A month of Halloween and Friday the 13th running in the background, along with delving into JA Kerswell's The Slasher Movie Book has me reaching for some forgotten titles on the shelf and combing Netflix and VOD for films that escaped my attention. The beauty of a golden age slasher film is it's simplicity. It's the McDonalds of the horror genre. For better or worse, you have a good idea of what you're in for when you press play: lots of stupid teenagers getting offed, a few pairs of boobs, and buckets of the red stuff spilling across the screen while FX gurus licked their chops and flexed their muscle a bit. Lost in the golden heyday of slashers, Bloody Birthday is often hilarious and a definite underrated gem. The beauty of the film is its adherence to the slasher film formula while doing a nifty bit of role reversal.
What's it about? Three children are born on a night where Saturn hides behind the moon. Astrology suggests anyone born on this day will be missing a key component of humanity. A decade later we learn the kids are born without a moral compass. The three pre-tweens take to murder like their peers took to Little League and playing dress up. No one is spared their wrath: parents, big sisters, strict teachers along with a horde of necking teens fall prey to the pig tailed and bespectacled trio.
Why does it work? Unlike the majority of slashers from this period the killer wasn't a deformed freak (Friday the 13th part 2, The Burning) and it wasn't a whodunnit (My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday To Me, The Prowler). Bloody Birthday reveals itself about ten minutes in when the father of the girl, the town's sheriff no less, finds himself at the receiving end of the Louisville Slugger. Given the kids' age and the assumed importance of the cop role, one would think that he'd just wind up in the hospital before putting all the clues together in the last act, which makes the cut to the graveside funeral in the next scene all the more surprising and welcome.
Bloody Birthday approaches the “killer kid” sub genre with a sense of whimsy not found in many modern horror films. The best contrast I can make is to the 2010 film The Children, where the little kids go on a gore soaked murder spree with a much greater emphasis on visceral horror. The kids in that film are blank eyed instruments of death. In Bloody Birthday, the kids have personalities and give off the impression that they're having a ball strangling, shooting and stabbing their prey. Director Ed Hunt isn't taking the material too serious and neither should you. There's so much visual humor one can mine from the image of a kid with Coke Bottle glasses and Izod spring jackets wielding a hand cannon the size of his arm. Half the fun of the movie comes from watching him run around town with his gun cocked looking for people to shoot up. The blonde haired girl is kind of the leader of the trio, is quick on her feet when it comes to lying and covering her footsteps and has a knack for twisting her face into bratty expressions that make you want to throttle her. The film doesn't let you forget that they're kids either. Unlike the stoic, blank face kids presented often in this type of film, this trio are off doing normal kid stuff-making science projects, playing catch, playing take or skipping rope-when not plotting to murder someone. When they are caught or disarmed, they don't have inhuman strength or supernatural skills to fall back on. There's two moments in the film where one of the killers gets pounded into oblivion by one of his potential victims.
Speaking of the girl, she has quite the entrepreneurial streak in her as she charges the neighborhood boys a quarter a pop to peek through an eye hole she's cut in her closet to watch her hot older sister (a young, mint condition Julie Brown) get changed and do fancy little strip teases when she thinks no one is looking.
The highlight moment? Though it doesn't result in a death, a wonderful chase through a junk yard has our teen heroine running away from peril while our two boys try to mow her down. One boy (wearing a potato sack over his head a la The Town That Dreaded Sundown) steers while the other lies in the footwell working the petals. It's a gleeful and silly image that just works on screen. Julie Brown's topless dance number and death scene rank high as well.
Is there any bad horror movie logic at play here? In an early 80's slasher film? Do you even have to ask? In this case the climax comes about when our heroine agrees to babysit the young girl days after her sister meets a mysterious end (via an arrow through the eye socket) and minutes after she's just caught the trio attempting to strangle her younger brother to death with a garden hose. She does this without a moment's hesitation, despite the fact that she's supposed to be the class brainiac.
Also, it's worth noting that Harry Manfredini should consider suing Bloody Birthday's music supervisor Ira Hearshen for royalties as the score shamelessly apes Friday the 13ths minus the “ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma” cue. You could lift the score of this film and dump it straight into a Friday sequel and few would be the wiser. Taking plagiarism a step further, the score during the climax does a clumsy job riffing on the famous signature two notes of Jaws.
Where can you watch this? Netflix Instant has an okay transfer available in their Instant Watch section. Youtube also has the whole film available to stream (at a lower quality). There's also an HD transfer of the film for the special edition DVD release from 2011 that also includes a brief feature on the history of slashers, an interview with director Ed Hunt, and an interview star Lori Lethin.