BR: Bloody Birthday (1981)

December 30, 2014 | By

 

BloodyBirthday_BR_sFilm: Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Good

Label: Severin Films

Region: All

Released:  July 8, 2014

Genre:  Horror / Slasher / Killer Kiddies

Synopsis: Born during a solar eclipse, a pack of suburban kids start to decimate undesirables in their urban ‘hood.

Special Features:  Audio Interview with director Ed Hunt (51:10) / “Don’t Eat That Cake! An interview with actress Lori Lethin” (9:50) / Featurette: “A Brief History of the Slasher Film” with Adam Rockoff (15:40).

 


 

Review:

American film school grad Ed Hunt found a career making B-movies when he ventured north of the 49th parallel and found private and government funds to produce an assortment of genre films, and while Hunt may be best remembered for one of the worst CanCon tax shelter films of the era – the inept Starship Invasions (1977) – he nevertheless managed to show he could assemble material into a fluid narrative with the loopy Bloody Birthday (1981), a surprisingly shocking tale of bad kids who murder adults, and each other.

The fact kids kill and die onscreen is very risqué – when vile pre-teen little Rhoda gets her comeuppance in The Bad Seed (1956), it’s implied by an event; and in The Omen (1976), little Damien lives to kill more meddlers in subsequent sequels – but in the indie world, anything goes, especially when filmmakers needed to spin a unique concept into a drive-in flick with notoriety that’s worth paying for.

The Spanish film Who Can Kill a Child? / Island of the Damned (1976) made a band of kids the real murderers, and whether the concept stemmed from Hollywood’s offering of demon children or Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s creepy pack of angry tots, Hunt’s film certainly belongs to the sub-genre of murderous kiddies.

Made for very little money, this U.S. production makes great use of generic suburban Burbank and Glendale, California locations, and has a hook not unlike Armando Crispino’s Autopsy / Macchie solari (1975), in which an astronomical event spawns murderous behaviour. Instead of sun spots, Hunt has a group of kids born during a solar eclipse numbed by any sense of emotion, or empathy, making them seemingly ideal killing machines. (The moppets prove to be less than ideal because as avaricious brats intolerant of being told No, they’re destined to kill off every care giver and provider until they’re left alone. They simply don’t know when to stop.)

The sociopaths plot and knock off parents, a sister, a stringent teacher (Susan Strasberg dies, Joe Penny survives), neighbours, and classmates with apparent impunity (their doctor, played by a slumming Jose Ferrer, manages to escape their wrath), but the brother & sister team of Joyce (Lori Lethin) and Timmy (K.C. Martel) eventually catch on to what’s happening in their ‘hood, and attempt to stop the little monsters when they find themselves on the hit list.

The script by Hunt and occasional collaborator Barry Pearson (Paperback Hero) doesn’t attempt to develop characters or much backstory, and a steady bodycount propels the film through some ridiculous scenarios, including a junkyard rampage, and the illogic of little Debbie Brody (creepy Elizabeth Hoy) killing her father (veteran character actor Bert Kramer) when he’s far less of a threat than bossy sister Beverly (Julie Brown).

Beverly’s death by arrow is built up by establishing a peephole through which Debbie charges boys to watch her sister strip-down and dance, and Brown performs an epic topless jiggle that stops the film cold purely so audiences can enjoy her lithe physique. The peephole eventually becomes the source of Beverly’s grievous head trauma, but it’s a crazy sequence that’s almost epic in length and detail.

Hunt’s direction is pretty straightforward, and Stephen Posey’s cinematography is fine (Posey also shot the exploitation flicks Penitentiary II, Savage Streets, and Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), but Arlon Ober’s score is really quite shrill: what initially sounds like a Main Title theme performed deliberately out of tune flows into several awkwardly orchestrated cues, and the film’s opening kills in a cemetery has more than an overt homage to Bernard Herrmann’s slashing Psycho strings.

Severin’s really nice Blu-ray ports over the same extras from the prior 2011 DVD release, and they contextualize this cult film for both actress Lethin (now retired from film) and Hunt, who ended a 26 year filmmaking drought with the recently completed Halloween Hell (2014) with Hollywood’s most unnecessarily busy actor, Eric Robert.

Leithin’s interview is very genial, and the focus covers her notoriety as a horror actress in Bloody Birthday and The Prey (1984) in spite of having done much TV and film work, whereas the audio-only interview with Hunt has some interesting views on working in Canada making Starship Invasions, but it’s a rambling piece that really should’ve been trimmed down. It’s amusing to hear Hunt’s being defensive of Starship – he should be proud in being able to sell the film and make a profit – but it’s hardly the prescient space drama that exists on film. There’s also some brief mentioning of The Brain (1988), a creepy thriller that played on TV for years before vanishing from distribution, and deserving of a special edition.

The bonus featurette has Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film author Adam Rockoff providing a concise overview of the genre’s main evolutionary stages, and interpolates on-camera interview footage with assorted trailer clips and stills of varying source quality.

Ed Hunt’s CanCon classiques include Pleasure Palace (1973), Diary of a Sinner (1974), Point of No Return (1976), Starship Invasions (1977), the viral thriller Plague / M-3: The Gemini Strain (1979), and The Brain (1988).

 

 

© 2014 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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