Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Census Bloodbath: Have You Checked The Children?

Not content with one birthday-centric 1981 slasher, in celebration of my nineteenth trip around the sun my sister and I hunkered down to watch this forgotten gem.

Year: 1981
Director: Ed Hunt
Cast: Lori Lethin, K. C. Martel, Elizabeth Hoy
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Bloody Birthday opens in Meadowvale, CA on June 9, 1970 as three children are born under a solar eclipse. A suitably obsessed fan might fact check that date on an astrological calendar, but I am not that person. Anybody with that degree of interest in the science of this film better leave now, because you might not have the stomach for what happens next.

Evidently, the eclipse blocked Saturn, misaligning the planets and causing the three children, Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy, who was also in Hospital Massacre, another future Census Bloodbath subject), Steven (Andrew Freeman), and Curtis (Billy Jayne of Superstition and the legendary The Beastmaster) to be born without consciences.

Cut to ten years later and the first (and shortest) of the film's three topless sequences as Duke (Ben Marley) and Annie (Erica Hope of the same year's Graduation Day) get it on in a cemetery, as teens tend to do, before being hit with a shovel and strangled with a jump rope. This scene exemplifies the entirety of the film - it is sleazy but bloodless, the cinematography is shaky, dark, and as grainy as an Iowa highway, and the sound feels like it was recorded with a potato. It is also tremendously comforting because we know we are being cradled in the arms of yet another banal 80's slasher. Just let it wash over you.

Oh, and the kids killed them. Did I need to tell you that?

Basically, the kids kill anybody who crosses them, like Debbie's overbearing father (Bert Kramer), her nosy sister Beverly (Julie Brown! The performer of my favorite 80's parody song "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"), or their stern teacher, Miss Viola Davis (Susan Strasberg of Sweet 16). That's actually her name. It's great. Also they kill anybody who happens to have sex because this is a slasher movie, after all.

This, among practically everything else, is something the movie very obviously borrows from Halloween. Our resident final girl, Joyce (Lori Lethin, also of The Prey and Return to Horror High) is dressed to a T like Laurie Strode and she's channeling Jamie Lee Curtis so hard I can taste the Activia. Her little brother Timmy (K. C. Martel) is a clear analogue for babysitee Tommy Doyle, her best friend Beverly, much like Annie Brackett, is the sheriff's daughter, and one of the killers even dresses up like a bedsheet ghost. The best part? Look back up at the killers' names. Curtis. They freaking named him Curtis.

Everything a John Carpenter fan could want, except his unstoppable adult killer is replaced by three ten-year-olds.

Ay, there's the rub. Try as you might, it is next to impossible to make small children a credible threat to people twice their size. These tykes are closer to Harry, Ron, and Hermione than Leatherface. They're not supernatural, and their bizarre birth did not bestow them with powers beyond sociopathy. These kids are pure evil, yes, but they're just kids. Yes, Hoy's performance as a cold and calculating little girl is easily the best in the movie and it creeps the heck out of me, but the bottom line is I could knock her down with a Wiffle bat.

That is certainly the most prevalent of Bloody Birthday's flaws, which are un/fortunately numerous. The editing is surreal, with Timmy especially teleporting from place to place in the blink of an eye and at one point, in the middle of a conversation with his sister, somehow also playing catch with an unnamed little girl across town. Seriously, they cross cut between two scenes both featuring him, it was like the cinematic equivalent of a funhouse mirror.

Also thrown into the blender were random ten second scenes that had absolutely zero impact on the plot, like Joyce making plans to meet with a teacher to work on a project or Curtis playing a game with his grandfather. Multiple scenes are repeated as well. How many times do we need to see Debbie turning off the alarm system to let her cohorts in?

When clearly the audience was looking for more of this.

And therein lies the final, fatal problem. When all is said and done, save one stellar makeup effect, this movie simply doesn't have any gore to its name. Three people are shot (Shot! In a slasher movie!) bloodlessly, a few more are strangled or bludgeoned, and it's all pretty resolutely unexciting, in spite of the background scores desperate insistence on reminding us of anything else. Indiana Jones, Friday the 13th, and even Jaws can't escape the clutches of this composer.

All in all, Bloody Birthday isn't bad-good enough to be a B-movie romp and it's not good-good enough to justify its existence. It just kind of exists. That said, it was a slasher movie in 1981 so its biggest value is in nostalgia.

My favorite part of the film was when Lauren asked "Do people just not wear bras in this movie?" Oh honey. You have so much left to learn.

Killer: Debbie Brody (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis Taylor (Billy Jayne), and Steven Seton (Andrew Freeman)
Final Girl: Joyce Russel (Lori Lethin)
Best Kill: Bev gets an arrow in the eye through the secret peephole in her room (that is approximately the size of a CD). This is the only/the best gore shot in the film.
Sign of the Times: This

Scariest Moment: Little Debbie's blank, emotionless lizard face.
Weirdest Moment: A couple climbs into an open grave to make out.
Champion Dialogue: "From now on, I'm gonna do what I wanna do, not plan to do what I wanna do."
Body Count: 8; all perpetrated by one child or another.
  1. Cemetery Boy is hit in the face with a shovel.
  2. Cemetery Girl is strangled with a jump rope. 
  3. Sheriff Brody is beaten to death with a baseball bat.
  4. Ms. Davis is shot in her classroom.
  5. Guy In Van is shot. 
  6. Girl In Van has an entire magazine emptied into her.
  7. Beverly is shot in the eye with an arrow.
  8. Truck Driver is crushed underneath his vehicle. 
TL;DR: Bloody Birthday is reasonably diverting but forgettable overall.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1072

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