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Bloody Birthday (1981)

Arrow Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/18/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/30/2018

While it is often advisable to be cautious in life and takes things at a steady pace, there are times when one realizes that they are in a situation which they may never find themselves again, and they simply need to go for it. Perhaps in a job interview or if one was to meet a celebrity in public. (I was going to add "a first date" to that list, but I realized that could come across very wrong.) In a similar sense, some movies take their time in setting up a certain, deliberate pace and allowing the story to slowly unfold. While others, dispense with any of that junk and simply bring on the action as quickly as possible. This is how Bloody Birthday operates, and it's just one notable aspect of this quirky movie.

As Bloody Birthday opens, we get an odd voice montage letting us know that three babies are being born, as we watch time-lapse photography of an eclipse. The story then jumps ahead ten years later, where we meet the three kids -- Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis (Billy Jacoby), and Steven (Andy Freeman). These seem like normal, well-adjusted kids...except that they aren't. All three have no regard for others and enjoy killing people. Timmy (K.C. Martel) is a classmate of the three and a nasty run-in with Curtis convinces him that something is wrong with these kids. As the body-count rises, and the police are convinced that there is a "psycho" on the loose, Timmy's older sister, Joyce (Lori Lethin) becomes involved and these siblings decides that they must stop the killer kids.

I frequented many video stores in the 80s and I could always be found in the horror section. The number of black boxes on the shelves was often overwhelming and I couldn't rent them all. I clearly remember seeing Bloody Birthday in many store and can certainly recall the original cover art, which depicted bloody hands emerging from a birthday cake. Having now seen the movie all these years later, I wish that I had given it a chance, as this film is a hoot.

As implied above, Bloody Birthday wastes no time in not only introducing its premise, but its villains as well. The second scene contains the sort of murder which we'd get in any slasher film of the day -- the kind in which the killer is not revealed. But, just moments later, we are introduced to Debbie, Curtis, and Steven, and, in a scene which is somewhat shocking, we see Debbie confess to the earlier murder, as this ghastly trio kills that confidant. So, this clearly isn't going to be a "whodunit?" No, Bloody Birthday is one of those movies where the audience knows the truth and we squirm as we wait for everyone in the film to finally catch up. Of course, this contains some scenes where someone does learn what the kids are up to, but no one believes them.

Along with the matter-of-fact manner in which the killers are revealed in the first act, the movie also presents us with a wildly uneven tone. No offense to Director Ed Hunt, but Bloody Birthday looks like a made-for-TV movie and the overall look of the film hints at a sort of innocence. But, this illusion is destroyed by the fact that we have three 10-year olds who can't stop killing. And while this should be shocking, the movie simply presents this idea as if it's easy to swallow and keeps moving. From there, we are treated to moments which are never particularly gory, but don't shy away from the fact that we are watching pre-adolescents murder adults. The finale is simply bonkers, as we get a no-holds barred fight between the murderous kids and our heroes. There's also an odd level of sleaze here, as there are three scenes where the homicidal three witness people having sex or adults who are nude. The movie's explanation for why the kids kill is pretty flimsy, but it never tells us why they are perverts. (And I never mention things like this in my reviews, but for those who were fans of MTV's Miss Julie Brown in the 80s (not to be confused with Downtown Julie Brown), she is all kinds of naked here.)

In the end, Bloody Birthday is a movie which simply plays by its own rules. It was clearly a low-budget affair, as the kids wear the same clothes over-and-over (leading me to wonder at first if all of the murders and funerals were taking place in the same day) and continuity errors abound. And yet, the movie's fast pace and no-nonsense approach to what should be a taboo subject is infectious. Yes, there are times when you are going to laugh at things which were never meant to be funny, but you will also marvel at this movie's quiet audaciousness. The movie gives the term "kids can be cruel" a new meaning, and it makes us look at all of the babysitter movies from the 80s in a new light.

Bloody Birthday introduces an incredibly smooth move in the second scene courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 38 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no notable defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. There is some mild shimmering to the picture during some camera movements, and the depth is lacking in some shots. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we don't get any dynamic effects here, but the actors are always intelligible and aren't overpowered by the sound effects or the music. (Although, it must be noted that the score feels out-of-place at times.)

The Bloody Birthday Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Ed Hunt. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY from The Hysteria Continues. "Bloody Babysitter" (8 minutes) is a modern-day interview with lead actress Lori Lethin who shares her memories of the film. "Bad Seeds and Body Counts" (20 minutes) has film journalist Chris Alexander talking about the "killer kid" sub-genre and how Bloody Birthday fits. (While starting with The Little Rascals, which is interesting.) "Starships and Killer Brains" (21 minutes) has Ken Gord talking about the work of Ed Hunt and how low-budget films worked in the 70s and 80s. Bloody Birthday Executive Producer Max Rosenberg appears in an interview (17 minutes) from some time in the past, as Rosenberg died in 2004. Here, he gives a frank overview of how Bloody Birthday got made. Finally, we get two TRAILERS for the film -- a THEATRICAL TRAILER and a shorter PROMO TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long