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June 9, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #75 - Bloody Birthday

We all know, deep down inside, that there's an inherent evil somewhere inside every child out there. Usually they don't know any better and are just evil because they can be - but other times it's their destiny.  At least that's how it works in Bloody Birthday, in which three children who share a birthday - June 9th, to be exact - turn into murderous freaks because they happen to have been born under some sort of dangerous astrological conjunction of the universe.
Led by creepy blonde girl Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy) - the ten year old trio spends most of the film deciding they don't like someone. Whether it's their teacher who threatens to assign homework on their birthday or Debbie's father, the sheriff, who might find out that they killed some sexing teens in a graveyard - no one is immune from their wrath.  Debbie, blonde kid Steven (Andy Freeman) and Coke-bottle glasses wearing Curtis (Billy Jayne) are pretty inventive in their kills, but they have a bit of trouble with classmate Timmy (played by KC Martel) and his older sister Joyce (played by one of those dime a dozen short-haired survivor girl actresses from the early '80s named Lori Lethin). 
(BTW, I spent like my whole life as a June 9th baby wishing I actually did have school on my birthday, and it never happened - so I'm not quite sure why these kids were in school.  But, it got Susan Strasberg into the film as Miss Davis, so I guess the movie knew what it was doing.)
I mentioned the astrological edge of the script (Has anyone ever done real world research on children born during an eclipse?  It seems like the movies love this angle, maybe it's real!), but the film spends most of its time showing just how evil these three kids can be.  They lock Timmy in an old deep freeze, they set traps they wield bows and arrows and revolvers that are bigger than their heads....they do it all.  It sounds like overkill, and it is at times, but the children do a surprisingly good job in this one.  I'm notoriously opposed to child actors - I'd replace them all with CGI if I had the power - but both the evil and good kids working through Bloody Birthday are pretty excellent.  Hoy and Jayne are the true stars as Debbie and Curtis - I kind of get the feeling that Steven's duties in the film shrunk once the director realized how good they were - and there are moments when they are honest-to-goodness creepy to me.  Debbie certainly reminds me of the infamous Rhoda Penmark of the classic demon child film The Bad Seed, and Curtis has a strange bit of glee in his eyes as he does terrible things that is quite unsettling.  These child performances certainly carry the film to heights that you simply wouldn't expect from this type of low budget story.  (In fact, the adults that support them - including Strasberg and Jose Ferrer in a cameo - are almost forgettable opposite this interesting little devils!)
When the creepy child factor is mixed with the "Did that ten year old girl really just charge her friends to peep on her naked older sister?" creepy actions factor, Bloody Birthday becomes memorable for plenty of sleazy reasons, and it exists today as a throwback that shows how horror films managed to shock audiences before the gory hands of Rob Zombie and the Saw folks got ahold of the genre.  It's an exploitation film, sure, but it still manages to get under our skin without being overly gory. 
 Bloody Birthday shows us things we don't expect to see on screen, takes plenty of chances with what is and isn't expected, and manages to haunt without slipping into some of the traps that early '80s horror often fell into.  It's smartly scripted and, while things are spelled out for us pretty clearly, there are a couple of smart turns in the script that keep us involved.  Inventive is a word I've probably already used here, but it's worth repeating that director Ed Hunt and his co-writer Barry Pearson get a lot of mileage out of three children harassing their neighborhood.  Bloody Birthday checks in at a brisk 85 minutes, and the willingness to put the characters through unique situations keeps it fresh years later.
Bloody Birthday (which is due for a DVD re-release by the awesome Severin Films this month!) survives as one of the 1980s' most enjoyable bits of sleaze, an exploitation horror film that manages to send chills up our spine.  It should be a great pick for any horror fan's next Bloody Birthday party too, so check it out soonest!


deadlydolls said...

I absolutely LOVE Bloody Birthday. It's SO sleazy and ridiculous and ultimately, so much effin' fun. I actually covered it for my own birthday this year. It's the gift that keeps giving.

Oh! And did you know the stripping sister is Julie Brown, the very funny comedian who had her own variety show on MTV in the 80s and played the gym teacher in Clueless?

And as for the June 9th still in school thing, it's regional. I grew up in Long Island where we started school after Labor Day and usually finished in the middle/end of June.

-Lou said...

As every parent knows, all kids are inherently creepy anyway, lending all of these movies an added dash of realism.

The Mike said...

Emily - I kind of guessed this would be up your alley, since it does meet the height requirement for DDH. Oh, and because it's awesome.

Good to know on the school thing, that blows my mind. I always wanted to be able to bring birthday treats...but did I ever get the chance? NO! That's probably why nobody ever liked me! :(

Bleaux - True true. My friends have a two year old right now, and one of my first goals is to teach her to respond to requests with "I'm afraid I can't let you do that, mommy" ala Hal-9000. Should be fun. :)