Halloween Havoc!: BLOODY BIRTHDAY (Ignite Films 1981)

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When I sat down to watch BLOODY BIRTHDAY, I was expecting a big slab of 80s cheese. What I got instead was a suspenseful (albeit far-fetched) horror film about three murderous children. The little darlings were born during a solar eclipse which, according to astrology buff Joyce (Lori Lethin), blocked Saturn during their births. This makes then completely without empathy. I don’t know about that, but I do know one thing: these are the creepiest fucking kids since Spider Baby!

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Cutie-pie Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy) keeps a murder scrapbook and charges 25 cents to let kids watch her teenage sister Beverly undress through a closet peephole. Steven (Andrew Freeman) is a shy child with a fondness for knives. And nerdy looking Curtis (Billy Jacoby, later Jayne) is a total psycho who shoots people. These enfants terrible kill a teenage couple doing the wild thing in a cemetery in the opening scene, bash Debbie’s sheriff dad (Bert Kramer) in the head with a shovel, lock Joyce’s brother Timmy (KC Martel) in an abandoned refrigerator, shoot the teacher (Susan Strasberg), and generally behave badly. Joyce figures out they’re causing all the mayhem in Meadowvale, and the murdering moppets trap her and Timmy inside Debbie’s house, terrorizing the frightened siblings with guns, knives, and a bow and arrow!

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Director Ed Hunt piles the terror on thick during the film. Hunt’s responsible for cult films like STRANGE INVASIONS (1977), PLAGUE (1979) and THE BRAIN (1988). BLOODY BIRTHDAY is his best by far. The cast is peppered with familiar faces like Strasberg, Ellen Geer, William Boyett, Ward Costello, and even Michael Dudikoff!  You’ll also see Jose Ferrer, slumming it in a small role as a doctor. As in most 80s thrillers, there’s tons of gratuitous nudity involved! The whole movie’s got that Totally 80s feel, from Joyce’s giant headphones, the fashions and hairdos, and even the posters on Beverly’s wall (Van Halen, Blondie, and Erik Estrada, among others). Beverly was the film debut for Miss Julie Brown, a Totally 80s actress/comedienne who had some success in film, TV, and music. In fact, I’ll end this review with Julie’s Totally 80s (and Totally Un-PC) video for her hit song, “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”!           

Let’s Get Buzzed With THE SWARM (Warner Brothers, 1978)

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The 1970s were the decade of the all-star disaster movie, and nobody made ’em like Irwin Allen. The Master of Disaster opened the floodgates for this genre with 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, following quickly with the red-hot 1974 mega-hit THE TOWERING INFERNO. Soon Hollywood was unleashing one disaster film after another: EARTHQUAKE, AVALANCHE, SKYJACKED, and so on. But Allen was a sci-fi guy at heart, having made his mark with TV shows like LOST IN SPACE, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE TIME TUNNEL, and LAND OF THE GIANTS. Combining the two seemed natural for Allen, so together with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, they concocted THE SWARM.

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A missile base has been mysteriously attacked, killing the communications crew. General Slater (Richard Widmark) rides in on a chopper, leading the troops. Brad Crane (Michael Caine), a Ph D entomologist (studier of bugs), is on base for reasons unknown, so the General holds him prisoner. A “moving black mass” on the radar screen reveals a giant cloud of “millions of bees”, that attacks some military helicopters, which crash and burn (lots of crashing and burning in this one!) Meanwhile, the sleepy little town of Marysville is holding their annual flower festival, where we’re introduced to a love triangle between two elderly gentlemen (Ben Johnson and Fred MacMurray) and a spinster schoolteacher (Olivia de Haviland,,,,hey, what’s SHE doing here!!)

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The President places Crane in control of the bee problem, to the chagrin of General Slater. Crane assembles a crew of experts including immunologist Dr. Krimm (Henry Fonda) and Dr. Kildare, I mean Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain). There’s a military doctor, Captain Anderson (Katherine Ross), on board, too, and of course she and Crane get all googly-eyed and lovey-dovey during the movie’s course. Slater assigns his assistant (Bradford Dillman) to keep an eye on the scientist. The rest of THE SWARM is a bunch of set-pieces for the action. Killer bees attack picnickers! Killer bees attack Marysville! Killer bees attack a train! Killer bees attack a nuclear facility!! The military attack the killer bees, burning down half of Houston in the process! Killer bees retailiate and attack the military! Finally (thank God!), Crane comes up with the answer to stop the bees from attacking by luring them to sea via sonic waves (shades of INVISIBLE INVADERS!!), where the military blows the swarm to kingdom come with missiles!!

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Allen directed THE SWARM himself, and he pretty much lets the actors do what they want, which is to overact and collect their paychecks. Those slo-mo shots of bee attacks are ludicrous, not frightening at all. Stirling Silliphant’s script is paint-by-numbers hokum, a far cry from his Oscar-winning IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, not to mention his classic TV series ROUTE 66. Besides those I cited earlier, we get what amounts to cameo roles from Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Cameron Mitchell, and Donald ‘Red’ Barry. Sadly, this was Fred MacMurray’s last film appearance.

THE SWARM came at the tail end of the disaster cycle. Allen made a couple more (BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, WHEN TIME RAN OUT) before returning to television. The all-star disaster epic was spoofed by 1980’s AIRPLANE!, and is revived every now and then (ARMAGGEDON, of instance). I guess if your interested in playing Spot the Star, you might enjoy this film. Otherwise, I suggest you find another way to get your buzz on than watching THE SWARM.