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Case Number 27509: Small Claims Court

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Bloody Birthday (1981) (Blu-ray)

Severin Films // 1981 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 20th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle has vowed to give up surprise parties.

Editor's Note

Our review of Bloody Birthday, published June 28th, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

The nightmare begins with the kids next door.

The Case

On 9 June 1970, three babies were born, at the very peak of a solar eclipse. The children, all living near each other, grow up to be best friends; towheaded Timmy (KC Martel, White Water Summer), pigtailed Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy, The Blues Brothers), and bespectacled Curtis (Billy Jayne, The Beastmaster). Fast forward ten years. Unlike most childhood friends, these kids don't climb trees or sell lemonade…they kill! Due to Saturn being blocked during the eclipse—which apparently controls emotions during birth—the kids have become soulless murderers who begin a killing spree in their neighborhood. As law enforcement officials and elementary school teachers fall prey to their devious plans, one of the local teens, Joyce (Lori Lethin, Brokedown Palace), starts to suspect something fishy is going on…and begins a race against time to stop the terrible threesome before they take out the entire cul-de-sac!

In the early 1980s, you could throw a stone into the air and hit a slasher movie. After the success of John Carpenter's seminal classic Halloween—and to a lesser degree, Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th—theaters witnessed a glut of slasher copycats rotate in and out their projection room. A few were good, a lot were terrible, and some were relegated to a cinematic graveyard, never to be seen again…Until the advent of digital media. One of the blessings of DVD and Blu-ray is that a lot of these long forgotten horror flicks have found new life and new audiences, even if they don't deserve it. This means horror fans get to spend days combing through large swaths of clunkers until they find something worthwhile. Bloody Birthday is worth that hunt.

One of the sub-genres of the initial slasher craze was films focused on various calendar holidays. From April Fool's Day to My Bloody Valentine, if you had a celebration coming up, chances are there was a horror movie waiting to complement it. Nothing to do on Saint Patrick's Day? Rent Leprechaun! No plans on December 31st? Then it's time for New Year's Evil! The possibilities were endless. In the '80s, birthdays must have been all the rage, because audiences got not one but two birthday-themed gore shows—J. Lee Thompson's Happy Birthday to Me and Ed Hunt's Bloody Birthday. The good news is the latter is better than the former…by a long shot.

Bloody Birthday had a belated theatrical release (almost five years after its production) and was eventually dumped into the home video market to die very undignified death. I'm not sure why it isn't well-remembered because, as far as horror slashers go, it's a decent if cliché-ridden take on the genre. The premise is even rather unique among horror films. Instead of a masked psycho or zombified madman, the killers are three innocent looking doe-eyed children. The film never tries to hide the kids' identities or obscure them in shadows. These demonic tykes kill without conscience in broad daylight. Although Bloody Birthday is hardly what you'd call scary, it does emanate a creepy vibe thanks to the little ones' stoic malevolence.

One of the perks of a movie like Bloody Birthday is the chance to catch all sorts of familiar faces slumming it for a quick buck. Susan Strasberg (The Picnic), José Ferrer (The Greatest Story Ever Told), and 1980s MTV sensation Julie Brown (Earth Girls Are Easy) all make brief appearances. And if you count Ms. Brown's jiggling topless dance scene, that total almost doubles. The rest of the cast are mostly nameless actors who didn't go on to much future success, but with a movie like this on your resume, how can they complain?

A connoisseurship evolves while watching Bloody Birthday. There isn't much to separate it from the pack, but what it does, it does efficiently and expediently. Gore-hounds may be a bit disappointed to learn the film isn't especially bloody (an arrow through the eye is about the best the VFX we get), but it's tense when it needs to be and the three kids give surprisingly effective performances. Writer/director Ed Hunt (who also made the equally odd 1988 mutant monster movie The Brain) is nothing if not proficient at keeping things moving along. There isn't a lot of dead space, which is half of the battle of making a good horror film. While the dialogue and story may not set awards season on fire, the film is entertaining, which is all I need from the genre.

Presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen, Bloody Birthday (Blu-ray) was rescued by Severin Films and looks surprisingly good considering its age. While there are a few small imperfections in the image and a fine layer of grain, fans will be thrilled with how this transfer looks. The Dolby 1.0 Mono track is a very front heavy mix that doesn't feature much in the way of surround sounds or directional effects. The biggest boost comes from the film's score, which rips off everything from the Harry Manfredini's Friday the 13th to Bernard Herrmann's Psycho.

Bonus features include an audio interview with director Ed Hunt, a short interview with actress Lori Lethen ("Don't Eat the Cake: An Interview with Lori Lethen"), a 15-minute featurette titled "A Brief History of Slasher Movies," and the film's theatrical trailer.

Bloody Birthday is actually one of the better slasher films to come out of the early 1980s. By no means a classic, it's effective for what it tries to accomplish and Severin is commended for giving it new life on Blu-ray.

The Verdict

A bloody good time.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Severin Films
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Blu-ray
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Trailer


• IMDb

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