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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

BLOODY BIRTHDAY -- DVD review by porfle

In the hallowed annals of "bad seed" flicks, BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981) has to be one of the coolest.  Not really a slasher, nor even a horror movie, it's basically a giddy kill-fest made novel by the fact that the three maniacs on a murder spree are just celebrating their tenth birthdays.  It's kind of like GOODFELLAS with little kids, and they're more bloodthirsty than a boatload of Joe Pescis.

The movie starts out with one of those cool ideas that sets it apart from all the other similar cheapo horrors being ground out like sausage in the 80s.  Three babies are born at the same time on the same day, during a solar eclipse.  Somehow, a weird alignment of the planets causes each of them to be born without a conscience.  Ten years later, the urge to kill hits these cute little tykes and they start racking up a body count that would make Jason proud.

Low-budget filmmaker Ed Hunt (STARSHIP INVASIONS) does a modest but efficient job of bringing his screenplay to the screen, serving up some pretty decent thrills during the film's leisurely pace.  Lori Lethin (THE PREY) plays all-American girl Joyce, who's taking care of her little brother Timmy (K.C. Martel, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, E.T.) while the 'rents are away.  Their house will be the scene of the film's frantic finale when our trio of homicidal cookie-grabbers descend upon them in a frenetic frenzy of rip-roarin' revenge.

Elizabeth Hoy (THE BLUES BROTHERS), who would've been perfect as the lead in THE BAD SEED, plays the role of cute little Debbie to the hilt.  This angelic-looking imp has drilled a hole in the wall of her closet and sells 25-cent peeks at her big sister Beverly (MTV's Julie Brown) as she dances around naked in her bedroom.  (Julie Brown fans will no doubt be willing to cough up a few quarters.)  But this is nothing compared to the shocking scene in which she stages the murder of her own dad, the town sheriff (Bert Kramer), with the help of her cohorts Curtis and Steven.

Steven (Andy Freeman) is a nutty little bugger, but the bespectacled Curtis (Scott Jacoby's half brother Billy of ROAD KILL and THE BEASTMASTER) is a smirking, kill-crazy loon who fits comfortably within the ranks of the screen's most trigger-happy thrill killers.

When he isn't locking Timmy in an abandoned refrigerator in the junkyard, he's prowling around with the dead sheriff's hand cannon looking for people to blow away.  This might include a playground enemy, a bossy school teacher, or the traditional teenage couple having highly gratuitous sex in the back of a van.

These kids are exhilaratingly evil without overplaying it and the murders are depicted in a matter-of-fact style that emphasizes their gleeful coldbloodedness.  Debbie, whom one might refer to as "The Jump-Rope Killer", even keeps a nostalgic scrapbook of her kills and gets mad when big sis discovers it and reports it to Mom.  (Big mistake!)  The boys, meanwhile, are so industrious that they manage to hotwire an old car at the junkyard and attempt to run down Joyce as she searches for her missing brother.

The cast ranges all the way from the sublime to the--well, not quite sublime.  Ed Hunt somehow managed not only to snag Susan Strasberg for the role of strict schoolteacher Miss Davis, but also screen veteran José Ferrer as the doctor who brings the three diabolical darlings into the world.  A young Joe Penny ("Jake and the Fatman") shows up in one scene, as does Cyril O'Reilly (the anti-Semitic redneck from PORKY'S) as Joyce's boyfriend. 

Familiar faces such as Ellen Geer, Michael Dudikoff, and Ward Costello can also be found here and there.  The "Worst Actor" award would have to go to the guy who plays the deputy.  I didn't catch his name, but you'll recognize him--he's the guy who can't act.  Listening to him step all over Lori Lethin's lines is a real treat.

The kids themselves are a ball to watch throughout BLOODY BIRTHDAY, whether squeezing out crocodile tears at the funerals of friends and family members they've just offed or simply reveling in their own playful wickedness while putting on an innocent front.

The triple-header backyard birthday party of the title finds them greedily ripping open their presents as guests tuck into gooey birthday cake that may or may not be laced with ant poison. When Joyce walks in on Curtis in the kitchen with a frosting squeezer in one hand and the poison bottle in the other, it gives Lori Lethin the chance to race into the backyard knocking cake out of people's hands and screaming the film's most deathless line: "DON'T EAT THAT CAKE!"

The DVD from Severin Films is in 1.66:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound.  No subtitles.  Extras consist of a cheerful interview with Lori Lethin ("Don't Eat That Cake!"), a lengthy audio interview with director Ed Hunt which should be of interest to aspiring low-budget filmmakers, the entertaining featurette "A Brief History of Slasher Films", and some Severin Films trailers. 

BLOODY BIRTHDAY may be lumped in with all the other gory slice-and-dice flicks of the 80s, but don't expect a lot of blood and body parts, or an unkillable killer in a mask.   Just settle back and enjoy the heartwarming antics of some cute little kids terrorizing their hometown and rapidly reducing its population.

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