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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Bloody Birthday (Blu-ray)
Bloody Birthday (Blu-ray)
Severin // R // July 8, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 15, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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There's just something about murderous little moppets. I don't know why, but whenever I stumble across a movie with kids savagely slaughtering the adults around them, I have to watch: The Children (both the 1980 and 2008 movies) The Bad Seed, Village of the Damned, Beware! Children at Play, Children of the Corn, The Brood, Mutant, and the list goes on and on and on. Somehow I never got around to Bloody Birthday, a kinda-sorta slasher barely released in 1981 as Creeps (or was it Hide and Go Kill?) but largely shelved for another five years. After rescuing it from obscurity with their 2011 DVD release, Severin Films is giving Bloody Birthday an overdue high-def spit and polish on Blu-ray.

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It all comes down to astrology. See, in the sleepy little suburb of Meadowvale, three kids were born at the same time under an eclipse while Saturn was in retrograde or something, and you know what that means: those kids turn out to be soulless, bloodthirsty motherfuckers as they get older. Ten years after their moms squirted them out, these three tykes -- Curtis (Billy Jayne), Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), and Steven (Andy Freeman) -- can no longer control their murderous impulses. They systematically start butchering everyone in their path, from complete strangers to their own families. 'Course, they're precious, innocent children, so no one suspects what these pint-sized sociopaths are really capable of, and those few that do are dismissed as grieving, irrational lunatics. Currently in the crosshairs of this unholy trinity are brother and sister Joyce (Lori Lethin) and Timmy (K.C. Martel), the only two people who know enough to expose them for the hellspawned monsters they are.

There's just something strangely fascinating about Bloody Birthday. Clocking in at 84 minutes, it doesn't really have time to get boring. Billy Jayne flashes a smug, knowing, creepy smirk as the murderous Curtis, while his partner in crime Debbie can alternate between postcard-perfect adorable and a cold, calculating murderess like someone flicking a lightswitch. The score shamelessly rips off both Psycho and Jaws, but those stabbing orchestral strings are wildly effective just the same. I'm so used to horror movies where the children are cold, silent, almost feral killers; here, their blood-spattered schemes are all very deliberate and calculated. They don't just run into the frame with a butcher knife; they lay traps, they know when to cut their losses, and they're clever enough to make the whole thing look like an innocent mistake. The amount of nudity is pretty staggering too, most memorably future MTV star Julie Brown stripping down in her bedroom to nothing more than a Coke and a smile.

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The only thing wrong with Bloody Birthday is...well, damned near all of it. Even by 1981, there was so much oneupsmanship in slashers, each demanding a higher body count and more demented, inventive kills. Meanwhile, there's approaching no gore and barely any blood to speak of here. Too many of the attempted scares revolve around gunplay, and that loses its effectiveness after the first go-around. The two central killer kids are creepy enough -- I don't know why Steven is there at all since he does borderline-nothing the entire flick -- but they don't generate anything in the way of tension, suspense, or even standard issue jumpscares. The standout sequence, I guess, pits teenage-ish Joyce against a barely idling sedan in a junkyard (complete with a fun-sized The Town That Dreaded Sundown masked driver), and it's not propelled by any energy, intensity, inventive editing or direction, or a whole hell of a lot of anything else, really. The same as the rest of the town, Joyce is at first quick to disregard everything about the kids' nastier little habits because the plot requires her to, even when her kid brother comes up hours late covered in scratches and filth. Hardly anything its characters do -- or don't do -- feel grounded in anything resembling logic. There's not even a meaningful sense of panic about the spate of murders in this sleepy little town. The editing can be really choppy and uneven, making me wonder if the movie was awkwardly gutted from a longer, more gruesome cut. There's a golden opportunity for mass murder that the movie decides not to capitalize on, even though it'd be a perfect fit for flick titled "Bloody Birthday". Hell, even its ending fails to deliver the goods. The cover art and promotional copy pitch Bloody Birthday as an early slasher, but it's more of a thriller (and a tepid one at that!) than anything else. Shrug. Rent It.


Video
Especially considering that this slasher is about as hopelessly obscure as they come, Bloody Birthday looks really nice on Blu-ray. Definition and detail are both rock solid. There really isn't much of any wear, damage, or speckling to get in the way. When I press my face right against the screen and analyze this presentation frame by frame, I can see tiny little scratches, but from a normal viewing distance, it's astonishingly pristine. Color correction seems kinda dodgy, though. The early stretches of the film are dull and undersaturated, even grading on a curve for a movie from the class of 1981, but that's less of a concern the longer Bloody Birthday trudges along. Its coarse, gritty texture hasn't been smeared away through overzealous digital noise reduction or anything, which is always appreciated. The AVC encode shoulders all that film grain ably enough as well. An early sequence in a graveyard had blacks that radiated an almost fluorescent glow, though this may be a hiccup specific to my setup. This is reproducible on two separate Blu-ray players connected to the same receiver/display in my main home theater, but I can't see this problem on my desktop PC or on my bedroom HDTV. Not quite sure what the story is there. The opening credits and early intertitles have some really unstable aliasing around the text, and that's another one I'm not used to seeing. None of that's even close to being a dealbreaker, of course. A more than respectable effort overall.

