Monday, December 3, 2018

BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review/Comparison)


Label: Arrow Video 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 85 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Director: Ed Hunt
Cast: Lori Lethin, Melinda Cordell, Julie Brown, Susan Strasberg, Jose Ferrer

In a Midwest suburban neighborhood three children are born during a spectacular total eclipse of the moon. During the eclipse the sun and the moon are blocking the planet Saturn, which according to the movie and one of its characters controls the development of human emotions. The three children are born with an apparent lack of remorse and compassion, a deficiency which manifests itself shortly before the children's 10th birthday. The trio of pint-sized terrors are Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy, X-Ray), Curtis (Billy Jacoby, Beastmaster), and Steven (Andy Freeman, Beyond Witch Mountain) who unleash a string of violent murders upon their suburban neighborhood, right  underneath the noses of adults who are incapable of imagining that these children could be the deadly culprits. 

These creepy little shits are quite the menace right from the start, beginning by taking out a pair of lusty teens they catch making out in a freshly dug grave at the cemetery! The teen dude takes a shovel to the skull and the young woman is lynched with a jump rope. The authorities assume the murders to be the work of a madman, with only local teen Joyce (Lori Lethan, The Prey) and her younger brother Timmy (K.C. Martel, The Amityville Horror) becoming suspicious that  the adolescent trio could be the culprits. 

We have good performances all around in this one in my opinion, particularly from the blond femme fatale Debbie and the freckled-faced Curtis, both of whom are just so damn diabolical - the entire film I was screaming KILL THOSE FUCKING KIDS! Siblings Joyce (Lethan) and Timmy (Martel) are also quite excellent and easy to root for. I'd be remiss not to mention the appearance of MTV star Julie Brown as Debbie's sister Beverly who goes topless in one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

I found this one to be quite a unique take on the killer kiddie flicks, the vicious murder spree has astrological origins which is both wonderfully ludicrous and 80s awesome at the same time. There's something so fun about this trio of adolescent killers wreaking havoc upon a suburban neighborhood, the kids are just so damn vicious, Debbie even murders her own father by luring him into the backyard where they bash in his brains with a bat! The little brat even  pimps out peeps of her hot sister (Julie Brown) through a peephole in her closet, but when her sis catches on she threatens to ruin things for her, but demon Debbie takes her out with an arrow through the eye in one of the film many memorable kills scenes. The image of four-eyes Curtis prowling the streets at night with a revolver just itching to kill someone brought to mind the image of an adolescent Burgess Meredith (Burn Offerings), very creepy and a just bit corny.

There's a fantastic car chase through the junkyard as one kids steers and another operates the brakes and gas while trying to run down Joyce, it seems like it would read humorously, it's a cartoonish idea, but it's played straight and menacing, though some inherent camp value creeps through. The body count is pretty low in this one, and the the gore is about non-existent, but Bloody Birthday is a damn twisted watch and loaded with plenty of gratuitous nudity - I think there's more than enough thrills here for any red-blood 80's slasher fan to have a blast with. 

Audio/Video: Bloody Birthday arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1, a brand new 2M scan from original film elements - though like the Severin Blu-ray in 2014 there's no mention of what exactly those elements are, but I will say that it is superior to the Severin release. The image has a nice looking layer of film grain, colors are more saturated and skin colors look more natural. The colors are way more vivid, less blue-ish and washed-out looking, with yellows and red really having a good presence. The clarity and contrast is much improved here as well, the difference between the two is significant, with the Severin release looking gauzy by comparison. Noteworthy, the Severin release was framed at 1.66:1 but the Arrow release is opened up to 1.85:1 with additional information on all four sides. Please check out the screenshot comparison between the Severin and Arrow release at the bottom of this review.   

The disc has one audio options, an English English LPCM 1.0 track that sounds quite nice with only a few minor distortions. Dialogue, Arlon Ober's (The Incredible Melting Man)  Manfredini-esque score and effects sounds quite nice throughout, optional English subtitles are provided.

Arrow come through with some excellent new extras, we get a pair of brand new audio commentaries, the first with director Ed Hunt, plus a a second with The Hysteria Continues podcast crew, who always do a bang-up job with their commentaries, their fun, knowledgeable and they really love slasher films, this being a film they covered on episode 177 of their podcast. A lot of the same ground is covered, well worth a listen.

We also get  new interviews with actress Lori Lethin, Film Producer Ken Gord, and a vintage interview with producer Max Rosenberg, and an appreciation of the film and killer-kid movies from film journalist Chris Alexander, plus a couple of trailers for the film. The Gord interview is great, writer-director Ed Hunt was his friends and he speaks fondly of how they came to know each other, working with him, and making their films together.

We were only sent a "check disc" of the film for review without the sleeve of artwork or the booklet that accompanies the first pressing of the Arrow release, but I am not a fan of new Timothy Pittides illustration, it doesn't capture the tone and feel of the film for me, I kind of see what he was going for, but nope, I sure hope they included the original artwork on the reverse side. 

Special Features:
- Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements 
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation 
- Brand new audio commentary with director Ed Hunt 
- Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
- Brand new interview with actress Lori Lethin (8 min) 
- Starships and Killer Brains - a brand new interview with Film Producer Ken Gord on his friend and collaborator, Bloody Borthday writer-director Ed Hunt (21 min) 
- Bad Seeds and Body Counts – a brand new video appreciation of Bloody Birthday and the killer kid sub-genre by film journalist Chris Alexander (20 min) 
- Archival interview with producer Max Rosenberg (18 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Promo Trailer (1 min) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides 
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Lee Gambin

Bloody Birthday (1981) is a trashy bit of killer-kiddie fun. There's something so wicked and awesome about a trio of 10 year old little brats knocking off horny teens, clueless adults and the snoopy kids next door, it's a real creepy suburban nightmare of a slasher that gets better with each watch for me. The Arrow release looks and sounds great, and it's got some excellent extras, a highly recommended upgrade of this killer kid classic. 

Screenshot Comparisons
Top: Sever Films Blu-ray (2014) 
Bottom: Arrow Films Blu-ray (2018)

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