Bloody Birthday (1981)

The market may be susceptible to a wobble from time to time in these pretty desperate days of continued austerity, but the consistency of some independent UK film companies continuing to release high grade lushly produced DVDs and blu-ray is cause for rampant celebration. With Masters of Cinema, Second Sight and Arrow firmly established as ‘boutique labels’ – could this moniker be applying itself to 88 Films sometime soon? From their Full Moon distributing beginning (which is still their core) they’re gradually developing their catalogue to incorporate some genuinely high-grade releases, be it with films like Two Moon Junction or their forthcoming acquisitions of Graduation Day and Eskimo Nell.

Their latest release is Bloody Birthday which makes its UK blu-ray debut having previously been available on VHS through Vipco as well as DVD through Anchor Bay. With many of this wave of classic titles getting the special edition treatment it’s a real pleasure to revisit them in high definition. For Bloody Birthday however this is the first time I’ve seen this film, a shocking statistic I’ve been happy to correct prior to writing this. As Calum Waddell remarks in his viewing notes the film did seem to fall into obscurity following its UK release as audiences were being weaned away from the slasher genre, so what a treat this is to have the opportunity to give it the plaudits it deserves.

The premise for the movie is a simple one which features a trio of babies being simultaneously born in the wake of a full solar eclipse, ten years later this triumvirate turn evil and begin a killing spree in their home town. Films that use juvenile murderers have always had a special place in my heart, be it classic films such as Village of the Damned (1960) and Devil Times Five (1974), or contemporary pictures such as the French thriller Ils (2006) and the effective British chiller The Children (2008). Bloody Birthday undoubtedly earns its place amongst these classics.

While Jose Ferrer and Susan Strasberg both have relatively small roles in the film, their appearance certainly provides some gravitas to the feature, not that its needed it though as the three children here – Lethin (the standout), Hoy and Freeman – all perform fantastically well with menacing stares and knowing glances supplied with aplomb. All of the murders in the film have a truly sinister edge (as opposed to exploitative) thanks in part to the use of POV and also the gratuitous nature of the killings not being shown. This of course heightens the severity of the crime as it gives the viewers’ imagination scope for interpretation – a classic ploy which has been lost in much contemporary horror.

Watching Bloody Birthday for the first time in 2014, the film instantly forces its way into the pantheon of early 80s horror alongside such perennials as The Prowler, The Burning and Happy Birthday to Me (all 1981). It’s shot with great surety by Ed Hunt who sadly didn’t go on to enjoy the career that this feature would suggest (after a 26 year break though he is in post on an Eric Roberts horror – I’m reneging on using the word ‘comeback’), and with a DP that went on to film The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) and Friday 13th: A New Beginning (1985) it looks like Stephen Posey found his vocation in the world of the macabre.

88 Films have provided us with an outstanding edition of this film. Along with a suitably aged yet crisp picture, it retains its low budget origins but manages solid levels of colour and depth. The Ed Hunt interview is ported over from a previous edition of the film, though if you haven’t heard it it’s genuinely of interest, while the ‘Don’t Eat That Cake’ feature with Lori Lethin also makes its way from a past release. There’s a brief but well produced featurette from Severin called ‘A Brief History of Slasher Movies’ which looks at the genres origins before taking in a brief timeline up until Bloody Birthday. As alluded to at the start of the review, Calum Waddell once again provides viewing notes which provide us with the relevant context to Bloody Birthday’s place within the horror genre. Calum pops up again in the commentary in which he moderates the thoughts of Teenage Wasteland author Justin Kerswell. They analyse Bloody Birthday in a post-Halloween world as well as deliberating graveyard shenanigans and dated hairstyles amongst a variety of pertinent discussions.

This blu-ray edition of Bloody Birthday is a fantastic upgrade on any version you may already have of this overlooked slasher movie. Or in my case, it’s a worthy introduction to a movie that has somehow eluded me despite my relentless horror obsession. I think this is 88 Films most accomplished release to date, and having glimpsed at their future titles it will soon be joined by similarly deftly produced editions of films deserving of such attention.

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