Color, 1981, 84 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Ed Hunt
Starring Elizabeth Hoy, Andy Freeman, Lori Lethin, Billy Jayne, Michael Dudikoff, Julie Brown, Joe Penny, Erica Hope, K.C Martel, Susan Strasberg, Jose Ferrer
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA HD),Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), VCI (US R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Bloody BirthdayThe killer kid subgenre has proven surprisingly durable over the years, even avoiding the parental outcry that's often revolved around many slasher and gore films. Bloody BirthdayFrom the early days of The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned to the subgenre's drive-in glory days with The Omen and the riotously un-PC Devil Times Five, Who Can Kill a Child?, The Children, and Beware Children at Play, finally leading to slick modern incarnations like Wicked Little Things, Orphan (sort of) and the British The Children (no relation). Sandwiched somewhere in there at the dawn of the slasher craze is 1981's Bloody Birthday, a surprisingly durable entry featuring a trio of terrible tots and an utterly bizarre cast of up and comers and faded marquee names.

In the quiet town of Meadowvale, California, three children are born simultaneously during a rare solar eclipse. A decade later, something in them snaps as the three kids -- Debbie, Steve, and Curtis (Hoy, Freeman, and Jacoby) -- begin a murderous crusade through the local population-- starting by bumping off a horny couple in an open grave. Meanwhile teenager Joyce (The Prey's Lethin), an astrology buff, starts to figure out how the culprits are making their crimes look like accidents; perhaps the sickest of the bunch is cheerful Debbie (Hoy), who likes to spy on her frisky older sister (Brown) making out with her boyfriend (a pre-American Ninja Dudikoff) and toting around a dangerous-looking bow and arrow.

Featuring a surprisingly accomplished Bloody Birthdaycast and a more solid plot than usual for a low-budget horror outing, Bloody Birthday has deservedly amassed a modest but dedicated cult following over the years thanks to home video. Lethin really carries much of the film as the plucky heroine, but the whole endeavor is loading with fun for celeb spotters including Jose Ferrer at the beginning as the fateful delivery doctor, Susan Strasberg as a teacher, a very young Joe Penny (just before hopping over to TV's Riptide and then Jake and the Fatman) and even younger Dudikoff, and most notably, a darker-haired Julie Brown (no relation to the MTV VJ) before she went on to '80s pop music immortality with "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" and memorable turns in Earth Girls Are Easy and Clueless. This film has also been a significant Mr. Skin favorite thanks to Brown's prolonged nude Bloody Birthdayscene early in the film, which is still a classic of its kind and gleefully gratuitous... much like the entire film itself. The dynamic between the three pint-sized psychos remains its most unsettling element, with Debbie as the manipulative overseer in what amounts to a juvenile version of The Night Train Murders, believe it or not.

Bloody Birthday first hit DVD in a gritty-looking but anamorphic DVD from VCI containing a video interview with late, uncredited executive producer Max Rosenberg (17m26s), who handled several Amicus titles. Conducted at his home with Dennis Bartok, it's a great little snapshot of the legendary filmmaker looking back at his work. However, the 2011 Severin release on DVD and its subsequent, almost identically appointed Blu-ray edition in 2014 turned out to be much more impressive on every front with a fresh HD transfer from the original negative, featuring considerable amounts of detail invisible on the earlier disc as well as more natural, vivid color. It's still limited by the nature of the original production and definitely brighter, which may alter the atmosphere for some of the film's fans, but it's a respectful treatment the film has long needed like much of its better-known '80s horror brethren. The Blu-ray in particular looks very crisp, and if you dial down the black levels on your TV a few notches, it looks great. The shrieking music score also sounds a lot better, as does the dialogue, on the remastered mono track, presented in DTS-HD on the Blu-ray. Lethin contributes the biggest video extra with a 10-minute interview called "Don't Eat That Cake" in which the now-blonde future star of Bloody BirthdayReturn to Horror High talks about working with some very memorable co-stars and doing some wild stunt mayhem, especially the rousing climax which finds some unusual household fixtures being used against the homicidal minors. Though no one would ever call him much of a cinematic stylist with this film or his other efforts like the memorably trashy Diary of a Sinner, director Ed Hunt has enough of a Bloody Birthdaysignificant weird cinema career to justify the nearly one-hour audio phone interview included here, which covers how he got the assignment and wrangled some unlikely talent together for his cult opus. The 15-minute "A Brief History of the Slasher Films" featurette from Severin's Nightmares release is also carried over, along with a rough-looking theatrical trailer (hidden on the DVD, not so much on the Blu-ray) and bonus promos for Severin's Horror Express, Bloody Moon, and The Baby. The Blu-ray also tacks on an additional (sort of hidden) bonus trailer for the film (in equally lo-fi condition) and an extra one for Nightmares to boot. Rather than the expected slasher film, this is a primo guilty pleasure among the roster of killer kid movies and a great party movie for all you '80s horror nuts. That same year, the same edition was basically ported over by 88 Films for a U.K. Blu-ray with one addition, a new audio commentary by Justin Kerswell of The Hysteria Continues (more on that below).

