Dir: Ed Hunt
Out on BluRay now from 88 Films
Bloody Birthday is part of that infamous group of “event” or “anniversary” slashers from the early 1980s, the makers of which – in trying to ride the coat tails of Halloween and Friday the 13th – decided that the key to a successful horror movie was to link it to a memorable date. And to prove what a mixed bag that first slasher cycle was, it is actually rather good.
With the issue of the festive titling in mind, is it (as per the “copycat” reputation of films in that cycle), derivative? Well, yes and no. In design and detail, it will have you squinting into every dark corner of the screen, looking for Michael Myers; the streets look just like Haddonfield and a scene where two high school girls walk down the road, talking about boys and homework is particularly familiar, right down to when the sheriff father of one of them pulls alongside in his patrol car. Yes, really. However, in content and narrative, Bloody Birthday departs from the cliched slasher norm and presents us with three killers in the form of a trio of psychotic 10 year olds. This is not a spoiler, because in a further departure from the approach of its peers, Bloody Birthday lets us immediately in on the identity of the killers, rather than hiding them behind masks or POV shots.
In fact, it could be argued that, in disregarding the tired “Ten Little Indians” approach, Bloody Birthday should not actually be labelled as a slasher, a term which tends to be synonymous with the “mystery killer” formula.
The basic premise of the movie is that these three children all share the same birthday and, having been born with Saturn in retrograde or some such hokum, all go completely evil and decide to kill lots of people around their tenth birthday – “This is Debbie’s chart. It’s really weird. Because there was an eclipse on the day she was born and the moon and the sun were blocking Saturn. There should be something missing from her personality.” Oh, I see. Well, there you go, then. Yes, I know, even for an 80s indie exploitation flick that’s weak exposition, but bear with it, it’s worth it.
With the identity of the murderers established from the outset, Ed Hunt has to create tension from other sources, something which he accomplishes admirably. The murder scenes (and numerous near misses) will have you on the edge of your seat and the “will anyone believe it’s the kids in time” issue is handled deftly, mercifully avoiding becoming overbearing. One group scene at a birthday party, where the audience are teased with the possibility of impending doom is reminiscent of the crowded beach scenes in Jaws.
The kids, especially Billy Jayne (here appearing as Billy Jacoby), chew the scenery with brattish relish, gleefully inviting your loathing, hatred and fear. Director Hunt also manages to engender enough genuine sympathy for final girl Joyce and her brother, Timmy to maintain your interest in what happens to them for the entire movie.
In terms of look, Bloody Birthday could be a TV movie, but numerous gratuitous boob shots shatter any illusion about what you might be watching. In fact, the scene where Curtis dispatches a horny teenage couple in the back of a van is particularly sleazy – and all the more so for him being a child.
The ending is also satisfyingly ambiguous (I know, sounds like a contradictory term), being neither happy nor depressing and offering a closure or an open door for a sequel, depending on how you look at it.
So, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of the slasher sub genre, look beyond the obvious title and give Bloody Birthday a chance; it might surprise you. Worth seeing for the tagline alone; “Mum Won’t Like It! But the Kids Will!”