On this installment of Terror Tots – the series in which we take a look at some of filmdom’s most obscure and disturbing killer kids – we’re opening the case for Ed Hunt’s 1981 shocker Bloody Birthday.
In 1970, three children are simultaneously born to different mothers, under the ominous shade of a solar eclipse. Fast forward 10 years later, and these three children – Debbie, Curtis and Stephen – are a trio of apparent best friends, all living within the small town of Meadowvale.
The strange astrological effects of their birth under the eclipse – later surmised to have been such that it blocked the influence of Jupiter on their personalities, thus rendering them without compassion – have ensured that the three of them are a mini whirlwind of death, and with their synchronised birthday arriving, they’re determined to have all the fun they can in offing the locals.
Director Hunt starts his film on a particularly generic note, with an amorous young couple being murdered by unseen assailants in the local cemetery. The next day, community Sheriff James Brody visits the elementary school to question the children as to whether any of them witnessed the atrocity – something he suspects may have happened given that a child’s skipping rope handle was found at the scene. Things take an unexpected turn when the sheriff is summarily set up by his young daughter, Debbie, to fall foul of a dangerously placed skateboard on the steps of their home. When he manages to avoid this particular death trap, the kids are forced to take an alternate approach and Stephen bashes the sheriff to death with a baseball bat instead.
Killing off the sheriff as the first major victim is a smart move by Hunt and co-writer Barry Pearson, as it sets an early sense of danger which permeates the entire film. With local boy Timmy being the only younger witness to the rampaging tots’ atrocities, we have a generation-spanning barrel of fish for the homicidal youngsters to take their shots at – and you just never know who’s going to bite it next. As parents, school teachers and teenagers are killed all around them, it comes down to Timmy and his sister Joyce to bring an end to the children’s savage reign. But can they do it? You’ll have to watch it to find out.
Bloody Birthday is quite an effective thriller, propelling itself along at a good pace and sporting the kind of devilishly mischievous performances from its lead killers that many films of its ilk can only dream of. Top of the ‘creep’ scale here is Billy Jacoby (Billy Jayne) as the bespectacled Curtis – the most outwardly sadistic of the antagonistic trio; Whether he’s paying Debbie an admission fee to unknowingly watch her sister, Beverly, get naked through a hidden peephole, creeping around in the bushes with a loaded gun, or openly taunting a desperate Joyce in front of a party full of disbelieving neighbourhood adults he is grade-A psycho material – and seems to be loving every minute that he spends playing the part.
Director Hunt also keeps the tension running pretty high throughout the film, with most of the murders taking place in broad daylight, on the lawns and within the houses of this idyllic town. It feels like the kids are only ever a few moments away from being caught in the act – something which, when coupled with the hazardous air that surrounds every character, keeps the notion that a worse fate awaits whoever may discover them a very consistent thread. Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s always there to ensure that you’re rapt, held in constant expectation of the worst.
Fittingly, with such a focus on tension, Bloody Birthday refuses to join much of its emerging slasher brethren in wallowing in extreme violence and gory spectacle. Even though one or two kills may be quite brutal and bloody, Hunt rarely tries to make a point of parading the effects work – and it works to his favour, keeping Bloody Birthday from being just another excuseless 1980s gore fest.
It is, of course, occasionally laden with the cheese of the era and holds few surprises for modern audiences, but if you haven’t yet seen Bloody Birthday it’s still well worth a look – even if the ending is much of a damp squib. In their current quest to revive as many forgotten cult classics as possible, 88 Films have actually released Bloody Birthday on Blu-ray in the UK – so there’s no better time to pick it up than now.