Ah, “killer kids” flicks. What a deliciously and devilishly creepy little sub-genre it is. There’s nothing quite as disturbing as seeing cherubic-faced tykes hacking and slashing their way through trusting adults; usually parents and siblings who, like everyone else, can’t possibly imagine these harmless little angels possessing the wherewithal to not only kill, but do so with zero hint of remorse. For many of us, our first exposure to this was 1956’s The Bad Seed – still considered by many to be the apex of killer kid movies (I don’t consider The Omen a killer kid movie. It’s an antichrist movie, which is an entirely different genre altogether). The formula proved a winning one, with several murderous moppet movies riding the wave of The Bad Seed’s success, most notably the sci-fi shocker, Village of the Damned (1960), Devil Times Five (1974), The Brood (1979), The Children (1980), and, the film I’m reviewing here, 1981’s Bloody Birthday.
Bloody Birthday opens in 1970, with a doctor (José Ferrer in a brief cameo) rushing to the hospital during an eclipse. We get a time lapse shot of the moon passing across the sun, as the doctor announces the delivery of three children, two boys, and a girl. We fast forward ten years, to 1980, and a young couple making out in the local cemetery. When things get hot and heavy, the couple relocate to the privacy of a freshly dug grave where they’re soon set upon by unseen attackers, one of which strangles the girl with a jump rope; the handle of which is left in one of the victim’s hands.
The next morning, Sheriff Brody (Bert Kramer), pays a visit to an elementary school classroom with his daughter, Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), in attendance. He asks the children if they understand the concept of murder, and informs them that a piece of a jump rope was found at the scene of the crime. Later on, Debbie and her friends Curtis (80’s teen-movie stalwart, Billy Jacoby), and Steven (Andy Freeman), assemble at her home and brutally murder her dad thus revealing these “eclipse babies” as the unseen antagonists from the cemetery. While Debbie and her friends try to make Sheriff Brody’s death look like an accident, neighbor, Timmy (K.C. Russell), shows up and throws a wrench into the works. Curtis deems Timmy the murderous trio’s next target, and, during a game of hide-and-seek in the junkyard, locks Timmy in a refrigerator, and leaves him to suffocate. Timmy, however, proves more resourceful than Curtis anticipated, and manages to escape, but, when he tries to tell his sister, Joyce (Return to Horror High’s Lori Lethin), she dismisses this as yet another lie from her problematic little brother. It’s not long, however, before the three kids strike again, and Joyce finds herself caught up in their nefarious little scheme, and, like Timmy, narrowly avoids getting killed in the junkyard. With Timmy and Joyce threatening to put an end to their fun, Debbie, Curtis, and Steven hatch a plan to get rid of them both once and for all.
Directed by Ed Hunt, Bloody Birthday is a better-than-average example of low-budget 80’s exploitation, with a fairly impressive cast (including Susan Strasberg as the ill-fated teacher), solid production values, and scads of unexpected nudity, including a pre-MTV Julie Brown (of The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun fame) doffing it all in the name of art. As a matter of fact, there are more boobs than blood on display here, which may put off gorehounds but will certainly please dogs of the “horn” variety. Yes, it’s all pretty silly, and the film’s hilariously inappropriate score would have been better suited to an After School Special, but I found this blast-from-the-past enormously entertaining, and, at times, even a bit shocking! Well, okay, maybe not shocking; more like mildly unsettling, but still…
Bloody Birthday comes to DVD courtesy of Severin Films and sports a fairly sold 1.66:1 transfer thatsave for a few issues, looks remarkable, especially when compared to VCI's letterboxed version. The opening sequence is still exceptionally dark and grainy, with a bluish pall cast over the proceedings, but I think this has more to do with the way the film was originally shot than being a fault of the transfer, itself. Once the action moves indoors or into the light of day, things are cleaned up considerably, and the image, while a touch soft at times, is bright and colorful, with very few signs of wear or artifacts. The accompanying Dolby Digital audio mix is very impressive for a mono track, with crisp and clear dialogue and nary a hint of buzz or distortion.
Extras include an entertaining interview with star, Lethin, who reminisces about both the production and her early career in Hollywood. Also included is an audio interview with director, Ed Hunt, a selection of trailers for other Severin releases, and a short featurette entitled A Brief History of Slasher Films, which, I guess, this film could qualify as , seeing how it does adhere to the genre rules (right down to the “final girl”).
Bloody Birthday isn’t a particularly scary flick, nor does it make a whole helluva lot of sense (we never learn why the kids are the way they are, just that they were all born during an eclipse, which, I reckon, was reason enough for the filmmakers), but it’s still an immensely enjoyable and well-made film that fans of 80’s horror and killer kid flicks should definitely consider adding to their must-see list.