In Meadowvale, California, on June 9, 1970, three children are born during the totality of a solar eclipse. As a result, these kids – Debbie, Curtis, and Steven – will become sociopaths. That, at least, is the premise of Bloody Birthday (1981), from writer/director Ed Hunt (Plague, Starship Invasions). There was not actually a solar eclipse on June 9, 1970. The one which crossed North America that year was on March 7, and the line of totality came nowhere near California, but never mind: this is the kind of film where an eclipse is accompanied by an ominous storm and the birth of sinister children. Later in the film, Final Girl Joyce Russel (Lori Lethin, Return to Horror High) will be studying the astrological chart of the now 10-year-old Debbie and make the observation: “Because there was an eclipse the day she was born, the Sun and the Moon were blocking Saturn. There should be something missing from her personality…because Saturn controls your emotions and the way that you treat people.” Honestly, if I were living in fictional Meadowvale, I would be more concerned about what astrological occurrence was affecting the local teenagers to make them think that having sex in open graves is a great idea. While two naked teens are doing just that (having never seen The Iron Rose, I presume), someone comes along and beats the boy with a shovel and strangles the girl with a jump rope. The culprits are made known to us very quickly: Debbie Brody (Elizabeth Hoy, X-Ray), Curtis Taylor (Billy Jayne, Cujo), and Steven Seton (Andrew Freeman, Beyond Witch Mountain), the three solar eclipse kids who will soon be celebrating their tenth birthday.
Bloody Birthday is a slasher film, but one that belongs in the sub-category of killer children. Hunt’s film falls on the exploitation end of the spectrum: it has more in common with Devil Times Five (1974), Who Can Kill a Child? (1976), and The Children (1980) than classic antecedents like The Bad Seed (1956) and Village of the Damned (1960). Despite the presence of children, sex and violence are abundant. Debbie charges for the pleasure of peeping at her older sister Beverly while she undresses in her bedroom. (The peephole, located in the back of Beverly’s closet, is about the size of a fist, and yet she’s never noticed it before.) Beverly is played by comedienne Julie Brown, who would soon become a well-known 80’s personality thanks to her novelty songs (like “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”) and a role in the campy musical Earth Girls are Easy (1988). In this film she plays a very easy Earth Girl, which means she isn’t destined to live for very long – as Debbie practices her archery skills through the peephole.
Debbie’s and Beverly’s father (Bert Kramer) is the town sheriff, introduced walking into an elementary school classroom and asking, “Does anyone know what the word ‘murder’ means?” He wants the kids to identify the torn jump rope found by the first victims’ bodies. The schoolteacher is named Miss Viola Davis (indeed) and is played by Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear, Psych-Out), who will soon be killed by little bespectacled psychopath Curtis; his preferred weapon is a gun. The murders stack up fast in the run-up to their birthday. Sheriff Brody is taken out with a baseball bat after he casually walks past a strategically-placed skateboard on the stairs. Timmy (K.C. Martel), younger brother of Joyce, is locked inside a refrigerator in a junkyard, but he manages to escape. His sister Joyce is pursued through the junkyard by a sedan operated by Curtis and Steven – one has a blanket wrapped around his head while he steers; the other is on the floor working the pedals. At the birthday party, one of the little killers tricks Joyce into thinking he’s put ant poison in the birthday cake, and her subsequent cries of alarm turn the locals against her. It all comes to a head on one fateful babysitting job for Debbie, whom Joyce still thinks is a little angel. Director Hunt (who co-wrote with Barry Pearson) does an adequate job of balancing the slasher elements with the paranoia of pint-sized murderers in our midst. As the end approaches, you may be wondering if the three evil spawn-of-the-eclipse will suffer the grisly fate they deserve, but Hunt pulls the final punch; this movie isn’t that sleazy. Which only means that it retains an amiable goofiness throughout.