Bloody Birthday

Bloody Birthday 1Horror movie makers seem to love to produce movies based around special days. Christmas, Halloween, Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day…they’ve all had horror movies connected with them. Today’s film, takes advantage of that special day we all have…a birthday. Add to that another favorite horror movie device, killer kids, and you get 1981’s “Bloody Birthday.”

Bloody Birthday 2The film actually opens in 1970 where one night, in a small California town, three women are giving birth during a lunar eclipse. Sounds like trouble to me! Fast forward ten years. We spy in on a teenage couple engaging in some heavy petting in one of the few places they can escape spying small town eyes, the local cemetery. Afraid that they might be spotted, though, the couple moves to the most romantic spot they can find…you guessed it, an open grave. These two only get a few gropes into things when they hear strange noises and end up with dirt kicked on them. When the young man sticks his head out to investigate, he’s quickly bashed in the face with a shovel. Then, a child’s jump rope is lowered down and ends up strangling the girl.

The town, of course, is a bit shook up over this. The local sheriff (Bert Kramer)…Sheriff Brody (Hello, Steven Spielberg is on the line), even takes it upon himself to pay a visit to the class of Miss Davis (Susan Strasberg)…Miss VIOLA Davis (whoa coincidence!), to talk to the kids about being careful and to ask if any of them have lost a jump rope. To us in the audience, there are three kids in the class who seem a bit off: the sheriff’s daughter Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), Curtis Taylor (Billy Jayne), and Steven Seaton (Andy Freeman). Yup, the three eclipse kids.

Bloody Birthday 3Later that day, little Debbie has her two creepy pals over to the house. It seems that she has a racket going where she charges the little boys a quarter to spy through the peephole in her closet so they can watch her teenage sister Beverly (Julie Brown) undress. After that, the kiddos set a trap for Sheriff Brody involving a skateboard left on the patio steps. But when the sheriff steps around the skateboard, Curtis just beats him to death with a baseball bat instead.

Bloody Birthday 4Nobody in the town seems to suspect that these kiddos are the cause of these recent deaths. However, one of their classmates, Timmy (K.C Martel) and his older sister Joyce (Lori Lethin) begin to suspect things, especially after Curtis locks Timmy in a refrigerator during a junk yard game of hide and go seek. He manages to make it out, but the bodies keep piling up, including the kids’ nasty teach Miss Davis.

Bloody Birthday 6However, life must go on, and that includes the triple birthday party for the three kids. Remember the title of the film, after all. At this point, Joyce is getting wise to the kids’ schemes, so when she catches Curtis decorating a cake with what appears to be a mixture of icing and ant poison, she understandably freaks out. It turns out he’s faking her out this time, but by now the three kids are killing anyone and everyone they can. The question is, can they be stopped?

Bloody Birthday 5“Bloody Birthday” is a pretty goofy film. I mean, three kids turn out to be psycho killers because they are born at the same time during an eclipse!?! Surely other children were born around the world at the same time, why just these three? Why is their killer instinct just kicking in now, ten years later? And while we’re asking questions…why do these townsfolk all wear the exact same clothes for every funeral? Of course, none of these things mattered to the filmmakers. They were more concerned with giving you plenty of kills from these homicidal pipsqueaks as well as opportunities for Julie Brown to dance around with her clothes off. And this is “Earth Girls are Easy” Julie Brown…not “Downtown” Julie Brown.

Bloody Birthday 8As a horror movie, the film really falls flat, but if you watch this as unintentional comedy, I think most viewers will have fun with it. There’s a great silliness to the various weapons of choice for these three pint-sized killers. From knives and guns to jump ropes, skateboards, archery sets and even a garden hose. In one sequence, one of the boys even covers his face with a dirty pillow case before chasing Joyce around the junkyard behind the wheel of an old car. Strangely, his proportions become very adult for some of the shots of the car zipping around. The whole film just has a great campy feel to it, spearheaded by an over-the-top crazy-eyed performance by Billy Jayne as Curtis. Jayne would be known as Billy Jacoby by the time he played horndog little brother Buddy in “Just One of the Guys” a few years later.