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Bloody Birthday gets a single layer Blu-ray disc to play around with, and the mattes have been opened slightly to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.


Audio
Bloody Birthday is saddled with an awfully lackluster two-channel monaural soundtrack. Shrugging off the whole TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio thing, Severin opts instead for straightahead LPCM. Same difference at the end of the day, obviously, but uncompressed audio isn't something I'm all that used to seeing in 2014. No matter what the delivery method is, though, Bloody Birthday sounds dull, dated, and strained. Its dialogue can get so muddy and mumbled that some lines are almost completely indiscernable, although the worst of it is limited to the earliest stretches of the flick. At its worst, Bloody Birthday sounds like I've driven a little too far out of town and the local radio stations are starting to fade. It's not completely persistent, but there's a hell of a lot of background noise, ranging everywhere from a mild hiss to extremely distracting crackling. Some sound effects, like a shovel to the head in the early graveyard scare, are meek and muffled. There's very little high-end, especially early on sounding as if someone tripped in the mixing booth and knocked the 'Treble' faders all the way down. I'm not expecting the audio for a long-shelved, low-budget slasher from thirty-plus years ago to sparkle and gleam, but no matter how much you're willing to lower the bar, this is pretty bad.

That's it for audio options too: no dubs, no commentaries, no alternate mixes, no subtitles...no nothin'.


Extras
The interview with since-departed producer Max Rosenberg from VCI's initial DVD release didn't find its way on here, unfortunately, but all the bells and whistles from Severin's 2011 DVD have been carried over. A surprisingly tiny percentage of the overall runtime directly relates to Bloody Birthday, though.
  • Interviews (62 min.; SD): There isn't an audio commentary or anything, but director Ed Hunt does talk speak at length about his career in a 51 minute audio-only interview. The quality is pretty rough, as if it was recorded over Skype or on a cellphone, and there's strange background noise that sounds like someone rustling through clotheshangers in his closet. Hunt chats extensively about damn near everything except Bloody Birthday: every other movie in his filmography, the self-published books about filmmaking he has on Amazon, how dogged determination got him a start in the industry and landed financing for his earliest movies, everything you wanted to know about UFOs but were afraid to ask, and a seemingly endless tangent about Night of the Living Dead. Hunt mentions Bloody Birthday almost in passing, saying little more than that the movie wasn't his concept and that he doesn't want to badmouth it.

    Actress Lori Lethin turns up for a far more brief on-camera interview, this one clocking in around 10 minutes. Lethin also touches on her start in cinema and what she's been doing since stepping away from the industry, with the remainder of this conversation largely spent reflecting on the folks on both sides of Bloody Birthday's cameras.

  • [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

  • A Brief History of Slasher Movies (15 min.; SD): Adam Rockoff, the author of Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, offers up a 15 minute primer into his subgenre of choice. Rockoff charts the evolution of the body count movie from Psycho to H.G. Lewis' Blood Trilogy to the rise of Italian gialli all the way to what we now know as slashers. Black Christmas, Halloween, and Friday the 13th naturally score the most attention as Rockoff continues his history lesson: the glut of slashers in the early-to-mid '80s, the endless copycats overseas, the MPAA unleashing their censoring scissors, the parodies that started to seize hold, what a breeding ground for future stars many of these movies were, and the ebb and flow of the slasher since. It's really impressive how much ground Rockoff is able to cover in a relatively lean amount of time, and many of his comments are very thoughtful, particularly the misconceptions about the paint-by-numbers slasher formula being responsible for its downfall. Worth a look for sure.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): The last of the featured extras is a standard-def trailer that sounds like it's geared towards the home video market.

There's a very easily found sub-YouTube-quality Easter Egg as well along with a handful of trailers for other Severin releases.


The Final Word
When it comes to killer kiddie flicks, I'm a cheap date. I guess that's why I'm still glad I had a chance to check out Bloody Birthday, even though the movie's pretty lousy, and not in that so-bad-it's-good flavor either. It's an otherwise decent package, at least if you can stomach the lackluster audio, but Bloody Birthday just isn't competent enough to warrant much more than a couple of clicks on Netflix. Rent It.
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