1981 was a cracking year for horror, a year littered with seminal slashers such as The Burning, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler and Graduation Day. The genre was moving into the new decade with zeal. Moving away from the popular themes of Satanic Panic, and pompous period pieces that dominated the seventies things were making way for a new breed. So the slasher was born; where murder and mayhem could strike at any moment, in any place- at school, during babysitting, while sitting in your car, while taking a late night stroll- an unseen killer could be out there, just waiting to strike. Taking cue from European Gialli, slashers gave a forum for graphic killings and nudity, in a way, that differed greatly to the films that came before. Here the end game was to kill, and to show that in all its gruesome glory. As slashers started to saturate the market filmmakers needed to quickly come up with new ways to entertain. With such a limited set of tropes finding innovation, was no mean feat. Cue Bloody Birthday, a slasher of sorts. But here we have no masked killer, no sexually frustrated stalker out to play out his weird fantasies on female victims, no revenge motive- just three cute fresh faced kids. Kids who happen to have been born during an eclipse, and because of that want to kill everyone around them, just for fun.
Bloody Birthday was one of those films that remained largely underground (at least on UK shores). It’s a mystery why, because it makes for a decent piece for its time and place. Director Ed Hunt uses the format of kids gone wrong to bring about some seriously twisted concepts, while also borrowing some of the mainstream ‘rules of the game’ from straight up slasher offerings. It is fun, fairly graphic, cheesy as hell and now has arrived to blu-ray courtesy of cult label 88 Films; so if you have not checked this one out, now is the perfect time.
The film revolves around three little monsters; Curtis, Debbie and Steven – their inner psychopathic urges hidden perfectly from those around them by their sweet little butter wouldn’t melt expressions. The gruesome trio set about causing death and carnage in their local area- and no one is off limits. This, we are led to believe- from a short explanation in the opening scene, and some more information given later on- is because the kids were born as the moon and sun were eclipsing with Saturn. What triggers them to start their spree is left to the imagination- or maybe they have been going about their bloodshed for years and no one has noticed? While the story is not that clear on the whys and wherefores, all the audience need to know is this gives scope to have cute little kids going about carving people up in an eighties over-the-top cheesy fashion, and that surely has to be something worth watching. There is something quite wrong about Bloody Birthday, wrong in a good way, it touches on those limits filmmakers normally do not like to push too far. The children here are not affected by any traumatic incident that drives them to kill. They do not lack the parenting to give them a moral compass- in fact the opposite, they come from supportive, loving families. Nor are they possessed by some demonic force. They just kill, and this makes things that little bit juicier. If we are talking about the juice Bloody Birthday does offer that up in spades, all down to the little memento scrapbook the kids collect their news clippings on their victims in, as trophies- just adding that extra little creep factor in there.
Key to the success of the film is the performance given by a very young Elizabeth Hoy (an actress who also appears in the gory opening scene of the hospital based slasher X-Ray aka Hospital Massacre). Hoy looks like a little china doll, complete with flowing blonde locks, freckles and sweet smile that borders on sickly. Her character is anything but; manipulative, a complete sociopath- able to trick everyone around her into falling for her angelic façade. While she is not out killing people she sells local boys a front row seat to a peephole in her bedroom closet that gives them a personal show of her unwitting older sister Beverley (Julie Brown) getting naked and dancing about in front of the mirror. Hoy’s two male co- stars- the equally angelic Andrew Freeman ( credited as Andy Freeman) as Steven and Billy Jayne (credited as as Billy Jacoby) as nerdy know-it-all Curtis, both play their parts with a certain amount of talent given their ages, but the star of the piece goes to Hoy. On ‘team good’ are Lori Lethin as Joyce, and K. C Martel as Timmy, and it must be said both put in fantastic performances. The rest of the cast are your usual slasher grade, but given the budget, and lack of experience involved do not do a bad job.
The plot while being slightly contrived and weak in places does however give the opportunity for some memorable killings. These come in the form of bow and arrow through the eye socket, skateboard/baseball bat, shooting, and double death in the cemetery. There are also some highly entertaining scenes featuring a stray car, scrap yard and junked freezer unit, not to mention a children’s party where the cake may or may not have been poisoned. The fact that the story is a little eccentric only helps add to the entertainment factor, and for those who appreciate a little bit of eighties style off the wall horror, there is a lot to find in Bloody Birthday.
This 88 films release comes restored to blu-ray in 1080p HD, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The print does not look overly interfered with and does show some age-related flaws: mainly the odd scratch and dirt on the print. The print has an overall hazy look however this appears to be a reflection of the original film stock- if you take into consideration the age, budget, and available print materials. This may be an issue for some, but when you also consider the level of detail on the print and the clarity in the colours- which present as naturalistic- this is overall, a decent upgrade for a film of its type. The sound is presented in LPCM 2.0 Stereo and does show some distortion on the higher vocal ranges, there also appears to be some disparity with the levels of music versus dialogue. Again given the low-budget nature of the piece, and possible original resources concessions can be made to allow for this. Overall- while not perfect- this edition does show a marked improvement on the previous DVD release in terms of quality. In leaving the print fairly faithful to the original does also give the added benefit that the film retains its 80’s feel and texture, and thus its retro charm.
The film is presented with some valuable extras, including an exclusive UK commentary courtesy of Teenage Wasteland author Justin Kerswell. There is a lengthy audio interview with the director Ed Hunt, which provides an interesting piece on this lesser known director, and also a smaller interview with actress Lori Lethin- both prove to be worthy additions to the disk. Also included are a 15 minute ‘featurette’ on the history of slashers, and booklet notes by Calum Waddell; as well as a reversible sleeve with the original artwork, and the theatrical trailer for the film. Bloody Birthday represents some good old fashioned slasher madness eighties style. Fun, campy, irrelevant- this is one addition all lovers of eighties trash need to have in their collection. Out now to own on blu-ray in the UK, check out 88 Films for further info here.