The idea of our children going bad is an old fear; the prodigals returning to usurp the parents is a tale that’s been told since at least ancient Greece, and likely for much longer. Horror films, as with all of the other primal shared fears we have, picked up on this almost from the start. The Bad Seed. The Children. Village of the Damned. It’s Alive. Hell, even classics like Frankenstein and The Exorcist deal either thematically or literally with children rebelling against their parents, and by proxy, the adult world.
One of my favorite films to explore this fear is the early eighties flick Bloody Birthday. Not only did it have that deliciously schlocky 1980s horror movie feel, but also some genuinely uncomfortable themes and spooky circumstances; it probably helped that when I saw it the first time, I was about the age of the kids in the movie. However, even with subsequent viewings and a more jaded eye, I still find that I enjoy it.
In 1970, during a solar eclipse, three children (two boys and a girl) are born at virtually the same time. We immediately flash forward ten years, to a few days before the celebration of this trio hitting double-digits. Strange goings on are happening around town; a teenage couple making out in an open grave (yeah, I thought so too) wind up brutally murdered. The local sheriff finds the handle of a jump rope with the bodies, and speaks at the elementary school in the hopes that maybe one of the children might have seen something; to his chagrin, none of them did. People in town begin staying inside; there’s obviously some sicko on the loose, and it’s better to play it safe until the local law can sort it out.
Little do they know, the beast (or beasts, in this case) are among them; the three soon-to-be ten-year-olds were apparently born without consciences (the eclipse was blocking Saturn, you see; that controls emotion, and…ah, to hell with this astrological bullshit; if you want details, see the movie), and they’ve decided to celebrate the decade mark by offing the folks in town that piss them off. Even more frightening than their murderous tendencies is how calculating and manipulative they are; is it absence of conscience, or pure evil that motivates them? Only young Timmy and his older sister begin to suspect the dark natures of the three little brats, but will anyone believe them?
This fun little flick has a lot going for it. The acting is above-par for an early-eighties slasher-type movie (the young kids in the movie do excellent jobs; you find them darkly intelligent, arrogant, and creepy; a pretty big bill to fill for a preteen actor), and although the script makes you take a pretty big bite at the outset, it plays out well and the story’s hokey-ness is overshadowed by the fun you’re having. The direction does a good job of building suspense, and keeps a vibe of wrongness even during the bright daylight. At times, you share in a voyeuristic view as the tainted children escalate from watching the older sister of the evil girl dancing nude in her bedroom (a young Julie Brown, for you MTV enthusiasts) to stalking their neighbors with knives, pistols, bows and arrows, and garrotes. Susan Strasberg and José Ferrer add a little star power in some bit roles, and the movie takes on an overall bigger production feel than the little low-budgeter has any right to have. Sadly, there’s not a lot of gory goodies to be had (there are a couple, but they’re short and sweet), but the film still acquits itself with the pervasive impropriety of its concept.
This one is a guilty pleasure of mine; yeah, the whole astrological thing is a little out there, but no more so (and even less so, in many cases) than a large majority of horror flicks. The combination of the “killer kids” concept and the convincing performances just make this one a good time in front of the screen for me.
Like I say about all horror films, this one won’t make everybody happy; however, if ’80s horror or kids-gone-bad flicks are your bag, you should give this one a watch.