Alison’s Birthday (1979)

“I’ll be glad when Wednesday is over.”

I’m with you, Alison!

Don’t take that the wrong way. In keeping with the tendencies of 1970s/80s Australian horror (Frenchman’s Farm and Deadly Possession, to name two), Alison’s Birthday takes it easy. Chit-chat and faintly sinister stirrings are how it’s done. But rather than inducing complete fatigue, Ali and pals float along with attractive, low budget class. This is a film for an empty weeknight. It mostly satisfies while blazing a path for a pleasant tomorrow. It’s also the finest Argento-inspired rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby that was ever made in Australia. That’s no faint praise.

At age sixteen, parentless Alison (Joanne Samuel, Mad Max) and two friends explore a Ouija board. A possessed warning from Alison’s father’s spirit leads to death by bookcase. Ouch. A freeze frame brings us to age eighteen. Alison, now working in a record store and dating a guy named Peter, plans on spending her big nineteenth birthday back home with surrogate parents aunt Jen and uncle Dean Findlay. After arrival, the black magic cult dreams begin. Pete feels threatened. So do the Findlays. An evil plot is revealed. Doctor Lyall is in on it. The message is clear: Don’t mess with The Cult of Myrna.

Alison’s Birthday is stuffed with feathers. Subdued and cozy, the film’s nifty PG-level thrills (a haunted forest, the cemetery showdown) are few and far between. Luckily, the likable cast, sort-of-obvious twists, and sharp direction from writer-director Ian Coughlan ceaselessly swoop in with welcomed relief. Satan never shows his face, but the almighty downbeat ending more than makes up for that.

As long as you don’t make a special point of watching Alison’s Birthday, all will be well. It’s a decent rip-off that moves slow and never crosses the line.

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