Blu-ray Review: Bloody Birthday (1981)

Bloody Birthday BR CoverDistributor: 88 Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Ed Hunt

Starring: Lori Lethin, Julie Brown, Melinda Cordell, Billy Jayne, José Ferrer, K.C. Martel, Michael Dudikoff, Elizabeth Hoy

Evil children have been a popular staple of horror films for decades and in 1981 filmmakers Ed Hunt, Gerald T. Olson and Barry Pearson gave us Bloody Birthday, which took the evil child idea and played it out with a slasher movie aesthetic, only in this one there was more than one threat for the adults to contend with. Three children are born during an ecplipse that saw the sun and moon blocking Saturn which, according to astrology, controls human emotions. As Saturn was blocked the three children – Curtis, Steven and Debbie – born during that time were born without any empathy or feelings of remorse or regret, and as they grow older they begin to turn on the adults in their lives but manage to get away with their crimes due to their angelic faces and innocent acting. However, teenager Joyce Russel (Lori Lethin – Brokedown Palace) and her younger brother Timmy (K.C. Martel – The Amityville Horror) begin to twig what is happening as Joyce catches Curtis attempting to poison a birthday cake, but Debbie manages to fool them by laying all the blame with Curtis and Steven before luring Joyce into a trap with a babysitting offer.

Rarely seen at the time and certainly underappreciated, Bloody Birthday ticks all the boxes when it comes to genre trademarks and it starts how it means to go on after the initial off-screen birth scene with the murder of two teenagers in a cemetery, but as the film moves on there just seems to be something missing. Perhaps it is an identity of its own as Bloody Birthday does borrow from many other sources, particularly in its score; the first murder in the cemetery appears to be scored with Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th theme (or something very similar) but later on there are musical bursts that sound very similar to the themes from Psycho and Jaws that take you right out of what is happening on-screen.

The kills themselves aren’t particularly gruesome or gory, the film relying on the idea that children committing murder is more terrifying than the act itself, and it works to a point thanks to the overly-angelic performances from the three children – Elizabeth Hoy being particulalry smarmy as Debbie, who provides the best kill in the film with a bow and arrow through a hole in the wall – but long before the end of the movie you can’t help but wonder why somebody other than Joyce and Timmy haven’t cottoned on as a cute smile can only get you so far before people would begin to notice. As with other killer children movies such as Children of the Corn, the adults are blank canvases only in the film to provide a body count – like the brainless teens in a standard slasher film – but such is their ineffectiveness you begin to think that if they don’t care about what their kids are doing then why should we?

But perhaps that’s going a little too deep. For what it sets out to do Bloody Birthday just about succeeds; there’s some blood (but probably not enough), quite a lot of nudity and Lori Lethin is a likeable presence in a movie that has very little in the way of sympathetic characters. Of course, the astrological element is complete nonsense and the film isn’t to be taken seriously but for 85 minutes this second-rate slasher hits most of the right beats, only not as hard as it probably could or should.

Bloody Birthday

Special Features: Audio commentary with author Justin Kerswell, audio interview with director Ed Hunt, A Brief History of Slasher Movies featurette, Don’t Eat That Cake interview with actress Lori Lethin, trailer, booklet notes by author & film critic Calum Waddell, reversible sleeve incorporating original artwork, 88 Films trailer reel.

UK Release Date: 23rd June 2014

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