“Bloody Birthday” is by no stretch of the imagination a good film! However, I will gladly let this one join the ranks of guilty pleasures.

Ghoulies

Ghoulies 9One of the true tests of the success of a movie is whether or not other filmmakers try to rip it off. One film that got more than it’s fair share of copycats was Joe Dante’s Gremlins. In the years that followed, several other films about little monsters were released, including Critters, Munchies, and today’s film, 1985’s Ghoulies.

Right from the beginning the film lets you know that it’s not going to have as playful a feel as Gremlins did, opening with a strange satanic ceremony where the freaky Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres) is jonesing to use his infant son as a sacrifice. The mother protests, however, and ends up paying the price with her life. Meanwhile, the kid is snuck out by a follower named Wolfgang (Jack Nance) who ends up raising the boy.

Ghoulies 1Many years later, the now adult boy, Jonathan (Peter Liapis), has returned to the home where all this occult craziness took place. He is joined by his wife Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Of course, with such a huge house all to themselves, Lisa is anxious to have a bunch of friends over for a party…including a young Mariska Hargitay. As the night lingers on, and folks start to get bored, Jonathan hits upon the idea of doing a bizarre ceremony in the basement. Everyone joins in, though somewhat jokingly, but nothing happens…or so they think. Turns out Jonathan actually conjured up some slimy, ugly little creatures.

Ghoulies 3As time goes on, Jonathan starts to become more and more interested in the occult…following in his fathers footsteps. Poor Rebecca has no idea all the weird stuff that he and his little demons are up to in the basement. Two freaky little dwarfs even show up. Eventually, Rebecca does find out and ends up in a sort of zombie trance, allowing Jonathan to continue his quest for power. However, Jonathan needs some more participants for a ritual and so the friends are invited over for another party. Meanwhile, dear old dad rises from his grave and begins to cause trouble. This includes transforming into a buxom woman (Bobbie Breese) with a killer tongue in one scene. All the while, the little demons drool and snarl at everyone and occasionally try to bite someone’s face off.

Ghoulies 7I can’t help but wonder if the makers of this film had a script about a guy who becomes a power-hungry maniac by dabbling in the occult but then decided to tack a bunch of gross little monsters onto it to capitalize on the success of Gremlins. It’s hard not to reach that conclusion since the Ghoulies actually do very little in this film. I mean the Gremlins were mischievous, the Crites of Critters were vicious, but all the Ghoulies have going for them is excessive mucus. There are so many cutaway shots of the creatures doing absolutely nothing that it goes way beyond ridiculous. Don’t even get me started on how terrible the puppetry is.

Ghoulies 5Now then, if you thought the puppets were bad, wait till you get a load of the human actors. Peter Liapis turns in what may be one of the most over-the-top performances in cinema history. He couldn’t chew up the scenery harder if it had been on all-you-can-eat buffet! It’s downright comical. In fact, the film is full of unintentionally hilarious moments, from an evil clown doll to that 10-foot long tongue scene. The only moment that has some solid horror is the moment where Malcolm rises from the grave. It gives the audience a decent jump and is achieved with a solid special effect not reflected in the rest of the film.

Ghoulies 6Ghoulies is pretty much a disaster, yet it made money. Over the course of the next several years, three sequels would follow. The poster image for this film is of one of the creatures emerging from a toilet. Might I suggest using that handy little lever on the tank?

Lady Frankenstein

Lady Frankenstein 9When it comes to the classic movie monsters, Frankenstein is my favorite. I love the Universal series of films and am intrigued by the many other films inspired by the characters. When it comes to Frankenstein on film, they cover the whole range from masterpiece to garbage. Today we look at another member of the Frankenstein family. You know the Bride, the Son…but are you ready for 1971’s Lady Frankenstein?

