Appellate Judge Tom Becker supports the bouncy house of detention.
The nightmare begins with the kids next door.
What's the matter with kids today? They kill the neighbors…
Facts of the Case
June 9, 1970: During a lunar eclipse, three children are born in Meadowvale, California.
June, 1980: Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy, Hospital Massacre), Curtis (Billy Jacoby, Cujo), and Steven (Andy Freeman, Beyond Witch Mountain), the "eclipse babies" of Meadowvale, are getting ready to celebrate their 10th birthdays. The entire town is going to turn out for the party and have some cake and good times with these bright, attractive kids.
But there's trouble in Meadowvale. Two teenagers, who'd been using the local graveyard as a makeshift motel, are murdered. Debbie's father, the sheriff, meets with a terrible and fatal accident. Other Meadowvale residents are also being hit with untimely demises.
No one suspects the cute little eclipse moppets of evildoing—except young Timmy (K.C. Martel, Growing Pains) and his big sister, Joyce (Lori Lethin, Brokedown Palace), who find themselves on the wrathful side of these refugees from the Lollipop Guild.
Killer kids. Nasty little buggers. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're good for a show. Perhaps the most famous killer kid, the cloying but lethal Rhoda from The Bad Seed—and the one who would set the standard for all killer kids to come—did much of her mayhem off screen, leaving us with such a sickeningly sweet "perfect child" that we'd have been just as happy to see her subjected to a good paddling as we would a ride in a pink electric chair. The killer kids in Village of the Damned (and Children of the Damned) had otherworldly powers to help do their dirty work, while young anti-heroes like Mikey and Joshua used their wits to carry out their evil deeds.
The killer kids in Bloody Birthday get by on their cunning, though it seems less that they are so intellectually superior than that everyone else in Meadowvale is intellectually inferior. One thing they have on their side is the apparently miserable state of CSI techniques in the early '80s; apparently, coroners during the Reagan years couldn't tell the difference between a head injury suffered in a fall down the stairs and a skull crushed with a baseball bat, didn't have the wherewithal to trace bullets, and had no insight as to what kind of damage an arrow through the head would do. Thus, our rampage snotnoses are able to kill with impunity for a ridiculously long time.
"Ridiculous" is a reasonable word to use to describe Bloody Birthday, and it's also its biggest selling point. There's something alternately creepy and silly about watching a 10-year-old plan and carry out a murder, and scenes of the wee ones running around with guns and bows and arrows are pretty effective. Plus, these are obnoxious kids, smug little prodigy types you wouldn't mind seeing taking a trip to the woodshed, which helps with the "audience identifying with victim" thing—in this case, Timmy and Joyce, who've got them figured out, but who can't convince anyone else.
Unfortunately, the shock value wears off pretty quickly, and what's left is a well-done, if standard, early '80s slasher, complete with awkward twists, semi-graphic kills, stretches of suspense, and dashes of gratuitous nudity, notably a striptease by one-time MTV-VJ Julie Brown (Earth Girls Are Easy). While there are a couple of kid-centric modus operandi—the jumprope, for instance—the children actually prefer grown up guns as their weapon of choice. Even the promise of some sort of a massacre at a kid's birthday party isn't followed through.
What might have put this above the pack would have been a little more attention as to why the kiddies and kill and how they choose their victims. The "why" is covered pretty perfunctorily—teenager Joyce is an amateur astrologist, and she notes that the eclipse that was in progress when they were born was blocking Saturn, and as everyone knows, Saturn is the planet of emotions; so they are emotionally disturbed because they were born during an eclipse. Forget that whole "Tuesday's Child is Full of Grace" business, it's the line-up of the planets that separates the Albert Schweitzers from the Ted Bundys.
How do they choose their victims? Well, that's a little tougher. There are the obvious victims—the people who tick them off or who are on to them—but there's also a strong undercurrent of sexual precocity that's not really explored as well as it could be. We get two sets of fornicating teens, plus an extended sequence in which the kids spy on the aforementioned naked Julie Brown, but with the other killings and assorted mayhem, the whole psycho-sexual angle gets a little lost. Maybe it's unfair to expect a slasher to dig a little deeper for motivation—generally, simple revenge is enough to get the ball rolling—but since they went to the trouble of serving up a group of little lethal darlings, it would have been nice to have actually exploited the whole psyche of a young child business a bit beyond the usual slice 'n' dice games.
Severin gets points just for unearthing this crumbly graham cracker. The picture looks solid—not great, but a low-budget, 30-year-old horror movie is never going to look great. Audio is a bit weak, but it's serviceable.
We get a decent slate of extras: an audio interview with director Ed Hunt; an interview with star Lori Lethin entitled Don't Eat That Cake!; and A Brief History of Slasher Films, which doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table, but does mention all kinds of all-but forgotten gore features from the '80s. The set also includes trailers for a number of other Severin releases, and there's an Easter Egg on the Bonus Features screen that gives you a dreadful looking trailer for Bloody Birthday.
A fun little killer-kid entry, not as special as it could be, but not without interest. Severin serves up a decent disc of a satisfyingly creepy film that's essential for '80s slasher completists.
Guilty kids, not guilty disc.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
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