Here’s a crazy movie. It’s pretty unique but it has many of the standard elements of a slasher movie. It takes place in the world of young people, with adults not really catching on to what’s happening. At the beginning a teen couple are making out in a cemetery and get murdered. At another point a couple we’ve never seen before are having sex in a parked van and get murdered. There is a Final Girl (and Final Little Brother) and like in HALLOWEEN she’s a buttoned up, responsible babysitter with a wilder best friend whose dad is the sheriff.
But there’s not some unseen slasher, or masked maniac, or supernatural force. There’s just three little ten year old kids who are total assholes and love to murder people. They are not quiet, creepy killers like VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, CHILDREN OF THE CORN or young Michael Myers. They’re seemingly normal kids. The only explanation given is that they were born on the same day, during an eclipse. The Final Girl Joyce (Lori Lethin from RETURN TO HORROR HIGH) studies astrology throughout the movie, so you assume it has something to do with that. They were just destined to go on a murder spree. And to rack up pretty impressive numbers.
Quality-wise this is on the lower end of slasher movie competence, but not the lowest. Better than most regional horror movies, worse than an actual good one. It has alot of unintentionally funny weirdness starting right near the beginning when Sherriff Brody (Bert Kramer – a relative of JAWS’s Chief Brody?) gives an accusatory speech to his own daughter’s grade school class to try to get them to give up information about a murder just because a jump rope handle was found at the scene.
Shortly after that his youngest daughter Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy) is charging the neighborhood boys 35 cents to watch her older sister Beverly (Julie “Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” Brown) dance naked in her room through a peephole.
Debbie kind of seems like the leader of the three killers. She keeps a scrapbook of newspaper articles about all their crimes. Her specialties are strangling with a jumprope and playing innocent whenever a witness appears. But maybe the leader is Curtis (Billy Jacoby, now known as Billy Jayne). He steals his dad’s handgun, which is why they’re able to get away with this for a while without some adult just grabbing them by the pants and carrying them home to their inattentive parents. Sometimes he just goes out by himself and stalks people, at one point killing a couple in a parked van like he’s Son of Son of Sam. He also knows about electronics, so I’m surprised he never electrocutes anybody. He just disables burglar alarms I think.
The leader is definitely not Steven (Andy Freeman, BEYOND WITCH MOUNTAIN). That dumb looking blond kid barely contributes anything to the murders. He uses a butcher knife to cut the phone line at one point, that’s about it. If he didn’t have the same birthday there’s no way Debbie and Curtis would let him hang out. He’s basically a grunt, I guess they just need him to help carry the bodies away. Go back to your little league friends, Steven.
The only people who might be able to stop this reign of elementary terror are Beverly and Timmy, because they survive separate junkyard attacks. First there’s a game of hide-and-seek where Curtis peer pressures Timmy into hiding in an old refrigerator
then locks him in, struts off and high fives Steven. He’s trapped in there as it gets dark and keeps cutting to his sister doing normal things, not knowing anything is wrong. It’s not particularly well done but just the idea of it is genuinely scary. What would you do? Even if somebody came to that junkyard would they hear you knocking on it and figure out you were in there?
But he escapes (weirdly just as the PSYCHO type scary music strikes up) and next they trick Beverly into coming to the junkyard thinking Timmy will be there, but actually they just want to run her over in an old car. The driver wears a TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN style pillowcase mask while another kid is on the floor pushing the pedals down by hand. There are some pretty good car stunts in this scene.
Our heroes escape, but nobody else does. Acting guru Lee Strasberg’s daughter Susan is the art teacher who gets shot, her name is Viola Davis. I guess the luckiest person in the movie is Michael Dudikoff. We see him through the peephole, smoking pot and making out with Julie Brown in front of Blondie and Erik Estrada posters, but he leaves the scene before any murder attempts.
Things get bad. This is only my opinion, but after Joyce’s best friend was murdered, and she’d already found the dead body of Timmy’s teacher that she worked with, plus her friend’s dad had died, and two kids at her school had just been murdered, plus two other kids were shot dead nearby in a parked van, plus Timmy had been locked in a refrigerator and somebody had lured Joyce to the junkyard to try to run her over with a car, maybe it’s fair to say that her parents are dicks for not cutting their vacation short. It just seems like it would be the right thing to do at that point.
It’s not a very gory or good movie, but there’s something very enjoyable about the wrongness of these little bastards going around fucking shit up. They’re so easy to hate. Stupid killer kids. Unfortunately they don’t exactly get what’s coming to them at the end (or even a spanking), but there are a couple great comeuppance moments that happen during the climax when the terrible trio are chasing Joyce and Timmy around a house. Our poor hero siblings have bullets coming at ’em through walls, arrows shot through the peephole, Steven is trying to stab them, but you know what? That kid’s a little weiner so they just dump fish bowl water on his head, grab him and lock him in a trunk. They shoulda put him in the attic like a box of old coats.
Then Curtis corners them with a gun, and he has this smug look of superiority on his little asshole face until the ol’ click click I’m out of bullets happens. Even though he’s way taller than little Timmy he’s a nerd, so Timmy easily tackles him, punches him in the gut a bunch of times, rolls him over and hog ties him. Check out the sequence of stills to the right to get an idea. It’s some funny shit.
By the way, it wasn’t important enough to get a screengrab, but in at least one scene Timmy is wearing that shirt you see him wearing to the right, except he’s wearing it with white pants. I couldn’t help but think he looked like Speed Racer.
One weird casting note: the kids who play Debbie and Curtis are the same kids in the weird cake related flashback scene in HOSPITAL MASSACRE (recently released on a Scream Factory double feature blu-ray under the title X-RAY).
If you could somehow make this movie but with a masked killer doing the murders instead of the kids it would seem generic and shoddy, but just having such unconventional bad guys makes the whole movie novel and fun. The zodiac thing is a slim excuse for such sadistic little kids, and that makes it even better.
Because it’s such an odd subject matter I guess they had a hard time figuring out how to sell it. Yes, there is a birthday party in the movie but it’s actually one of the few times when nobody is killed (they just use it to trick Joyce into getting upset over nothing so the other people in the town will think she’s crazy). Of course, that didn’t stop them from putting “birthday” in the title or from having the above birthday cake themed poster.
Let’s discuss the accuracy of the various posters. Of course a cake with severed fingers on it never literally happens in the movie. But I think it’s easy to guess that that one’s not meant as a literal depiction of what happens in the movie. It’s more like that poster for CHOPPING MALL with the severed robot (or monster?) hand holding the shopping bag with the rip in it and a guy’s eyes peering out.
The cover for the DVD is a great one, a painted poster that kinda reminds me of the classic NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ones by Matthew Peak. But look at this, what is the most prominent image of this poster? What does your eye automatically go to?
For me it’s that woman with the light beams coming out of her eyes. What does that mean? Is she a psychic? Is she hypnotic? What are her powers? I don’t know, she’s not somebody that’s in the movie.
Here’s another one that’s pretty cool, very ’80s:
Again, this is not something that happens in the movie. Nobody gets birthday candles put into them. The other thing is that that woman is not in the movie. And the other other thing is that none of those four kids are in the movie either. Not pictured: the entire cast.
This is kinda cool, this is the only one with people who are actually in the movie:
This is a dumb movie that I enjoyed very much. Special thanks to AlfonseG for recommending it to me.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.