Bloody Birthday (1981) d. Ed Hunt (USA)
Gun-for-hire Hunt, who scripted alongside Barry Pearson, whipped up this fanciful tale of three children born during a solar eclipse on June 9, 1970, in the sleepy burg of Meadowvale, CA. Trouble is, at least according to our astrology-loving heroine Joyce (Lori Lethin), the sun and moon were also in the path of Saturn (which governs human emotions), leaving our diminutive trio devoid of any sense of morality. Now, just before their shared 10th birthday, they’ve begun strangling, shooting, and shoveling amorous teens in vans and cemeteries and bumping off town elders one by one. (Wait, why’d they wait until now to exhibit murderous tendencies? Oh, never mind.)
Killer kid movies are rare and wonderful things. (Being a card-carrying “uncle, never a dad,” I’ve had my suspicions regarding these ankle-biters from the start; like those earnestly preparing for the zombie apocalypse, I’d probably be the first to take up arms against the little monsters should the need arise.) From the moment little Rhoda Penmark smashed an unsuspecting playmate in the face with her steel-rimmed shoes in 1956’s The Bad Seed, the fires have been lit, and while the subversive subgenre is still sparsely populated, Rhoda’s progeny have turned out more entertaining than not.
Without even touching on the recent “hoodie horror” boom, efforts like Village of the Damned, Joshua, The Good Son, Devil Times Five, The Children (both the 1980 and 2008 incarnations), Who Could Kill a Child?, Our Mother’s House, and Beware! Children at Play have consistently played upon our willingness to believe that the youngsters are just too innocent to cause any real harm...right?
Here, the snot-nosed sinisters are played to the hilt by a triptych of talented young performers, with Andrew Freeman as blonde Steven Seton, Billy Jacoby as the bespectacled Curtis Taylor, and Elizabeth Hoy dazzling as the duplicitous Debbie Brody. All three know how to turn on the charm and innocence when grown-ups are around, but give free rein to their mischievous glee during times of bloodletting. Of course, no one suspects anything except Joyce and her younger brother Timmy (K.C. Martel), which puts them right in the line of pre-adolescent fire. With runaway vehicles, flying arrows, killer skateboards, and pistol rounds raining down, the siblings attempt to convince their disbelieving community that the terrorizing tykes are out for blood.
Susan Strasberg, who racked up an impressive number of genre credits considering her illustrious pedigree (The Manitou, Sweet Sixteen, The Returning, Scream of Fear, and So Evil My Sister), plays the tykes’ strict homeroom teacher. From the second she shoots off her mouth about “homework being more important than birthday parties,” you know her days are numbered. Ditto local sheriff James Brody (Bert Kramer), since the kids can’t very well have the law sniffing around. The fact that Brody is darling Debbie’s father only adds to the film’s perverse sense of fun.
Packed with female boobies – including those of future MTV v-jay Julie Brown – and creative kills, it’s no surprise Bloody Birthday has garnered a cult following over the years (and that was before its poster art was appropriated for horror-faithful Facebook memes).
Now, Severin gives the flick its well-deserved Blu-ray boost, porting over most of the extras from its 2011 DVD release. These include a 10-minute interview with Lethin, and a 51-minute (!) audio interview with Hunt, who also gave us Starship Invasions (1977) and 1988’s The Brain. (Unfortunately, the audio quality of Lunt's interview is quite poor, especially for such an extended amount of time.)
There’s also a 15-minute featurette, “A Brief History of the Slasher Film,” with author and fellow Chicagoan Adam Rockoff guiding us through the subgenre. Whether the piece is truly at home on this particular disc as opposed to a “true” slasher flick is open to debate, but it’s an engaging slice of background info for beginners nonetheless.
Bloody Birthday is now available from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE:
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine