June 5, 2012

Alison's Birthday (1981)

"A young girl is subjected to a reign of terror so that her soul can be transferred to the body of an old crone."

After an interesting and violent start, "Alison's Birthday" turned into such a boring, slow-paced Australian soap opera that I initially thought I wouldn't make it through to the end. I love Australian soap operas though (and I've seen far worse horror movies) so I endured the lag and decided to review it for you.

In many ways, "Alison's Birthday" reminded me a little bit of "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "Crowhaven Farm" (1970), and several more recent girlie American horrors including "I've Been Waiting for You" (1998) and "The Haunting of Molly Hartley" (2008).

The overused scenario wasn't original even back in 1981 and I could pull up huge lists of "teenagers inheriting their evil birthright" or "girls destined to be sacrificed to the Devil" movies which go right back to 1940s. Although I'd guarantee that you wouldn't be all that interested in most of them, I just thought I'd mention this fact quickly so nobody gets the wrong idea about "Alison's Birthday" being an influence on anything except, perhaps, for its ending which predates "The Skeleton Key" (2005). The thing is that they are all reworkings of the "Snow White" fairytale and I think we've all had enough of that for this year.

The actress who played Alison, Joanne Samuel, who you'll definitely know from playing Jessie in the original "Mad Max" (1979), wasn't bad looking even though she was dressed like a reject from "Prisoner: Cell Block H" for the creepiest parts of the film. I've never understood the appeal of dungarees (and even less the "passion killing" nightdress) but I suppose something had to be done to make a 24 year old look like a teenager. The "blink and you'll miss it" bikini scene on the beach would have destroyed that illusion except that the camera concentrated on Alison's face rather than her body.

Alison faded into the background around 50 minutes in as her boyfriend, Peter, played by Lou Brown, picked up the pace with a failed rescue attempt, his inquiries into her past, and the discovery via his extremely gorgeous Occultist friend (whose name I can't remember but I think was played by Lisa Peers) that Alison was destined to play a very unwilling part in an ancient Celtic ritual.

In pre-internet days, people actually used to have to look things up in books. I found the various clich├ęd expositions both nostalgic and refreshing after seeing the trope changed to "Google searches" so many times more recently. It was done rather well and gave an even more sinister backstory to what was all rather predictable otherwise.

Brian Wenzel (aka Sergeant Frank Gilroy from "A Country Practice") turned up a couple of times as, surprise, surprise, a uniformed cop, but he wasn't the only recognisable face from Australian television. People used to joke that Australia only had about a dozen actors who would appear in everything and it was very true back in the day.

Even though the denouement reeked of "Salem's Lot" (1979), it got quite exciting for a few seconds and I actually got quite concerned for the characters. I was only half-expecting the downbeat ending so I got a little bit of a surprise. I'm glad it went that way rather than the alternative.

"Alison's Birthday" wasn't a particularly good horror movie. It wasn't scary and didn't have enough of the paranoid, claustrophobic atmosphere of the predecessors which it borrowed from to make it stand out. As for suspense, the little bit of tension created by Alison's upcoming birthday party was ruined by the pacing and a distinct lack of the feeling of impending doom. I didn't hate the movie but it really wasn't anything more than average at best.

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