Review by Mark Schwab
April 6th, 2018
Yes, I remember well going down to my local video store in the mid-80's to hunt down the goriest slasher films I could find. Titles like the THE BURNING, THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE and PIECES with their buckets of fake blood and gratuitously topless bimbos unspooling on my VCR with my friends. Good times for sure. Looking at those titles now, it's easy to slip into the crummy nostalgia of them and look past the shaky acting and silly plot twists. After all, it was the 80's and there was still a genuine market for that type of slice-and-dice misogyny.
When today's directors attempt to recapture some of that dusty VHS magic, it never seems to quite work. Even when it's backed by a roadhouse of talent like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE, it still comes up short (although with energy and verve) for me because the culture around the movie is so different from thirty-plus years ago. Nostalgia slashers don't resonate with the same context because...well...they can't now that it's thirty-plus years later and things are very VERY different (sci-fi seems to fare a bit better with Netflix's STRANGER THINGS).
Such is writer/producer/director Colin James' BIRTHDAY BASH - an attempt to bring back the vibe of films like J. Lee Thompson's HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME where a mysterious psycho stalks a group of party-goers and attempts to turn them into human sushi. James' plot is right out of the 80's checklist with the array of stock high schoolers; the jock, the popular girl, the nerdy repressed girl, the innocent virginal girl, the escaped mental patient, etc. All of them are meeting for a birthday party to drink and get silly.
Being a short film (17 minutes), the slasher gets down to business pretty quickly but these aren't exactly 3-dimensional characters (they barely register in 2 dimensions) so you'd think that BIRTHDAY BASH would be only "the good parts". The problem is that the slashing is very lackluster with only a few trickles of (mostly) after the fact blood and not much suspense. Also, this being an indie film with limited funds, there are no boobs or cheap sex scenes which didn't leave this admittedly lapsed perverted gorehound with much to munch on.
What does work quite well is Jesse Thum's music score which is perfectly John Carpenter-esque without outright copying him. This makes BIRTHDAY BASH move more quickly and much more watchable. Also, after the intentionally scratchy credits, the cinematography becomes sharp and cleverly lit (which ironically works against the nostalgia vibe - looking way better than those muddy 80's flicks). The cast is mostly in on the joke too and play their parts with enough stereotypical energy to hold your attention.
If you're jonesing for it and aren't too demanding, then BIRTHDAY BASH should be enough to quench your thirst for some old-school slasher hijinks. I just wish that Colin James went all the way with it's retro-ness instead of settling for being a tease.