Lady Frankenstein 3As you would expect, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) is doing his thing, trying to reanimate corpses. He is joined by an assistant, Dr. Marshall (Paul Muller). Returning from finishing her studies is the Baron’s daughter, Tania (Rosalba Neri, credited as Sara Bey). She is intrigued by her father’s work and knows that although he claims to be working in the field of animal transplants, that his work really involves bringing life to the dead. She is anxious to help.

Lady Frankenstein 5The Baron has been employing a local scumball named Lynch (Herbert Fux) to bring him bodies. After a hanging, Lynch manages to get a hold of the freshly dead body, which is just what the Baron needs. He and Marshall then successfully manage to create their own creature (Peter Whiteman) which they bring to life. Problem is, the creature immediately kills the Baron and escapes. The creature then sets out on a local killing spree, mainly targeting people who are having sex.

Lady Frankenstein 4Tania, though, can’t be bothered with all this. She is determined to see her father’s experiments through and create a better creature. What she has in mind, however, is a bit kinky. She gets Marshall to admit that he is in love with her and has been for many years. Unfortunately, Marshall may have a great mind but just isn’t hunky enough for her. The mentally challenged gardener Thomas (Mario Mase), on the other hand, is a much finer specimen. Tania plans to put Marshall’s brain into Thomas’ hunky body. Meanwhile, the local police, led by Capt Harris (Mickey Hargitay), are continuing to track down reports of a murderous monster around town.

This is a version of Frankenstein that definitely has sex on the brain. It’s kind of a unique twist on the whole mad scientist type of story. The more traditional mad scientist, the Baron, is eliminated a short way into the film. Tonia then jumps into the primary role and she’s more crazed than the Baron. Rather than being motivated by some sort of lofty idea of conquering death for the benefit of mankind, Tonia’s goals are much simpler. She wants some! She wants to make her ideal man…easy on the eyes and with brilliant mind. She’s not beneath stripping naked to seduce Thomas so Marshall can sneak up and smother him with a pillow. She’s arguably more deranged than many a movie mad scientist. Sara Bey does do a solid job pulling off both the evil and sexy aspects of her role.

Lady Frankenstein 10The film does have some great atmosphere, taking many of it’s cues right out of the Hammer playbook. It doesn’t quite reach the bar that Hammer films set, but it’s a solid try. A big drawback, however, is a pretty weak monster. The makeup effect used for the creature is pretty meh. A big feature of the monster is a gross prosthetic eye. I understand that filmmakers were trying to make the creature terrifying (and not copy Universal’s classic design), but the eyes are, they say, the window to the soul. They pretty much remove one of the major ways to give a speechless hulk of a character any sort of depth. For many scenes, the monster is also bathed in shadow, so we never really get that good a look at him.

Lady Frankenstein is certainly not the top of the Frankenstein family tree, but the film still succeeds on a certain level. It falters here and there, but it has enough creepiness to be a worthy member of the Frankenstein family.

Warner Archive New Releases – October 1, 2013

Beast with five fingers
Nightmare HoneymoonWe’ll need to take a break from the horror movies every now and then to update you on the new releases from the various DVD services we follow. Today we have some new releases from the Warner Archive. We start with two appropriately terrifying sounding titles:

- The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
– Nightmare Honeymoon (1974)

Bowery Boys 3We also have the third 12-movie set in the Bowery Boys Collection.

The Bowery Boys Volume 3
Includes:

- Angels’ Alley (1946)
– Jinx Money (1948)
– Angles in Disguise (1949)
– Feudin’ Fools (1952)
– Jalopy (1953)
– Paris Playboys (1954)
– Dig that Uranium (1955)
– Crashing Las Vegas (1956)
– Hot Shots (1956)
– Spook Chasers (1957)
– Looking for Danger (1957)
– Up in Smoke (1957)