BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981) Reviews and overview

 

‘They couldn’t wait to grow up. To kill.’

Bloody Birthday is a 1981 American horror film directed by Ed Hunt (The Brain; Halloween Hell). It was the first film to be produced by Gerald T. Olson (The Slayer; My Demon Lover; The Hidden).

The Judica Productions movie stars Lori Lethin, Melinda Cordell, Julie Brown and Susan Strasberg.

Plot:

In Meadowvale, California, on June 9, 1970, three children are born at the height of a total eclipse. Due to the sun and moon blocking Saturn, which controls emotions, these children become heartless and uncaring, with no feelings of remorse for their awful offences.

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Ten years later, in 1980, they begin to kill the adults around them and are able to escape detection because of their youthful and innocent façades. However, when a young boy and his older sister discover their crimes, they find themselves as the targets of the evil children…

Review:

There were two kinds of slasher movies that appeared in the wake of Halloween and Friday 13th at the start of the 1980s. On the one hand, there was the ‘respectable’ films – the ones that, if hated by critics, had mainstream releases to mainstream audiences. Films such as He Knows You’re Alone, Prom Night, Terror Train etc.

And then there were the more disreputable, lower budget films, typically banished to drive-ins, grindhouses and the home video market. It’s here that you might find the more entertaining and gleefully excessive films of the genre, and Bloody Birthday is a great example. There were no glossy set reports in Fangoria or major distribution deals for this film, which came and went without many people noticing, cropping up on video to be seen by no one but the most fanatical horror fan, until its recent rediscovery.

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Bloody Birthday doesn’t waste any time, moving rapidly from killing to killing, and the film strips its story down just as effectively as it does the remarkably nubile Miss Brown (later to find success as a comedienne and recording artist), whose topless dance stands as some sort of benchmark in the gratuitous nudity stakes. It doesn’t waste time on explanations, keeps the general plot development down to a minimum, and ensures that the film never becomes dull.

The cast, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss him Jose Ferrer, Susan Strasberg and Michael Dudikoff, play it all with a straight face, Lori Lethin is a somewhat more rounded ‘final girl’ than in many of these films (you even get the impression that she isn’t a virgin, God forbid!) and Arlon Ober’s soundtrack score, which at one point is directly ripping off the Jaws theme, entertains.

Interestingly, despite the no-nonsense exploitation approach of the film, it’s pretty light on splatter. However, the whole child killer/kids in peril theme ensure enough material to make the film a challenge for more delicate audiences. This sub-genre has always hit home because it plays on societal taboos – not only the idea that those oh-so-innocent children might actually be evil monsters but also because of the inevitable scenes of violence against children – although Bloody Birthday manages to side-step the latter to a large extent, avoiding the genuinely shocking imagery of Who Can Kill a Child?. It does, however, show what would happen if a wussy kid pointing a gun at another child who hates him suddenly runs out of bullets…

Bloody Birthday is, in terms of genre history, somewhat inconsequential. Yet it’s also a lot of sleazy fun and well worth a look for fans of early Eighties slashers and taboo cinema in general.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:

” …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.” Ancient Slumber

“Even though Andy Freeman didn’t do much as Steven, the other two child actors [Elizabeth Hoy and especially Billy Jayne] did a really bang-up job bringing evil to life as Debbie and Curtis. Hoy played the innocent little girl-next-door type, even though she was obviously the mastermind of the trio. Jayne played the brains of the group and probably the most evilest of the three, as he seemed to enjoy hurting people.” Full Moon

“It’s a shame that this film didn’t make much of an impact during its initial release, since Bloody Birthday is a fun little popcorn movie that threw a few curveballs into the slasher pool. Child killers were (and still are) a reasonably taboo subject, with a few exceptions (The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned come to mind). Filmmakers generally steered clear of the dark side of children.” Retro Slashers

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“Bloody Birthday borrows its ingredients liberally from the hastily-developed slasher movie cookbook, but it owes its inspiration just as much to Village of the Damned and any number of other “killer kid” flicks. It’s a movie that takes full advantage of the freedoms of the time, as far as nudity and violence are concerned, while not being concerned one whit about social responsibility.”  Twitch Film

“Up for the chop are grump teachers, horny teen couples, interfering siblings, and even their own parents who, up to the point where it’s too late, only believe their little darlings are angels from heaven […] Shoddy production values are responsible for most of the damage, leaving the film looking cheap and tacky…” Vegan Voorhees

Home viewing releases:

Arrow Video released Bloody Birthday in the USA on Blu-ray on December 18, 2018, from a new 2K restoration from original film elements. Special features:

Audio commentary with director Ed Hunt (new)
Audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues (new)
Interview with actress Lori Lethin (new)
Bad Seeds and Body Counts – Killer kid subgenre video appreciation by film journalist Chris Alexander (new)
Interview with executive producer Max Rosenberg
Theatrical trailer
Collector’s booklet with new writing by Lee Gambin
New cover art by Timothy Pittides with the original poster on the reverse

Buy 88 Films Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Severin Films DVD: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

Booklet
UK exclusive audio commentary with Justin Kerswell, author of Teenage Wasteland
Audio Interview with director Ed Hunt (51:10)
Don’t Eat that Cake: Interview with actress Lori Lethin (9:50)
A Brief History of Slasher Movies featurette (15:11)
Trailer
Reversible Sleeve Incorporating Original Artwork

Cast and characters:

Miss Viola Davis – Susan Strasberg
Doctor – José Ferrer
Joyce Russel – Lori Lethin
Mrs Brody – Melinda Cordell
Beverly Brody – Julie Brown
Mr Harding – Joe Penny
Sheriff James Brody – Bert Kramer
Timmy Russel – K.C. Martel
Debbie Brody – Elizabeth Hoy
Curtis Taylor – Billy Jayne
Steven Seton – Andy Freeman
Duke Benson – Ben Marley
Annie Smith – Erica Hope
Madge – Ellen Geer
Willard – Michael Dudikoff
Paul – Cyril O’Reilly
Girl in the van – Sylvia Wright
Guy in the van – John Avery
Classmate – Shane Butterworth

Filming locations:

Glendale, California. Filmed in 1980.

Release:

Bloody Birthday was given a belated limited release theatrically in the United States by Rearguard Productions in 1981. It was later released on VHS by Prism Entertainment in 1986 and Starmaker Entertainment in 1990.

The film was officially released on DVD by VCI Home Video in 2003.

It was released on Blu-ray by 88 Films in 2014. Arrow Video also released it on Blu-ray in 2018. Severin Films released it on Blu-ray in 2021.

Trailer:

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