If you’ve never had children and are thinking of bearing your own brood, watching a film like 1981’s Bloody Birthday just might put you off the idea for a while. Like forever. This sort of obscure horror flick isn’t anywhere near as gory as many of the more familiar 80’s “B” movies at all. But the overall tone is more than a tiny bit disturbing as the film is more or less an unfiltered version of The Bad Seed without the tacked-on Hollywood ending.
The funny thing is from the opening moments you’d think the film was going to be somewhat supernatural in nature. But it’s not at all (which turns out to be a really good thing). In 1970, three babies are born to three different mothers at the same hospital during a solar eclipse and ten years later, all three end up as evil pre-teen murder machines. Who just so happen to live on the same block or at least within walking distance of each others homes. Yikes. The kids, Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis (Billy Jayne), and Steven (Andy Freeman) manage to whittle down the population of Meadowvale, California while remaining undetected because who’d see such innocent little darrrrrrlings as a trio of mini-Manson family members? Well, perhaps Debbie’s dad, who happens to be the town sheriff? Nope. He’s more clueless than a headless Sherlock Holmes. Faster than you can say “There goes the neighborhood!”, well… you know the rest of that one, right?
Debbie (who looks a tiny bit like Patty McCormack as Rhonda Penmark in The Bad Seed) even manages to run a makeshift peep show for her two pals by poking a hole in the closet wall leading to her older teenage sister’s room and charging the boys for a look as she dances in the buff. That sister is played by Julie Brown, and I don’t think she used a body double for that striptease scene. If that wasn’t shocking enough, some of the murders include a well-respected schoolteacher (played by Susan Strasberg!), a few family members and some unlucky couples making out in the not so great outdoors. José Ferrer(!) pops up at the beginning of the film as the doctor who brings the terrible trio into the world, but is thankfully not around to get bumped off by the brats. I’m guessing that someone had his phone number and he owed that someone a favor. Or his agent blindsided him with the script and he took the gig for that one day of work.
While the body count is high, other than a bit of blood there’s really not a “gory” moment to be found. Still, the film can be fairly shocking because of how cold and vicious those kids are when they do their victims in. A jump rope, baseball bat, shovel, “replica” handgun, bow and arrow and more are utilized and that’s only counting the successful murders. A junked but still running car is used in one failed attempt, another murder almost happens when a kid is locked in an old refrigerator, and then there’s the great rat poison fake-out that will lead you to believe one of the tiny Terminators is going to kill off a whole birthday party made up of over a dozen people. I did wonder about the strength of the kids when one of the victims is hung and seemingly yanked up out of a hole in the ground. Then again, the sound effects used in the film’s fight scenes are those manly sounding stock punches (which made me crack up off he couch when I heard them used).
Director Ed Hunt (who also wrote the film with Barry Pearson) gets some nice mileage out of his kid stars, particularly Elizabeth Hoy’s Debbie. She’s got that mix of innocent looks except when she’s about to do something nasty to someone who doesn’t deserve it. There’s a shot of her about to push a neighbor kid off a tree house railing onto a long pole jutting from the ground that’s more than a little terrifying. That kill doesn’t happen (thankfully). But she’s a convincing liar in other scenes and a pretty crafty stalker in others. Curtis and his gun are equally if not more frightening no matter how you feel about firearms. The one thing I didn’t like much is the super derivative score by Arlon Ober that borrows liberally from much better fright films from Psycho to Jaws to Friday the 13th. That said, it’s effective only if you’ve never seen any of the films it cobbles notes from.
The explanation for the kids’ behavior is some astrological illogical mumbo-jumbo that I guess will make sense to those who take it too seriously. But the goofball explanation is a funny one that would actually lead to more than three little killing machines terrorizing more than one neighborhood in a few places around the globe. Then again, this is NOT a film where you go in thinking much about anything but who’s going to get it next. Par for the 80’s course there’s also bit of primarily topless female nudity here and yes, it’s a bit creepy to even think about what the kid killers have going through their twisted minds as they dispatch their unknowing prey. I will say Debbie is a lousy peep show maven as she only charges up to a quarter for her prepubescent pals to peek at her sister’s jiggly bits.
The film can also be pretty funny as a black comedy once you get over the subject matter and the constantly unlikable kids. By the time the final showdown occurs and there’s a change in the number of underage criminals roaming the streets of Meadowvale, the films ends on a note that’s not exactly promising as it sets up that sequel that never got made. You’ll grin if you’re in on the film’s grimness and grimace if you were expecting a pre-CSI CSI-style wrap up. Sometimes you get got, and sometimes you gotta get away is all I shall say. I guess given the tone of today’s crowd-pleasing jump scare packed modern horror flicks, Bloody Birthday is due for an update with even worse kid killers using more tech-related means of murdering half the block. And NOT rated PG-13, mind you. Even if that does manage to occur I’ll stick with the original. It’s terrible, but in that way where you can’t take your eyes off the screen manner.
I need to start streaming these random film recs. Because what’s at the movies right now is dreck.
Oh, if I can get off my ass and be a bit more prolific this week, I’ll have a lot of other recommendations for you. You can see this one on YouTube, I believe. But it’s probably a grainy mess. I caught it on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) really early in the morning (something like 3am or so).
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