Bloody Birthday Blu-ray Review
Directed by Ed Hunt
Written by Ed Hunt and Barry Pearson
1981, Region A, 85 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 8th, 2014
Lori Lethin as Joyce
Elizabeth Hoy as Debbie
Billy Jacoby as Curtis
Andy Freeman as Steven
K.C. Martel as Timmy
Julie Brown as Beverly
Susan Strasberg as Miss Davis
Jose Ferrer as Doctor
Debbie and her friends Curtis and Steven share the same birthday, attend the same school and are fairly well-liked throughout town. They were born during the height of a solar eclipse and are therefore viewed as somewhat special. Debbie’s father is the town sheriff, her sister Beverly is a popular senior at the high school and their mom is a picture-perfect housewife. Debbie is also quite the little hustler, as she charges the local boys 25¢ to watch her sister undress via a peephole in the closet. Spying on naked girls is not their only common interest, however, as the inseparable trio also like to play hide-and-seek in the junkyard, steal cars and murder horny teenagers around town. While all of this is clearly the stuff of fun times, the kids are really looking forward to next week when they will celebrate their tenth birthday!
Debbie is the brains, Steven the muscle and Curtis is the trigger-happy sociopath that really gets off on their bloodthirsty mischief. Classmate Timmy is a bit of a problem, since he may have witnessed some incriminating behavior and will now need to be closely monitored. His older sister has a big mouth, so this might require additional effort to silence anyone to whom she may blab. Murder isn't always the answer, but it is the most satisfying solution and now these psychotic youngsters have a pair of legitimate targets instead of simply offing horny teens or bitchy teachers. Debbie and Curtis know that sometimes making your enemies appear mentally unstable can be just as rewarding as burying them, but they may have underestimated Timmy and his sister.
The horror community has raised generations of creepy kids with titles like Village of the Damned, Who Could Kill a Child?, The Children, The Brood, Beware: Children at Play, and Children of the Corn just to name a half dozen off the top of my head. While each of these have their merits, the ability to scare ultimately rests with the acting skills of the young cast members. Bloody Birthday really delivers in this respect, with the kids frequently outperforming the adults. The standouts are Elizabeth Hoy (The Blues Brothers) and Billy Jacoby (Just One of the Guys) as Debbie and Curtis. Both are able to turn on the innocent charm when needed and yet their sociopathic behavior is believably disturbing. The two appear together in the prologue to The Hospital Massacre a year later and while neither film features particularly graphic violence, these two actors really raise the creep factor and could make Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed) run for cover!
KC Martel (The Amityville Horror) does a fine job as Timmy, determined to convince everyone that these kids are evil. One of his strongest scenes involves his desperation to escape the junkyard. Lori Lethan (Return to Horror High) stands out as Joyce, the only adult character to receive any depth or development. Her standoff with Curtis at the party and subsequent run-ins with the terrible tykes are a lot of fun, but her best moments are with Martel. Julie Brown (Earth Girls Are Easy) provides humor and ample amounts of nudity as the vain Beverly. Her introductory strip show runs a solid two minutes and somehow this scene isn't the only skin in the film! Also, action fans will want to keep an eye out for Michael Dudikoff (American Ninja) as her boyfriend Willard.
Jose Ferrer (Lawrence of Arabia), once a respected actor, takes a paycheck here as the doctor with no name who delivers the evil brood and hangs around town for the next decade apparently hoping someone will introduce his character. Susan Strasberg (The Manitou) appears as the domineering school teacher Miss Davis, whose devotion to homework assignments inevitably leads to trouble.
Director Ed Hunt (The Brain) doesn't shy away from the more twisted elements of the script he co-wrote with Barry Pearson (Alien Warrior), including scenes involving kids holding down their victims while attempting to strangle them, and even more so in watching Jacoby pointing a large hand gun at both children and adults alike. Hunt's strength is his direction of the children, specifically the sequences where they are not menacing the community, but just being kids. Bloody Birthday is not so much a slasher film as it is a psycho-thriller, but it fails to follow through on its more interesting ideas like, are these behaviors limited to this one town's offspring, and are there other side effects to the eclipse? John Carpenter's Halloween appears to be an influence in some early scenes, but Hunt should have chosen more memorable sequences to emulate, as he fails to maintain the tension throughout the picture.
Bloody Birthday was released the same year as the vastly superior Happy Birthday to Me, a traditional slasher that follows the whodunnit approach of the genre. Neither is exactly the high-water mark of the dead teenager craze, but despite the shortcomings of the script, Bloody Birthday spins the trappings of the genre by throwing in three youthful antagonists and revealing their identity from the beginning. The film was a late night-staple of cable television in the '80s and now more than thirty years later it still manages to shock with its willingness to put children front and center of the mayhem. Do yourself a favor and the next time you blow out the candles, make a wish that the weird kids in your neighborhood haven't seen this film.
Video and Audio:
Bloody Birthday is a low budget flick that has never really looked very good, until now. The new transfer presents the film in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and while not exactly reference quality, this is easily the most attention the title is likely to receive. Decent colors and a sharper image than earlier releases make this a welcome upgrade.
The original stereo mix is presented in a LPCM 2.0 mono track that remains a bit thin but is more than serviceable. Dialogue is clear and music cues are not overwhelming.
All of the special features included here are ported over from Severin's 2011 DVD release.
An audio interview with director Ed Hunt is interesting but frustrating in that he speaks for 51 minutes about his entire career and goes into detail on many of his projects, but Bloody Birthday receives the least attention (maybe four minutes total). He only says that he wasn't really familiar with the horror genre at the time and refuses to offer his opinion of this film as it's not his place to say. If the experience was terrible and he's being polite, he could qualify his comments or maybe try to find positive things to say about the script, cast, a certain shot...anything would be better than the quick dismissal of the feature included on this disc.
A much more satisfying interview with actress Lori Lethin titled Don't Eat That Cake! (10 minutes) goes a long way to restore enthusiasm in this project. Her stories are fun and she has many fond memories of both this film specifically and the early days of her career in general.
In A Brief History of Slasher Movies, Adam Rockoff traces the subgenre from John Carpenter's masterpiece Halloween (1978) to the unfortunate Rob Zombie remake (2007). There are plenty of stops along the way to acknowledge the countless imitators, the wave of Euro-horrors and the heyday of the home video market. Rockoff appears in a poorly-lit interview that is intercut with trailers for assorted slasher titles and glimpses of VHS cover boxes. The info is sweeping, and to anyone who hasn't read his book (Going to Pieces: The Rise & Fall of the Slasher Film) or seen the documentary of the same name, I strongly suggest checking this guy out immediately.
A pair of trailers (one hidden as an easy-to-find Easter egg) for Bloody Birthday offers a look at how the film was originally marketed. Nothing terribly original, but it is fun to see this time capsule from 1981.
Previews for a few additional titles available from Severin films round out the special features on this disc.