"[WARNING!: this blurb gives the ending away!] Meadowvale, California June 1970.
During a total solar eclipse, three women give birth at precisely the same moment.
Ten years later a series of Cold Calculated Murders has the twon in the grip of Terror and Panic.
A young couple die in a newly dug grave (not originally meant for them). Sheriff Brody is the next vitim. Timmy Russell, aged nine, appears during the disposal of the body. How much has he seen? He himself is locked in a refrigerator but manages to escape and tells his story to pretty High School Teacher JOYCE RUSSELL - her interests are Boys, Rock Music and Astrology and is engrossed in casting a hororscope for the three children in Timmy's class, who have a mutual birthday that week - on the same day - they are ten years of age. Already Joyce is aware that the three children have similar key elements - namely, their feelings and sensitivity are missing. Eventually the two little boys are trapped and taken away by the Juvenile Authorities. But one little girl is still out and up to her old tricks."
BLOODY BIRTHDAY’s an odd duck to be sure. Made smack dab in the middle of the slasher movie boom of the early 80’s (back when glossy, studio-backed B-horror movies actually existed), it plays itself out like a goofier version of The Bad Seed with slasher side-trimmings. That said, it has more than enough cheesy thrills to qualify it as a great evening’s worth of entertainment.
The film kicks off with a vague prologue set in 1970, in which a doctor (played by Jose Ferrer, who has seen better days) delivers three children simultaneously on the night of a solar eclipse.
We then shift to 1980, and a very familiar sight: a teen couple getting hot and heavy in a night enshrouded cemetery. The girl’s convinced someone’s watching them, so in a typical bad movie move (that practically seals their fate) the guy suggests they slip into an open grave to finish their lovemaking session. Of course, things don’t end well and the two lovebirds end up paying the ultimate price – death by shovel and jump rope (not the most glamorous ways to go I’m sure you can imagine!).
That same night we are introduced to bubbly babysitting final girl (and ace astrologer!) Joyce Russell (Lori Lethin) and her kid brother Timmy (K.C. Martel). After catching him sneaking through the kitchen window Joyce questions her brother about his whereabouts – only to be given the poor excuse that he was out feeding the dog and got locked out. Joyce buys it (for the time being) but the next day grows suspicious of Timmy when the town sheriff pays a visit to the elementary school where she works. Apparently, the only clue that was left at the scene of the crime was the wooden handle to a jump rope; Joyce questions Timmy again but to no avail.
It soon becomes clear however, who the culprit really is. In fact, there are three, not one: a trio of Timmy’s cheerfully cheesy schoolmates led by the infinitely-grinning Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy) and rounded out by Curtis Taylor (Billy Jacoby) and Steven Seton. While not spying on Debbie’s older sister Beverly (Julie Brown) or pasting newspaper clippings of murders in their scrapbook, the trio seems to take great pleasure in killing people – and always with a smile on their faces! And much like a certain other film from 1956, the kids cover the murders up by making them look like accidents; shortly after coming home from school they beat a man to death with a baseball bat and make it look like he slipped and broke his neck.
It is soon revealed that Debbie, Curtis and Steven were the three children born during the solar eclipse in the prologue; somehow it set them off and with their tenth birthday party nearing, their homicidal tendencies are beginning to develop full swing….
Through a twist of fate, however, Joyce and Timmy catch on to the murderous clique and soon find themselves next on the brats’ hit list; after surviving enough attempts on their life to make even James Bond balk, the siblings finally realize that only they can stop the murderous brat pack and rid their neighborhood of the evil that has been festering for years….
Like I said, BLOODY BIRTHDAY is a strange film. For most of its running time it straddles the line between dumb and disturbing; it’s never scary but there’s just some odd, freaky resonance of seeing a ten-year old boy shoot a teenage couple to death with a revolver. The kids themselves are more annoying than anything else – though Hoy’s deliciously evil facial expressions and Jacoby’s creepy aloofness make them memorable screen villains regardless.
One thing that certainly distinguishes this film from the rest is the above-average cast – like most slasher movies there’s at least one up-and-coming celebrity. Here, there are actually two: comedienne Julie Brown, as Debbie’s ditzy older sister, who has the thankless role of stripping down to the raw (in a hilariously protracted scene) and getting shot in the eye with an arrow, and a young, mop-topped Michael Dudikoff as Brown’s boyfriend. Then there are also Ferrer and Susan Strasberg, the latter as the kids’ bitchy teacher who tells them, “Just because you all have the same birthday doesn’t mean you’re special!” – naturally, she’s not long for this world!
And then, of course, there’s Ms. Lethin, who had previously had to make do with a second-banana role in the backwoods slasher bore THE PREY (1980). With BLOODY BIRTHAY the ‘final girl’ crown is handed down to her and, trust me, she knows it. Much like the movie itself, she spends most of the running time walking the fine line between endearing and hammy – whether it’s spitting out thankless astrology mumbo-jumbo or running for her dear life as the brats try to run her down in a car, she remains the ultimate trooper. Funny to imagine that only three years later she would star in the highly-acclaimed TV movie THE DAY AFTER (1983), before returning to the drive-in circuit with her third slasher movie, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987). What a career!
So what else can I say? BLOODY BIRTHDAY’s exactly what you think it is. It’s by no means a good movie – just a fun one. Like most slasher movies from this period it has a gimmick, something that sets it apart from the rest; thankfully, the film knows to milk its gimmick to its full advantage – seeing a trio of children murder teens instead of the usual masked, Michael Myers type is certainly odd and refreshing. Speaking of that film, HALLOWEEN’s influence shines through on more than one occasion (check out those wide, tree-lined suburban streets) – hell, Lethin’s character is even best friends with the sheriff’s teen daughter!
Surprisingly, BLOODY BIRTHDAY was shelved for 6 years before being released to video [It made its debut first in the UK, and came out on video a few years after it was made - Justin]. I say surprisingly because it’s really not a bad movie – it lacks much of the glossy sheen that the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies had but it’s a well-made film with above-average acting. Then again, maybe the violence had something to do with it; ironically it’s not very bloody but there are enough nasty thrills to compensate for the lack of gore.
And if you thought, judging by the title, that the climactic showdown would take place at the kids’ tenth birthday party, then you’d be mistaken – though there is one great scene where Curtis tricks Joyce into thinking he poisoned the cake. Instead, it takes place the next night, where Joyce and Timmy find themselves locked in Debbie’s house and attacked by the marauding kiddy-killers. It’s a cheesy blast, with Lethin strutting her stuff whilst dodging flurries of arrows and bullets and a great scene (that really made me chuckle) where she uses one highly unusual survival tactic – the ol’ fishbowl in the face routine – to ward off the butcher knife-wielding Steven.
It’s just too bad the ending – which leaves the door wide open for a sequel, natch – is such a groaner. Even so, BLOODY BIRTHDAY is up there as one of the high points of early 80’s slasher sleaze cinema.
BODYCOUNT 8 female:4 / male:41) Female strangled with a jump rope