Monday, June 13, 2011

DVD Review: Bloody Birthday (1980)

Bloody Birthday (1980)
Label: Severin Films
Release Date: June 28th 2011
Rating: R
Duration: 85 mins
Video: 1.66:1 Widescreen 16x9
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Director: Ed Hunt
Cast: Lori lethin, Melinda Cordell, Julie Brown, Susan Strasberg, Jose Ferrer
Tagline: The Nightmare Begins with the Kids Next Door.

Film: In a 1970's Midwest suburban neighborhood three infants are born during a spectacular total eclipse. During the event the sun and the moon are blocking the planet Saturn which is said to control human emotions. This apparent lack of remorse and compassion manifests itself shortly before the children's 10th birthday when the trio of pint-sized terrors Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis (Billy Jacoby), and Steven (Andy Freeman) unleash a string of murders in their suburban neighborhood underneath the noses of the adults.

These creepy little shits are quite the menace. Our first killing is a pair of lusty teens making out in the cemetery, in a freshly dug plot no less, when the guy takes a shovel to the skull and the grill is lynched with a jump rope. While the authorities assume their deaths to be the work of a madman only neighborhood teen Joyce (Lori Lethan) and her younger brother Timmy (K.C. Martel) suspect the adolescent trio of foul play which puts them in the sights of the the terror trio. 

Good performances all around here particularly the adorably deadly Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis (Billy Jacoby), and Steven (Andy Freeman) the latter of which seemed to drop in and out of the film. The brother and sister duo of Joyce (Lori Lethan) and Timmy (K.C. Martel) are also standouts and quite likable, too. Of course I would be remiss not to mention the appearance of MTV VJ Julie Brown (Earth Girls are Easy) as Beverly Brody who bares some memorable celebrity skin for us here, there's a good bit of skin in this flick.

It's a  very interesting take on the killer kiddie flicks, the cold-hearted murder spree has astrological origins, it's both ludicrous and awesome at the same time and is wisely not dwelled on, it is what it is. There's something so glorious about this trio of adolescent killers as they wreak havoc on this suburban neighborhood. Curtis and the group kill his father, it's so devilish and brutal, with a bat to the skull after luring him to the backyard. Debbie pimps out her sister (Julie Brown) through a peephole in her closet but when sis threatens to ruin things for her she is taken out with bow and  arrow through the eye, it's awesome. The image of Curtis prowling the streets at night with a revolver, just itching to kill someone as he stalks the neighborhood, it made me think of an adolescent Burgess Meredith, very creepy. 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 poor Debbie, it seems like it would read humorously but it;s played quite straight and menacing though some inherent camp value does seep through. Not a high body count film, there's not a lot of gore either but c'mon there kids, let's give 'em credit.

DVD: Severin have given Bloody Birthday some nice treatment here. First, it's presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image looks great, it's been restored from an original negative element and looks quite good, but keep in mind this was a grindhouse slasher shot on the cheap and the production values were not the greatest. There's more definition to the image when compared to VCI's 2003 DVD release, it's more natural looking with a nice grain structure and while it doesn't have a ton of depth it's not stained by the blue hue and darkness that shadowed VCI's DVD. Check out the screen captures below for a comparison of the VCI and Severin DVD releases.The Dolby Digital mono audio fares well with only minor distortions. Dialogue, effects and Arlon Ober's score, which borrows heavily from Harry Manfredini's iconic Friday the 13th score at times, sounds great. There are no subtitle options. Special features include An Audio Interview with director Ed Hunt (51:10), Don't Eat the Cake - An Interview with Star Lori Lethin (9:50) who recalls her experiences working with the cast and the director and A Brief History of Slasher Film (15:11)  features 'Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher' author Adam Rockoff giving a quickie slasher history starting with Hitchcock's Psycho and continuing on through the Italian giallo and the 80's slasher. Nothing new under the sun for slasher fans here, particularly if you've seen the Going to Pieces slasher documentary, but very entertaining and loaded with clips from classic slasher flicks. There's also a selection of Severin trailers including Severin's restored version of the Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas film Horror Exress (1972) which has languished in the public domain for years, that's exciting. I would have liked to seen the Max Rosenberg interview from the VCI edition ported over, that's a fun interview in which the elderly Rosenberg, producer of a great number of classic Amicus horror films, disparages director Ed Hunt saying he was "a fucking nut... mad as a hatter", "in addition to his madness he was extremely stupid, he had taken the SAT's and got twelve, I think" - geesh, not one to mince his words, but a fun cantankerous interview with the old fella that would have been a great addition to this DVD but I'm quite pleased with what Severin has produced the way of exclusive supplemental material.

Special Features:
- Audio Interview with Director Ed Hunt (51:10)
- Don't Eat the Cake - An Interview with Star Lori Lethin 16x9  (9:50)
- A Brief History of Slasher Films (15:11)
- Trailers: Bloody Moon (1:39), Horror Express (2:54), Nightmares (3:18), The Baby (2:46)  
- Hidden Easter Egg (1:10)

Here are a selection of screen shots comparisons including the main menu I pulled from the the Severin and VCI DVD releases for you to compare.
Severin DVD , 2011 - Top
VCI DVD, 2003 - Bottom

Verdict: Ed Hunt's Bloody Birthday is sleazy, fun and twisted, too - they just don't make 'em like this anymore! There's something so fun about a trio of 10 year old prowling the streets and knocking off sex crazed teens, adult and the kids next door. Definitely a  creepy suburban nightmare of a slasher that needs a place on your DVD shelf and worth a double dip for the restoration and exclusive supplemental materials. 3.75 outta 5