Happy Bloody Birthday from 88 Films (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I told ya I'd get to another one of these crazy killer children movies soon. Today's entry is 1981's Bloody Birthday, and boy oh boy. This is a demented one, alright. Almost an early slasher, with children, but even more unnerving drama and weirdness. It's far from a perfect film, I could see a lot of horror fans, especially younger ones, completely not seeing the appeal of this one. But if you get on the right wavelength with it, this film's so good. It must play great with a cult theater audience. But if nobody's screening a 35m print anywhere near you, not to worry, we're lucky to have some good quality home video editions.
The premise is that, 10 years ago, there was a lunar eclipse as several women were giving birth, and no that it's their kids' tenth birthday, their souls left their bodies astrologically, and umm... Well, it's not explained very well or really made clear, but none of that kooky star chart stuff matters anyway. All you need to know is that a couple of kids have teamed up to go on a killing spree in a small, suburban town. That kid running around with that big gun (it's not really big; he's just small) is a joy every frame he's on screen. Thankfully, this movie doesn't get bogged down in any supernatural or sci-fi once you get past the awkward opening set-up. It's just a messy excuse to get into this weird "what-if" scenario where kids go psycho. José Ferrer has a small role as the town doctor, acting legend Susan Strasberg is a teacher who crosses the wrong student and MTV's Julie Brown, of Earth Girls Are Easy fame, has a surprising amount of nudity. Oh, and Michael Dudikoff has a bit part. But the real stars are the kids, and they rock.
Bloody Birthday debuted on DVD in 2003 from VCI, with a matching UK disc from Anchor Bay. It was a decent widescreen release with a couple extras, but there was room for improvement. And improve it did, when Severin remastered and re-released it in 2011 with some fresh extras to boot. Then in 2014, it received nearly simultaneous blu-ray releases from Severin in the US and 88 Films in the UK. Well, I've got the VCI DVD, the Severin one and 88's blu-ray, so let's have a look.
VCI DVD on top, Severin DVD middle and 88 Films blu-ray on bottom.
The biggest difference is from the blueish, high contrast VCI disc to the more natural later discs. All three are anamorphic 1.78:1, despite the Severin case claiming 1.66:1 with virtually identical framing. The blu-ray lowers the frame just a sliver, and is otherwise pretty similar to the Severin disc apart from being a truer HD image with natural grain instead of compression smudging. I don't own the Severin blu, but I understand they're virtually identical, which makes sense considering how 88 seems to be using the same transfer (I've looked up screenshots on other sites, and Severin's blu lowered the frame from the DVD just like 88 did). This is probably about as much detail and clarity as we could ever get from this film. Both blus also offer nice, uncompressed mono audio tracks.
The VCI doesn't mention it on the case for whatever reason, but it has a pretty neat little interview with the film's producer, Max Rosenberg. He's pretty interesting, and it's a shame this video never gets carried over to any of the later special editions. So yeah, Severin doesn't have a producer interview, but it does have a very long and dry audio-only interview with director Ed Hunt. He doesn't think very highly of this film, so he only spends a few minutes on it, instead droning on about the rest of his career, including a book he wants to sell us. Still, we do get a little good stuff out of it, but they really could've edited it down by 80% or so. Much better is an on camera interview with Lori Lethin; it's brief but engaging. There's also a weird little featurette called A Brief History of Slasher Films which is so far from comprehensive it feels arbitrary, but it's worth the watch. That's about it, except for an easter egg of the promo trailer (we'll come back to that) and a couple bonus trailers.
Meanwhile in the UK, 88 Films has all the same extras as Severin's DVD and blu: Lethin's interview, the slasher film thing and Ed Hunt's interview. Although they make the good choice of letting Hunt's interview play over the film, like an audio commentary, rather than the single still image Severin held on the screen for 50+ minutes, which helps the talk feel less like punishment. And speaking of commentaries, they've got an exclusive one on their release, by Justin Kerswell, author of Teenage Wasteland, and Calum Waddell. Unfortunately, neither of these guys were actually involved with the filmmaking, so it feels more like a fan commentary. Worse, they spend the entire time chatting back and forth about other films, completely ignoring what's on screen the whole time. But it's better than nothing, I guess. Plus they added a little booklet with notes by Waddell.

The only little thing 88 is missing is that easter egg, which is a bit of a shame. The promo trailer is fun, because it has original film shot for it that doesn't appear in the actual movie, of a hand bursting out of a birthday cake. Both blu-ray editions have added a more traditional Bloody Birthday trailer to their extras, which looks nice in HD, but doesn't have the cool stuff. On the other hand, the reason why Severin hid the promo trailer away as an easter egg is because it's in terrible, digitized quality. It's soft and blocky to the point where you can barely make out what's going on... I think they must've taken it off the internet, uploaded back in the very earliest days of online video.
This is possibly the clearest frame in the whole thing; the rest looks even worse.
So, you have your choice between blus. They're virtually identical and all of the important extras are on both. Severin has the promo, but in awful quality; and 88 has the dorky commentary. It's kind of a coin flip. If you're a big fan of this film, and you just might be once you've seen it on blu, you might want to pick up a cheap copy of the old VCI or Anchor Bay UK disc, too, just for that other interview, which rounds things out to a nice overall special edition package. Make it a birthday present to yourself.

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