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Bloody Birthday (1980)

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"This is Debbie’s chart. It’s really weird. Because there was an eclipse the day she was born, both the sun and the moon were blocking Saturn. There should be something missing from her personality…."

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Director: Ed Hunt

Starring: Lori Lethin, K.C. Martel, Billy Jacoby (Billy Jayne), Elizabeth Hoy, Andy Freeman, Julie Brown, Melinda Cordell, Bert Kramer, Susan Strasberg, Jose Ferrer

Screenplay: Ed Hunt, Barry Pearson

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Synopsis: In Meadowvale, California, three babies are born simultaneously during a total solar eclipse. Ten years later, a teenage couple is brutally murdered while making out in a cemetery. Shortly afterwards, Joyce Russell (Lori Lethin) catches her little brother, Timmy (K.C. Martel), sneaking back into their house. Not believing his explanation, Joyce remarks that he’s lucky their parents are away. The next morning, Joyce arrives at her job as a teacher’s helper to find the town’s sheriff, James Brody (Bert Kramer), telling the children about the murders and asking whether any of them noticed anything strange the night before. Worried, Joyce again tries to find out what Timmy was doing out of the house. Meanwhile, the three children born during the eclipse, Curtis (Billy Jacoby), Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy) and Stephen (Andy Freeman), try to talk their teacher, Miss Davis (Susan Strasberg), out of giving the class homework the night before their mutual tenth birthday party. Miss Davis refuses, insisting that homework is more important. The three go to Debbie’s house, where the boys are charged a quarter to look through a small hole and see Debbie’s older sister, Beverly (Julie Brown), getting undressed. Later, while out with Joyce, Beverly encounters her father, the sheriff, who warns her to be home by dark. Reaching his house, Brody greets his wife (Melinda Cordell), who is preparing for the children’s party. In the yard, Curtis places a skateboard on the back steps, and Debbie calls for her father to join them. He does so, stepping over the board. Debbie shows her father a broken skipping rope which he realises may have been used in the murders. When he bends down to pick it up, Stephen beats him savagely with a baseball bat, killing him. Just as the children are moving the body, Timmy enters the yard. Instantly, Debbie screams to her mother that her father has fallen. After the sheriff’s funeral, Curtis and Stephen take Timmy to play hide and seek in the junkyard. Tricking Timmy into hiding in an abandoned refrigerator, Curtis locks him in. After hours of shouting and trying to force his way free, Timmy manages to break the lock and escape. That night, Debbie lets Curtis into the house so that he can take her father’s gun. The next day, Curtis shoots Miss Davis. When Joyce finds the teacher’s body, she joins Timmy on the children’s list of intended victims.

Comments: In its own right, Bloody Birthday is a film of very little merit. However, when it is placed into the context of the all-engulfing wave of dead-teen films of the late seventies and early eighties, it can be seen that the film-makers did in fact try to do something a little different here. The worst parts are precisely those where the usual trends of the slasher movies are followed: the murders of the two young couples following extended and completely gratuitous sex scenes, and Julie Brown’s seemingly endless undressing scene (of course, this might be a question of personal taste). These elements are included entirely for their exploitation value and sit very uncomfortably with the rest of the film, which plays like a demented child’s wish-fulfillment fantasy.

The notion of children plotting and carrying out the murders of their teachers, parents and older siblings has a nasty sort of believability about it. No real explanation is provided for the kids’ sudden homicidal mania beyond the suggestion, courtesy of Joyce’s astrological reading, that their birth during an eclipse means that they are lacking an emotional component. While this puts Bloody Birthday into classier company than it deserves by providing it with a tenuous link to films like The Bad Seed (1956) and Village Of The Damned (1960), it also indicates a certain cowardice on the part of its makers. Clearly, they didn’t want to suggest that children might just be capable of murder without some kind of outside influence, but even more clearly, they couldn’t think up a convincing alternative explanation.

The murder sequences vary from the straightforward to the completely unbelievable. Death by handgun, skipping rope, baseball bat and shovel are fair enough, but the scene where Curtis hot-wires an abandoned car and tries to run Joyce down is pretty over the top – although in fairness the screenplay does go to the trouble of showing beforehand that Curtis is an electronics whiz. However, Debbie’s arrow-through-the-hole routine is totally absurd, not least because we’re expected to believe that Beverly wouldn’t have plugged up the hole after Joyce told her that every kid in the neighbourhood was using it to perve at her. (In other words – all together now, Oh Watchers Of Slasher Movies – Beverly was asking for it.)

The strangest thing about this film is its title which, although catchy, turns out to be a misnomer. While everything suggests that some terrible climactic event is going to happen at the mutual birthday party, it passes without violent incident, leaving the viewer to wonder why so much of the early part of the film was spent building up to it. At the same time, the scene at the party in which Curtis, realising that Joyce is on to him, tricks her into making a total fool of herself so that no-one will believe what she says is probably the best thing in the film. The final section of the movie involves the inevitable showdown between Joyce and Timmy and the kids. This suffers from the eternal convention that states that whoever else the bad guys can kill, they can’t kill the heroes; and so Deadeye Curtis suddenly can’t shoot straight. On the other hand, the good thing about this sequence – and indeed, the film as a whole – is that it doesn’t forget that the kids are just kids, not aliens or supernatural agents. Thus, when Curtis runs out of bullets, he is easily overpowered by Joyce and Timmy.

Bloody Birthday’s premise is helped by the acting of the principals, none of whom give a great performance by any means, but who mostly manage to behave like real (if psychotic) people. Of the three killer kids, Andy Freeman is given little to do as Stephen, but Billy Jacoby and Elizabeth Hoy make a convincing pair of little monsters as Curtis and Debbie. Jacoby, in particular, has some really creepy scenes, most notably when he does a Travis Bickle routine in front of a mirror. The contributions of Lori Lethin and K.C. Martel (who appeared in The Amityville Horror the year before, and went on to E.T.) are also above the norm for this kind of movie. However, of "guest stars" Susan Strasberg and Jose Ferrer I have only this to say: you ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Strasberg has all of five minutes screentime before she gets a bullet in the back for her trouble, while Ferrer is in the film for about ninety seconds! I was expecting him at least to come charging to the rescue at the end of the film, having realised that the kids are - eeeeevillll!! – but all he does is arrive at the hospital at the beginning and eat cake at the party in the middle. I’d be fascinated to know exactly what he got paid for that contribution, particularly on a dollar per screen-second basis….

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB

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