I first saw Bloody Birthday when I was 7 or 8, after finally convincing my mom to rent it for me (as I related in a previous TT column, it took some convincing as I recall, which was unusual as she was pretty open-minded when it came to this stuff. Hell she rented Silent Night Deadly Night for me when I still believed in Santa!). 20 years later I watched it again for one of my first HMAD entries, as every memory of the film had long since faded from my memory (though “Daddy fell!” rang a bell or two). And it was then that I realized how wonderfully crass it was, and thus how it deserved to be seen by more folks. In fact, it’s now on my “wish list” of dream screenings to host at the New Beverly (I host a screening roughly once a month), so hopefully that will come to pass and I can help induct a few more members into its fan club.
But it’s the perfect movie to watch sparingly, as you can forget how ridiculous it gets and fall in love with it all over again, whereas multiple viewings in a short period might make some of its flaws (occasionally sluggish pace, rather dull kills) harder to forgive. No, it’s best to savor Bloody Birthday like a fine wine or particular delicacy at an expensive restaurant you go to on special occasions, not make a habit out of viewing it.
What really works about the movie is the total lack of pretense, or attempt at a twist or anything. A lot of killer kid movies either chalk things up to demonic possession or something, or even that it’s not a kid at all but an old woman with a growth deficiency, but here our tykes are stone cold killers, with the excuse being that they were born without emotion, due to the fact that Saturn (which controls emotion, of course) was being blocked by an eclipse. Luckily for them/the movie, they were all born at the same hospital and became pals when they were older, so that worked out nicely, giving us three killer kids in a genre that usually makes us settle for one.
And they rack up quite an impressive body count to boot, nor do they waste any time getting started – there’s a pair of kills in the first five minutes here. It’s an odd scene; they hide the killers even though it’s not exactly a mystery (we see them kill someone else like 10 minutes later), but at least it shows us that they’re proactive right off the bat. Also, while they go after some typical targets – bitchy teachers, some fornicating teens – they also go after their own family members at times, often with successful results. Also, most of their carnage is on-screen. Some of the films in the sub-genre choose to go the vague or off-screen route (I suspect the reason Orphan got away with as much as it did is because of the twist sort of softening the blow), but this has one our trio running around with a gun for half of the movie. As it proudly states on the new DVD cover - this movie could NOT be made today.
The kids each take on different kinds of young killer archetypes, too. Debbie, the female of the trio, is sort of the ringleader, using her angelic face and demeanor to successfully trick folks into walking into traps and what not. Then there’s Steven, who is sort of like a glorified bully, doing a lot of the heavy lifting (he beats one guy to death with a bat!) and more or less just sort of going with the flow. But my favorite is Curtis, a bespectacled lad who is clearly the most deranged of the group and the creepiest; there are shots of him with the gun that are genuinely chilling, even though the movie as a whole is more trashy fun than actually scary.
Another thing adding some minor chills is the fact that they actually act like kids when they’re not killing folks. A lot of killer kid movies have the tendency to have them act like they’re above typical adolescent behavior (like Joshua in his little suit, throwing away his toys), but these kids sneak cookies, play tag, etc. Plus, the two boys peep on Debbie’s older sister (MTV’s Julie Brown!) in one of horror’s lengthiest strip scenes. Key difference from the norm though – Elizabeth is charging them to watch, so not only is she a murderous tyke, but she’s a bit of a pimp in training to boot.
It’s also reasonably well made compared to other films of the era. The kids are pretty decent actors, and I never got the impression that they were sort of making the movie up as they went along or not even thinking of the logic behind their camera angles. I watched Friday the 13th Part 2 again recently, and while I like that one a lot, Steve Miner’s direction is largely idiotic, like when the girl looks at eye level and wonders if it’s her dog, or the much loved wheelchair kill that makes no logical sense (Jason would be standing in front of him on the porch for it to work – why didn’t he see him?). Sure, the characters are a bit stupid here, but that’s pretty much a given in these sort of movies.
I do wish the DVD had more meat on its bones though. The only extra of any real use to fans is the 10 minute interview with Lori Lethin, who plays the film’s heroine. Her memories are all pleasant (come on, spill some dirt!) but at least she’s not “above” this material, the way director Ed Hunt seems to be on his 50 minute audio interview, of which he barely discusses Bloody Birthday at all but goes on endlessly (and far more enthusiastically) about his other movies like Starship Invasions and Alien Warrior. Then there’s a “History of Slasher films” piece, which also barely mentions the flick (probably because it’s not really a slasher movie in the traditional sense), and its kind of sloppy to boot. For example, when the subject (Adam Rockoff of Going To Pieces fame) mentions Jason going into space, they cut in a Freddy vs. Jason poster, and his brief discussion of “Holiday Horror” is accompanied by a series of titles that don’t qualify such as Don’t Go In The Woods Alone. I would have killed for a commentary track featuring the three killers, but alas. Having the movie restored so wonderfully (the previous DVD was pretty lousy if my memory serves) is the real prize.
So either at the Drafthouse tonight (if you’re reading this on June 28th) or on DVD, I think it’s about time you filled the Bloody Birthday sized hole in the part of your brain that is devoted to horror movies. It might not be the best killer kid flick, but it’s certainly one of the most gleefully mean-spirited and violent, and more importantly, it is presented without an ounce of class.