What is is about kids behaving badly that makes for such delightfully creepy cinema? The genre has been around since at least Patty McCormack’s turn as a demented killer in 1956’s The Bad Seed and has turned out such classics as Children of the Corn and Village of the Damned. There is just something about children doing horrible things that is both really disturbing and really fun to watch. In 1981, cult director Ed Hunt took the killer-kids genre and spliced it onto the burgeoning slasher genre and made Bloody Birthday an ultimately silly flick that generally fails to do anything interesting with either genre.
When Saturn causes a total eclipse of the sun, three babies are born. Their kindly doctor (a slumming Jose Ferrer who hopefully picked up a decent sized paycheck for his efforts) warns this is a bad sign (you bet it is, at least where this movie is concerned). Ten years later, the three tots go on a killing rampage because…reasons (the film indicates it might be because the eclipse caused them to have no conscience, but whatever, any excuse for murder and mayhem will do). That pretty much sums up the plot.
They strangle a teenaged couple making out in an open grave (seriously, they start out next to a tree but when the girl worries they might be caught they figure a big hole in the ground in a cemetery is the next best spot). They trip the girl's dad, who happens to be the local sheriff, down a set of stairs then whack him with a baseball bat. He provides the trio with a nice gun which they use to kill another person or two. They layer their birthday cake with rat poison, and shoot a girl in the eye with a bow and arrow. When they aren’t committing violence, the boys pay the girl to watch the big sister undress (a pre-MTV Julie Brown, a fact that gets my own pubescent past self a little more than emotionally erect).
Though the body count gets ridiculously high, no one seems to think the kids might be in on it (though they are in no way covering their tracks) save for one mom. She becomes the kids' next target and is nearly run down by an incredibly slow moving car in a junk yard in the film's best and most laughable scene. There is no real drama, and for a movie with blood in the title. there is very little actual blood. The kill scenes are amusing more than scary or thrilling. The writing, direction, and acting are all bad.
Arrow Video has at least given this dud a nice presentation. They did a 2K scan of the original interpolative element and cleaned it up a bit. It looks nice and organic, there is still plenty of grain which is typical of Arrow releases, and it can be slightly rough in patches but overall, it looks quite decent for a low-budget horror film from the early 1980s. Audio is decent, but slightly muddied. Dialogue comes through clear but the background noises and score aren’t particularly distinct.
Extras include a short interview with actress Lori Lethan, and a fun little appreciation of this film and other killer kid movies by Chris Alexander. There’s also a 20-minute feature interviewing producer Ken Gore on director Ed Hunt, and an archival interview with producer Max Rosenberg. There are two commentaries as well, one by Ed Hunt and another with The Hysteria Continues podcast group. Lastly, there is the usual full-color booklet with an essay on the film.
Bloody Birthday never quite finds its footing as either a creepy-kid film or a gore-filled slasher. I laughed more than I was thrilled and that certainly wasn’t the intention, nor was it enough to make this bad movie enjoyable. If you are a fan though, Arrow has certainly done a fine job of presenting it.