Color, 1981, 84m.
Directed by Ed Hunt
Starring Elizabeth Hoy, Andy Freeman, Lori Lethin, Billy Jayne, Michael Dudikoff, Julie Brown, Joe Penny, Erica Hope, K.C Martel, Susan Strasberg, Jose Ferrer
Severin (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), VCI (US R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The killer kid subgenre has proven surprisingly durable over the years, even avoiding the parental outcry that's often revolved around many slasher and gore films. From the early days of The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned to the subgenre's drive-in glory days with The Omen and the riotously un-PC Devil Times Five, Who Can Kill a Child?, The Children, and Beware Children at Play, finally leading to slick modern incarnations like Wicked Little Things, Orphan (sort of) and the British The Children (no relation). Sandwiched somewhere in there at the dawn of the slasher craze is 1981's Bloody Birthday, a surprisingly durable entry featuring a trio of terrible tots and an utterly bizarre cast of up and comers and faded marquee names.
In the quiet town of Meadowvale, three children are born simultaneously during a rare solar eclipse. A decade later, something in them snaps as the three kids (Hoy, Freeman, and Jacoby) begin a murderous crusade through the local population-- starting by bumping off a horny couple in an open grave. Meanwhile teenager Joyce (The Prey's Lethin), an astrology buff, starts to figure out how the culprits are making their crimes look like accidents; perhaps the sickest of the bunch is cheerful Debbie (Hoy), who likes to spy on her frisky older sister (Brown) making out with her boyfriend (a pre-American Ninja Dudikoff) and toting around a dangerous-looking bow and arrow.
Featuring a surprisingly accomplished cast and a more solid plot than usual for a low-budget horror outing, Bloody Birthday has deservedly amassed a modest but dedicated cult following over the years thanks to home video. Lethin really carries much of the film as the plucky heroine, but the whole endeavor is loading with fun for celeb spotters including Jose Ferrer at the beginning as the fateful delivery doctor, Susan Strasberg as a teacher, a very young Joe Penny (just before hopping over to TV's Riptide and then Jake and the Fatman) and even younger Dudikoff, and most notably, a darker-haired Julie Brown (no relation to the MTV VJ) before she went on to '80s pop music immortality with "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" and memorable supporting turns in Earth Girls Are Easy and Clueless. This film has also been a significant Mr. Skin favorite thanks to Brown's impressive, prolonged nude scene early in the film, which is still a classic of its kind and gleefully gratuitous... much like the entire film itself.
Bloody Birthday first hit DVD in a gritty-looking but anamorphic DVD from VCI containing a video interview with late, uncredited executive producer Max Rosenberg, who handled several Amicus titles. However, the 2011 Severin release on DVD and its subsequent, almost identically appointed Blu-ray edition in 2014 turned out to be much more impressive on every front with a fresh HD transfer from the original negative, featuring considerable amounts of detail invisible on the earlier disc as well as more natural, vivid color. It's still limited by the nature of the original production and definitely brighter, which may alter the atmosphere for some of the film's fans, but it's a respectful treatment the film has long needed like much of its better-known '80s horror brethren. The Blu-ray in particular looks very crisp, and if you dial down the black levels on your TV a notch or two, it looks pretty much perfect. The shrieking music score also sounds a lot better, as does the dialogue, on the remastered mono track, presented in DTS-HD on the Blu-ray. Lethin contributes the biggest video extra with a 10-minute interview called "Don't Eat That Cake" in which the now-blonde future star of Return to Horror High talks about working with some very memorable co-stars and doing some wild stunt mayhem, especially the rousing climax which finds some unusual household fixtures being used against the homicidal minors. Though no one would ever call him much of a cinematic stylist with this film or his other efforts like the memorably trashy Diary of a Sinner, director Ed Hunt has enough of a significant weird cinema career to justify the nearly one-hour audio phone interview included here, which covers how he got the assignment and wrangled some unlikely talent together for his cult opus. The 15-minute "A Brief History of the Slasher Films" featurette from Severin's Nightmares release is also carried over, along with a rough-looking theatrical trailer (hidden on the DVD, not so much on the Blu-ray) and bonus promos for Severin's Horror Express, Bloody Moon, and The Baby. The Blu-ray also tacks on an additional (sort of hidden) bonus trailer for the film (in equally lo-fi condition) and an extra one for Nightmares to boot. Rather than the expected slasher film, this is a primo guilty pleasure among the roster of killer kid movies and a great party movie for all you '80s horror nuts.