Though director Ed Hunt worked almost exclusively in Canada, he briefly returned to his hometown of Los Angeles to shoot Bloody Birthday (1981), one of the eccentric director’s most remarkable films. Written by Barry Pearson, who previously penned Plague (1978), Hunt’s French-Canadian rip-off of The Andromeda Strain, Bloody Birthday is an effective genre entry that ups the slasher ante by featuring three depraved killers. Even more interesting, these unstoppable death dealers are each only 10 years old–an entire garden of bad seeds!
Hunt’s film doesn’t exactly skimp on the blood and gore, but it’s far more unsettling in its depiction of pre-teen terrors Curtis (Billy Jacoby) Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy) and Steven (Andy Freeman), an inseparable trio that lack emotion and empathy (for some astrological reason involving a solar eclipse). Hunt gets down to business quickly, amplifying the dangers of carefree childhood activities like Hide ‘n’ Go Seek and climbing treehouses when played with pint-sized sadists, but soon takes the suspense to another level when he shows the kids’ cold-blooded cooperation to easily accomplish “adult” tasks like driving cars, shooting guns and meticulously planning homicides.
There’s no shortage of disturbing scenes in Bloody Birthday–Debbie readying a bow and arrow through a peephole in her sister’s closet, Curtis blowing away frisky teens with a handgun–but none sums up the sinister tone of the movie quite as well as Timmy (K.C. Martel) being chased down and attacked by the villainous killer youths.
What I love about this sequence is how many different notes Hunt hits. The rock throwing and chase start innocent enough–typical kid hijinks–but once Timmy is caught, the game takes a perverse twist. Curtis and Steven try to choke Timmy with a garden hose, one of the film’s most disturbing depictions of kid-on-kid violence, while Debbie looks on, her eyes twinkling with malice. When Timmy’s sister Joyce (Lori Lethen) appears, Debbie quickly changes her tune but Curtis is more confidently defiant and callous than ever, insisting that Joyce and his brother will never escape his wrath. And yet, in the midst of all this brutality, Hunt draws Joyce to the action with a shot of the sprinkler being slowly pulled along the grass, a simple visual that adds a strangely poetic touch.
Of course, “poetic” isn’t a word that often comes up when discussing Hunt’s work, from his stark early sexploitation films and frenetic UFO exposés through to The Brain (1988), a camp sci-fi outing about giant, sentient grey matter with a taste for humans. Like those films, Bloody Birthday is often blunt, shattering taboos by using children as both the victims and perpetrators of deadly violence. But, in contrast to Hunt’s earlier work, these themes still resonate today, making Bloody Birthday a gift-wrapped surprise for slasher fanatics and horror buffs alike.
Paul Corupe is the creator of Canuxploitation.com, the definitive online guide to Canadian B-film.