

Their homicide spree begins early and continues often. The filmís opening scene is typical slasher stuff, with a pair of teenage lovers making out in a graveyard (why is this such a popular spot, anyway?) before theyíre strangled to death. In an unusual twist, the killersí identities donít remain hidden for long, and weíre soon privy to watching the three kids plow their way through any of the locals who cross their paths--including their own family members.

In fact, itís that moment when you realize just how wacko Bloody Birthday is going to be. Obviously, the concept alone is bonkers, but itís the way the film goes about being so casually bonkers that grabs you. After the opening homicide, a cop decides itís a good idea to speak to a classroom of third graders about the incident and question them about the murder weapon (a jump rope). I doubt thatís proper police protocol. Anyway, the three bastards happen to be sitting in the room and give a knowing, sinister glance to each other, which winds up being code for ďletís kill this motherfucker and make it look like he slipped on a skateboard.Ē Oh, and it turns out heís one of the kidsí dad. Clearly, they are not the sentimental type.

When I first reviewed this one a few years back, Iím not sure how I underestimated just how kooky it isómaybe itís the product of growing a little desynthesized after seeing way too many of these things. Watching it again really unlocked how crazy and funny it is at times; I particularly enjoy just how anarchic and perverse the three kids are. Itís as if being complete maniacs isnít enough, so the girl of trio (Elizabeth Hoy) charges the two boys to spy on her older sister (Julie Brown) through a makeshift peephole. Youíd almost be compelled to applaud this ingenious entrepreneurship if they werenít also disposed towards killing folks.

Some of the other humor is a little more muted, such as the funny call that comes in over a police dispatch and a copís lax reaction at a birthday party when asked about possible leads in the case. Just because corpses are piling up doesnít mean you canít sit back, relax, and partake in some festivities. (Note: said festivities are interrupted by a possible injection of ant poison into the cake.) Slashers are usually prone to humor, but the relief here seems especially strange considering the plot revolves around a gang of sociopathic grade-schoolers doing everything they can to dispatch those around them, be it via vehicular homicide or by shooting their teacher point-blank in the face. Itís not every day you get to see Susan Strasberg terrorized by killer kids.

And despite the goofiness, thereís something legitimately disturbing about it all, especially when the violence is directed at other kids; if kids committing violence is a taboo, then violence inflicted upon them is the taboo. The kids here mostly target adults and teenagers, but one of their fellow classmates and his older sister (Lori Lethin) prove to be pains in the ass. In kind, the trio dedicate themselves to torturing these two: they lock the brother in an ice box and leave him for dead in a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek, for example, and thatís not even the most devious thing they spring on them (the entire climax involves the kids luring the brother and sister to a house and trying to gun them down).

For whatever reason, the sister is big into astrology, which only proves to be useful during a bit of exposition that reinforces why these kids are so deranged (it has something to do with Saturn also being blocked out, thus leaving the kids devoid of a conscienceóyou can almost feel everyone involved cackling as they make this shit up as they go along). Credit is due to Hunt and company for discovering three incredibly wicked kids. Billy Jayne is Curtis, a snotty little shit who serves as the ringleader, while Steven (Andy Freeman) serves as the muscle. But the real standout is Debbie; all three are more-or-less great at putting on a deceptively nice front, but Foy is especially cherubic, so her fits of violence are totally jarring.

Youíd truly never expect her to be committing these crimes, and Bloody Birthday actually thrives on how oblivious everyone is, which allows these kids to just do their thing. They do it well with a nice mix of strangulations, stabbings, and arrows-to-the-face; the latter gag is most memorable, as the killer kid concept does most of the leg work here. Admittedly, other slashers of the era were more generous with blood and gore (this one does fare pretty well in the nudity department, in case youíre wondering), but few of them featured killers of this sort. I only wish that it could have spawned a sequel to pick up where this one leaves offówho wouldnít watch a follow-up where Debbie hits the road with her mom and murders everyone along the way? The world needs more mother-daughter road-trip bonding movies punctuated by homicide.

The disc:

Bloody Birthday joins Bloody Moon and The Baby in the latest round of Blu-ray upgrades from Severin films. As is the case with those two offerings, the move to high-def is beneficiary here; again, it doesnít look as if the elements have been digitally tampered with, as the grain structure is left intact. Colors are vibrant, and details are generally strong; given the age (and production values) of the source, itís a fine, faithful transfer. I think Iím also obligated to remind you that Julie Brownís striptease has never been more glorious on home video.

Severin has also ported over all the extras from their previous DVD release, including interviews with stars Lethin and Jose Ferrer, plus a lengthy 50 minute conversation with Hunt. Trailers and a fifteen minute documentary (ďA Brief History of Slasher Films, indeed) round out the disc, which should make for a fine addition to any slasher fanís shelf, especially if theyíve missed out on this one so far. Even those who have given it a spin in the past might be surprised to discover that itís still rewarding after a revisit; while itís never been among my absolute favorites from the class of í81, I'm starting to feel like it should be more celebrated.
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