I've largely stopped upgrading my movies to new formats over the years, thanks to having less time to watch movies a first time let alone a second. I just can't justify rebuying movies I might never get around to watching again, especially when I can't usually get more than a nickel from selling the DVD back to a used store. They can keep their nickel, I'll keep my 20-30 bucks for a new Blu-ray, and if I ever find the time/drive to watch Silent Hill again, I'll just deal with the standard definition image I guess. I make exceptions of course: I'm happy to keep weeding those few remaining non-anamorphic (The Abyss!) and snapper case DVDs out of my sight, and if there's a shelf space-saving Blu-ray boxed set that can replace my collection of single disc DVDs it will be hard to pass up if/when it went on sale.
But I can also be enticed by intriguing new bonus features, and thus Arrow's new release of Bloody Birthday caught my eye, because it had a new commentary by director Ed Hunt, something he neglected to offer on the previous releases. Indeed, as I pointed out in a previous column on the film, the DVD that has served me just fine over the years had a whopping 50-minute interview with the filmmaker - and yet he barely spoke about the film at all! It was kind of a full career chat, and he seemed far more interested in some of his other films like Starship Invasions than his gloriously trashy killer kid flick, which left me disappointed to say the least. So as much as I wanted to finally hear his thoughts about the film (which he wrote with frequent collaborator Barry Pearson), I was perhaps more interested to hear if he'd explain why he hadn't had much to say about it in the past.
Turns out he had a pretty good reason: he never actually saw the finished film until a few days prior to the recording of the commentary! As he explains to Steve Barton, who moderates the track, the producer of the film locked him out of the editing room during post production, which understandably soured him on the experience, and since it's a relatively obscure film (i.e. not one that plays revival houses or on TV all that often) it's not like he'd just stumble on it and watch out of curiosity. No, he'd have to make some real effort to finally see what he'd been missing, and I can't blame him for not wanting to do that after working on something for months of his life only to have it taken away when it was so close to completion. But I guess 35+ years was enough time for those wounds to heal, and thankfully he agreed to finally give the film a look and talk in depth about it. It could have been disastrous (for him - entertaining for us!) but luckily he admits that he's actually pretty happy with how the movie turned out, all things considered.
It's just amusing to me to think that he is watching the film for the first time now, when something like this would probably never get made again (at least, not with recognizable actors and a theatrical release). If you're a fan of cruder body count '80s fare like Silent Night Deadly Night or Friday the 13th Part V, this will be up your alley in general - but with the caveat that it's a few children carrying out the murders as opposed to a guy in a mask. As the real world gets more and more fucked up, it can be pretty disturbing to watch children murdering people for our entertainment, especially with guns as they often do in this (the most outwardly menacing of the group, Curtis, favors a revolver that can apparently fire up to 13 shots before running out). I'm fine with action movie shootouts; Bruce Willis blowing away some bad guys isn't going to upset me anytime soon, but gun violence played for scares/disturbing moments as it is here gets harder and harder for me to swallow as mass shootings become more commonplace. I don't worry about things like Jason Voorhees in the real world - it's the idea of running into someone like Curtis that has me feeling paranoid on all too frequent occasions.
Of course this was my first time watching the movie since I had my own kid, so I was probably more sensitive to such threats. Thankfully, the Bloody Birthday brats don't kill anyone their own age - their victims are horny teens and meddling adults, so I wasn't (ugh, forgive the unintentional pun) triggered too badly by the kill scenes. They do have one target in their peer group, Timmy (played by KC Martel, best known as Greg from E.T.), but outside of a pretty tense bit around the midway point where they trap him in an old fridge, he manages to evade their occasional attempts to do him harm - and they only really go after him because he's caught on to their murderous ways. There's a great sequence where Curtis seemingly poisons the cake at his birthday party, where he could have racked up a pretty sizable body count of adults and children alike, but he's smarter than that - he only wants someone to THINK he's poisoned the cake, so that she'll look like a nut when it turns out that the cake is fine.
However, such mind games are the exception, not the rule. Their body count is I think eight, which is higher than most other killer kid fare (though I suppose with three killers there's bound to be an increase), and unlike The Bad Seed or The Pit, which left many of the twisted tykes' misdeeds to our imaginations, the murders are all onscreen. And the film ends with a sequel setup (!), unlike the kids in those aforementioned entries, who are offed (Bad Seed's Rhoda is struck by lightning; Jamie gets shoved into the eponymous pit), which adds to the film's unsettling nature. So I hope it doesn't attract the attention of the folks that want to ban everything that doesn't conform to today's standards, because it'd be a pretty easy target for them, with the lack of comeuppance being the final straw. To be fair, I get where they are coming from in some ways, but my view on these things is that we need to preserve them (and yes, revisit them when possible) to appreciate how far we've come, not try to hide them away. And that change in attitude isn't limited to the violence - the movie has some exploitative nudity as well (including a nude dance from Julie Brown), which is a dying tradition in this kind of flick; back in the old days, a body count flick without some bare breasts would stick out (and may even get scorned), but nowadays it's barely noticeable - if you walked out of Hell Fest or the new Halloween whining about the lack of nudity, you're in a very small minority.
The decline in pointless nudity is actually pointed out on the fan commentary by the guys from the Hysteria Continues podcast, and got me thinking that perhaps it'd be a good time for one of these releases to have a bonus feature that actually goes in depth about how the attitudes toward sex and violence in these things have changed over the past 30-40 years, preferably from a producer who has adapted to the times without protest. This is a movie that almost certainly wouldn't get made today - it would have been interesting to hear Hunt or anyone else involved with its production reflect on that, or what they'd do differently. Alas, the other bonus features barely even mention the film, let alone how it might look to someone watching it for the first time today; there's an interview with a filmmaker named Ken Gord who worked with Ed Hunt on a few projects, but Bloody Birthday was not one of them, so the film doesn't really come up at all. And there's an interview with Max Rosenberg, the producer that Hunt fought with, but it's at least 15 years old (Rosenberg died in 2004) so obviously it doesn't have any timely observations.
Still, the interview is quite fitting for the film itself, as you're not likely to see anything like it ever again either (Rosenberg calls Hunt "a fucking nut" and "incredibly stupid" in the first 30 seconds of the piece, and also jokes about his attraction to the actresses). I'd love to be a fly on the wall of an office in 2018 where someone pitches a film about a trio of ten year olds who beat and shoot people to death, just to see the looks on the faces of shocked executives who are probably younger than me and unaware that that sort of thing used to be fair game. Some may say it's a good thing we've moved past the era where movies like this were relatively plentiful, and I'm not here to argue with them - I just want to say thanks to companies like Arrow for not only keeping them around, but giving me a good reason to carve out the time to revisit them. At a time where people demand old Christmas songs be taken off the radio because they don't understand the lyrics, it's comforting to know not everyone wants to pretend our misguided past never existed at all.