Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bloody Birthday (1981) review


Lori Lethin (Joyce Russel), Billy Jacoby (Curtis Taylor), Elizabeth Hoy (Debbie Brody), Andy Freeman (Steven Soton), K.C. Martel (Timmy Russel), Susan Strasberg (Miss Viola Davis), Jose Ferrer (Doctor), Melinda Cordell (Mrs. Brody), Julie Brown (Beverly Brody)

Directed by Ed Hunt

The Short Version: This repugnant, ugly little 83 minute exploitation wonder is incredibly brazen in its depiction of children butchering adults. Not only that, but these creepy little 10 year old devils also display an interest in sex whether watching a woman do a strip tease in front of her mirror, or killing a horny couple, this is possibly the most disturbing representation of child murderers the screen has ever seen.

***WARNING! This review contains images of violence and nudity***

In Meadowvale, California, three children are born simultaneously on June 9th, 1970 during a solar eclipse. Ten years later, a series of bizarre and brutal murders occur in Meadowvale and it is soon discovered that the killings are perpetrated by three seemingly innocent 10 year old children, the same three born during the solar eclipse ten years prior.

Utterly tasteless killer kid movie from the early 80's is one of the most shocking of its kind. Very little is left to the imagination where these murderous youngsters are concerned. It's an occasionally nauseating horror flick unusually well made by obscure director, Ed Hunt. There had been a fair number of terrible tyke movies both before and after, but Hunt's movie is arguably the best of the more sadistic exploitation movies of this subgenre.

BLOODY BIRTHDAY follows a similar trajectory of an earlier movie entitled DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974), but outdoes it in the violence department. MIKEY from 1992 featured a sole homicidal child and was equally disturbing. Most recently, a suspensefully gruesome independent movie called THE CHILDREN (2009) comes off as something of an unacknowledged remake of DEVIL TIMES FIVE. While violent in its depiction of children murdering their neighbors, BLOODY BIRTHDAY is particularly nasty as a good amount of time is spent with these killers plotting who they will kill next and how they will execute their victims.

What makes BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981) stand out from the pack of explicit movies featuring pint sized savages is that not only do this terrible triumvirate calculate and plot the murder of their parents and others in the neighborhood, but they also are preoccupied with sex! They watch Julie Brown (from the late 80's MTV program, JUST SAY JULIE) do an extended strip tease in front of a mirror after her baby sister (one of the killers) has them pay to peek through a peep hole in a closet! Another scene has Curtis (who does the bulk of the murders) watching a young couple have sex in a van before brutally (and happily) executing them with a revolver.

The three tiny terrors aren't exclusive to cutting down adults, they also have no qualms about butchering kids their own age. They spend nearly the entire movie trying to snuff out Timmy, a boy from their class, who is unable to convince any of the adults that several of his classmates are trying to kill him. Another scene plays with audience perception where Curtis apparently tries to kill everyone at his birthday party by putting insect poison in the icing used to make his cakes. The one adult who believes something is seriously wrong with Curtis tries to halt anyone from eating the cake with disastrous results.

In addition to all the bloody murders, the script occupies itself with astrology and the apparent dangers of being born during a solar eclipse. However, the script is weak in establishing the presence of law enforcement. Granted, we see the police from time to time, but there's veritably little in the way of some kind of investigation. Also, Jose Ferrer's role isn't as strong as it could be. He's barely in the movie, but with a little more of his character, this could have went a long way in balancing out the reprehensible nature of the film. However, the script is strong in showcasing these three children as the epitome of pure evil. Who would ever suspect them?

Even with some decent performances and an occasionally riveting script, the film is far too revolting to gain any respectability from anyone other than fans of lowest common denominator entertainment (of which I am one). In light of everything that has happened since with the rampant violence within the nations school systems, I seriously doubt a film like this could get by today with being this graphic. Ed Hunt's movie has no qualms about showing these three pint sized serial killers as they go about executing people who pose a threat, or are just random victims. Treating murder as a playful game, these killer kids are cognizant of their actions and show no remorse even towards their own families.

Child actor, Billy Jacoby will be instantly recognizable to fans of 80's movies and television programs. He had roles as young Dar in THE BEASTMASTER, the son of a doomed family in the gory low budget favorite, SUPERSTITION (both 1982) and in other horror fare like CUJO and NIGHTMARES (both 1983). He totally sells his role as the sadistic serial killer no one would suspect. From his facial expressions and attitude, he's successful at making the audience hate Curtis Taylor.

Michael Dudikoff (middle) became a heartthrob in the mid 80's after his big action movie debut with AMERICAN NINJA (1985) and his short lived stint as an action hero. He followed it up with AVENGING FORCE (1986) and AMERICAN NINJA 2 (1987) among other credits.

Amidst such questionable subject matter, the production was able to attract a couple key names. Susan Strasberg was an actress of some repute. She has a small guest appearance here as a doomed school teacher. She also starred in another prime slice of exploitation heaven in THE MANITOU (1978). Oscar winning actor, Jose Ferrer plays the doctor who suspects something may be seriously wrong with the three children. Also, Michael Dudikoff, later to become a star after appearing in the hit cannon movie, AMERICAN NINJA (1985), plays the boyfriend of Beverly, Debbie's normal sibling. The music is also spot on and recalls the familiar Harry Manfredini music from the iconic FRIDAY THE 13th series as well as a hint of James Horner's work for Roger Corman movies.

There are also several exceptionally captured suspense sequences wrapped up in this tasteless buffet of cherubic mayhem. The score by Arlon Ober (EATING RAOUL, HOSPITAL MASSACRE) helps punctuate many of the movies most harrowing sequences. There's also quite a lot of gratuitous nudity that only adds to the less than wholesome atmosphere of this film. Ed Hunt may not have done much of particular note during his career, but BLOODY BIRTHDAY is one sick puppy of a horror flick that, despite its flaws, doesn't deserve to languish in a pool of obscurity. Get your horror hound buddies together, blow out the candles and enjoy an 83 minute slice of BLOODY BIRTHDAY cake.

This review is representative of the VCI DVD

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