All those “time outs” coming back to haunt you: Bloody Birthday

Two years ago, I did a post about some of my favorite “killer kid” horror films, the only reason 1981’s Bloody Birthday wasn’t on that list is because I hadn’t seen it. In fact, I didn’t even know it was an entry in the esteemed “murderous child” sub-genre. But the fine folks at Severin films have allowed me to set my facts straight. While the label has been courting classier and more high-profile projects as of late(The Stunt Man and Alejandro Jodorwsky’s avant-garde art-cult masterpiece Santa Sangre), their most recent crop of releases aims to explain to viewers that Severin has not gotten out of the cult horror re-release game.

Three children (two boys, one girl), born at the same time, under the same evil astrological convergence, start killing on the eve of their tenth birthday. Classic. The strongest aspect of writer/director Ed Hunt’s Bloody Birthday, is that it quickly dispenses with the pretense that you are watching a proper film. Right away the malevolent tots are offing people, and the film’s breakneck pace only slows during its somewhat anti-climactic final moments. The film follows the prototypical (at the time) slasher formula of, if not upping the ante, at least varying the mode of death for each victim, leaving the viewer in awe of the trio of kids and their resourcefulness.

Where the weighty and European Who Can Kill a Child? exploits its pint-size antagonists for maximum dread value, Bloody Birthday takes the more American (i.e. instant-gratification) route and frontloads the film’s more shocking moments, leaning on the “oh no, the child is pointing a gun at me” effect one too many times, until the result is camp. The final product is far more guilty fun than it should be and, as usual, Severin gives the movie an HD transfer befitting a film 10x its notoriety and merit.

The protagonists never feel truly imperiled, but the gruesome fun of the first two acts (which include the dispatching of not one, but two pairs of young lovers, an 80s slasher staple) make up for the film’s shortcomings.

Rounding out the disc is a lively interview with the film’s final girl Lori Lethin, a lengthy but rambling audio interview with Ed Hunt (interesting, but is also prime background noise for when you’re doing something else) and a “Brief History of Slasher Films” featurette, which is enjoyable but won’t tell you anything new if you’re already an aficionado.

This is a recommended release, I can’t wait to pick up Severin’s other recent discs.


Something’s Wrong With Esther

I had not even heard of Orphan before last week. Well that’s not 100% true: I had seen the poster but I really did not give the film much thought until I saw Roger Ebert’s glowing 3 and a 1/2 star review. I did a bit of Imdb-ing and found out what a strong cast it had: the awesome Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farminga (The Departed) , CCH Pounder (tv’s The Shield). I figured I’d roll the dice.

The film has a very nicely done first half: we are given a sinking feeling in our stomach, dreading the uncomfortable violence about to ensue. Then the film takes a detour to by-the-numbers-Fatal Attraction-rip-off-disposable-crap-ville for the last half hour and we are left feeling gypped. I’m not complaining about the film’s body count (it is incredibly low, though) nor the much talked-about “twist.” I’m talking about the overall feeling that the film switches genre’s in the final act. The audience was watching a flawed-but-tense horror film with moments approaching greatness (particularly the Russian roulette scene, which is down right creepy), and then they have to sit through milquetoast “Hollywood thriller” clichés as Vera Farminga dukes it out with a pint sized Glenn Close for the final moments(complete with pithy one-liners).

It’s like we’re watching two different movies, one of them awesome. The cast performs well and the direction is competent. Everything looks slicker than your average B-picture, and that only adds to the disappointment. The silver lining of me seeing this is that I can point you, loyal reader, towards two “killer kid” movies that you probably missed and are both 10x better than Orphan.

The first is Joshua. If it proves anything it’s that you should NEVER let Vera Farminga near your kids, she’s obviously a bad influence. This movie came out about two years ago and anyone coming to it after Orphan will be in for a serious case of deja-vu: it’s about a young couple whose child is a manipulative and calculated murderer. The similarities don’t end there as the mother is played by none other than VERA FARMINGA(!) this lady appeared in two suspiciously similar killer kid movies a year apart.

All joking aside this movie is what you want to watch if you want a modern “evil kid” movie. It has a slower, deliberate pace that may put off some viewers but strong performances from both Farminga and the great Sam Rockwell along with an absolutely chilling final act make this a must see. It’s a real shame that this movie is so little known, Orphan didn’t exactly clean house at the box office, but it did well. Joshua only played select cities and then was dumped on dvd
. The world we live in, eh?

Our second group of lil’ devils comes from Spain: 1976’s awkwardly-named Who Can Kill a Child? This movie is fantastic, a real hidden classic. When I bring this up in “horror-circles” I am floored by the amount of people who have never even heard of it. If your main gripe with Orphan was that it should have grown a pair, Who Can Kill a Child? will have you eating those words and squirming with discomfort while you do it. Bleak to the nth degree but still very exciting, this film is best described as a zombie movie where the zombies have been replaced with children. To describe it any more would be to spoil it. I don’t know if the Dark Sky disc from a couple years back is still on shelves, but Amazon has it
and it is absolutely worth its weight in gold. The only problem I have with the film is its exploitative use of real archival footage of atrocities perpetrated on children in history. It is sick, pointless and I suspect was only added by the producers to add some faux-emotional weight to the film. Thankfully it is placed before the credits and you can avert your eyes (or, dare I say, press skip on your remote) without missing a thing. But believe me: once the movie-proper starts you will not believe what a gem you’ve been missing.

There you go…three movies. I have to go now, there is work to be done.