Blame The Bad Seed (1956) for every murderous moppet that has skipped across the screen in subsequent years. Village of the Damned, The Omen, The Good Son, The Children, and many more have explored the taboo of killer kiddies. One of the oddest of the bunch is Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday (1981), a ridiculously fun turn with not just one, but three mini-Mansons on hand to clean up the schoolyard.

Well, that’s a bit of a misnomer, as our rascally trio tends to focus on grown ups, what with their stupid rules against homicide and premature burial. (Don’t worry – one of the protagonists is a classmate who is put in mortal danger. All’s fair.) Bloody Birthday was rolled out twice; first in limited release in April of ’81, and then in ’86 (also limited release). The film made its money back but didn’t earn any good grace from critics; I’m sure this has more to do with the dubious premise than any shortcomings the filmmakers may have possessed (and granted, there are a few). Regardless of critical or box office reception, Bloody Birthday is unique enough to justify its place on the toy shelf of B movie curiosities.

It’s 1970, and a doctor (Jose Ferrer – The Swarm) rushes to hospital to deliver three babies born at the same time during a total eclipse. Jump forward ten years, and we see a young couple making out inside an open grave (as is their wont). Before you can say “olly olly oxen free!” the fella eats a faceful of shovel and the young miss is strangled with a jump rope. Cut to the next day, and Sheriff Brody (Bert Kramer – Volcano) speaks with a classroom of students about the murders, including his daughter Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy – X-Ray), Curtis (Billy Jacoby – Cujo), and Steven (Andrew Freeman – Beyond Witch Mountain) – our three eclipse babies, and yes, the murderers. (This isn’t hard to ascertain as the three opt for full on ‘menacing grin’ mode.)

As the titular, triple birthday celebration approaches and adults are dropping fast, classmate Timmy (K.C. Martel – The Amityville Horror) and his older sister Joyce (Lori Lethin – Return to Horror High) discover that all is not right with the mischievous trio and try to stop their reign of terror. But who will believe that these angelic cherubs are capable of such evil? And if caught, will they lose their allowances?

A suspension of belief is very necessary when dealing with killer kid flicks; physical feats that require an adult’s strength and stamina are frequently trotted out (I’ll give Damien Thorne a pass; he does have some serious connections), and that also applies to reasoning – the way these three cover their tracks would make Columbo proud. You really have to buy into the premise for this to work; yes, 10 year old Curtis shoots a gun like he’s auditioning for Dirty Harry (look ma, no kickback!) and Debbie is quite adept with a bow and arrow. This and several other discrepancies will either have you rolling your eyes or rolling along with the shenanigans. I choose the latter, and so does co-writer/director Ed Hunt (The Brain); never winking at the audience, he tells the story straight faced, fast paced, and without apology. These kids are sociopaths, plain and simple.

Don’t expect any armchair analysis however; their psychoses are due to Saturn being blocked during the eclipse, and anyone who follows astronomy (and probably wears a mood ring) knows that Saturn governs emotion – no Saturn equals no feelings equals no mercy. Ludicrous, sure, but right in line with pop culture of the time, and it’s nice to see a slight supernatural twist on a slash n’ gash from the era.

As for the kills, they are only set apart by virtue of the perpetrators. It would all seem very boring if carried out by grownups; but when you have stabbings, shootings, archery practice and vehicular manslaughter acted out by pre adolescent children, it gives the film a lurid fascination not unlike watching a 5th grade play of Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. (Okay not that icky, but you get the idea.)

The cast sure does sell it. And while Ferrer obviously owed uncredited executive producer Max Rosenberg (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror) a favor to show up for five minutes, Susan Strasberg (The Manitou) is good but underutilized as the kids’ teacher Miss Davis. Julie Brown (Earth Girls are Easy) leaves an impression or two in an early performance as Debbie’s older sister, and Joe Penny (TV’s Jake and the Fatman – spoiler; he was Jake) even makes an appearance. But it’s all about the kids; Lethin and Martel make an appealing brother sister combo, and it’s refreshing to see siblings on film that actually get along. Freeman isn’t particularly effective (he isn’t really given as much to do), but Hoy and Jacoby work hard to give Debbie and Curtis the appropriately creepy edge, and it pays off. Are we convinced they’re sociopaths? Nah, but I think that has more to do with the premise than their acting abilities.

In an interview Rosenberg said that director Hunt was not only crazy, but stupid too. I can’t confirm either statement, but I will say that Hunt believes in this material; and while the visual palette is quite flat, I admire his conviction and dedication to the B aesthetic. In amongst the nods to other, superior flicks (Village of the Damned, Halloween and Friday the 13th, take a bow), he’s carved out his own little piece of anklebiter pie. Bloody Birthday is by no means perfect, but there are a helluva lot worse parties you could attend. Just make sure you bring a present. Or three.

Bloody Birthday is available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.

Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972)
  • Scott Drebit
    About the Author - Scott Drebit

    Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.