A mere four years later, Bloody Birthday reared its head again on Blu-ray with a new special edition from Arrow Video in the U.S. with a transfer touted as a "brand new 2K restoration from original film elements." Whatever the source may be, it looks quite different at times with day for night color timing applied to several nocturnal sequences that played out as bright and yellow-ish on the Severin release. (See comparison grabs below; images in the body of this review are from the Arrow.) More image info is also visible, and the film still retains its gritty, low-budget aesthetic throughout. Fans should be more than happy with the results. The English LPCM mono audio is also perfectly fine for what it is, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. Almost none of the extras from the prior Blu-ray have been carried over here; you do get that ratty-looking video promo again, while the theatrical trailer is presented here in a vastly superior new HD transfer. The Rosenberg interview from the VCI disc pops up again here as well. The new "Bloody Babysitter" (8m13s) is a different, new Lethin interview covering her own stunt performances, the limited budget, and her various wandering through the wilds of low-budget '80s horror. Bloody BirthdayChris Alexander's "Bad Seeds and Body Counts" (19m58s) is a lengthy discussion of the enduring appeal of killer kid movies from The Bad Seed onward as well as a look at the slasher elements in this film (a la the opening of Halloween) and the inherent parental anxieties exploited in films like this. In "Starships and Killer Brains" (21m15s) producer Ken Gord recalls working with Hunt after encountering him via the Toronto softcore cheapie Pleasure Palace (a.k.a. Corrupted) and embarking on oddities like Starship Invasions and Diary of a Sinner when the industry was almost nonexistent. The film itself Bloody Birthdaycan be played with a pair of new audio commentaries, starting off with a new one featuring Hunt and Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton. Hunt's supposed lack of fondness for the film over the years due to its gun for hire status seems to have mellowed over the years, and though it's low key throughout, there's some good material here including details about the necessity for hand-held camerawork (a Steadicam was out of the question) and a discussion of how they juggled the demands on the child actors while fulfilling the needs of their schooling with a social worker on site throughout. He even reveals that they nearly had a young James Horner do the score for the film, but alas he was a little out of their price range even at the time. However, the best comes near the end when he really opens up about his negative experiences with Rosenberg, the one obstacle he encountered on the film and the primary reason he had a poor perception of the film (which he never watched in full until just before recorded the track). The second audio commentary with the gang from The Hysteria Continues is good fun as always as they talk about being friends with Lethin, the backgrounds of the kids, the story behind the rest of the cast (with a little flub about Brown), the history of real child killers versus cinematic ones, the early intention to shoot this as Happy Birthday with Ray Milland, and its extensive history including many different retitlings and video editions over the years. As usual, you get reversible sleeve options including a new design by Timothy Pittides. 

ARROW (Blu-ray)

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SEVERIN (Blu-ray)

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Updated review on December 7, 2018.