Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
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My name: Brian Martin
Until today, the thought of TCM and nudity meant pre-Code silents like D. W. Griffith's decadent Intolerance. Such thinking, I've just discovered, belongs to pre-Code TCM. Bloody Birthday is an 80s slasher in their "underground" series, and it features the disrobing of not one or two but three young women. Not everything has changed, however. Midway through the movie, we hear a man on a police radio saying, "We have a expletive deleted suspect."
Now, this is important -- the nudity, not the poor guy running around without his expletive. Before I get into that, though, let me tell you what this little gem is about. It's about three 10-year-old kids -- two boys and a girl -- born to different mothers on the same day in 1970, during a total solar eclipse. This, combined with a further astrological mishap, caused each of them to be born without a conscience. Now, 10 years later, they begin killing everyone in sight.
These are some badass kids, to be sure. They kill for revenge, for fun, and for no reason at all. They're resourceful, too, choosing weapons as diverse as a shovel, a hose, a car, and a gun -- the Henry Lee Lucas approach. No one is safe, not even their own parents and siblings.
Lori Lethin plays the Jamie Lee Curtis role of the good girl whose armor of virginity protects her against psychopaths.
Bloody Birthday has a cult following, and if I can extrapolate from a couple of other reviews, the kids are the reason. They were what came to my mind early in the film when I was trying to figure out how this ever showed up on TCM. They aren't like the typical slasher villain (if, indeed, that's the right word). Other killers have something that motivates them (moral outrage, perhaps, or a hyperactive sense of vengeance), but these kids lack something. This gives their murders, even when planned, a feeling of randomness that's as scary as anything else in the film.
The trouble is, this isn't a scary movie. The concept is frightening, but the execution -- i.e., the direction, by Ed Hunt, and the screenplay, by Hunt and Barry Pearson -- is slack and amateurish. Which brings us back to the nudity.
I contend that the nudity is the glue that holds this movie together and that accounts for its cult popularity. It works as fantasy for the younger crowd, nostalgia for the older, and as pornography for everyone. Without it, Bloody Birthday would be little more than a bad memory.
Significantly, it has an arc all its own. First we see a girl with her shirt unbuttoned, then another girl dancing topless, and finally a boy and a girl making it in a van. It's more logical and makes more narrative sense than anything else in the film. (This is a film, after all, in which a driverless car actually turns in order to follow an intended victim. And, no, the car isn't named Christine.)
Even so, it might not have been enough. But the girls are all willing and eager, and Julie Brown, the stripper-in-training, is sexier than most of her counterparts in other, much better films.
To be fair, I rather liked the performances of Julie Brown and Lori Lethin. Others have praised the kids' performances, as well, but I suspect that's just obfuscation on their part. They're kids. In a movie. And you never really forget that.
Everyone wants to find their own Peeping Tom, an unfairly overlooked movie worthy of serious consideration. But those movies really are rare. And they generally have something Bloody Birthday completely lacks. It's not a conscience. It's style.