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Alison’s Birthday (1979)

Directed by Ian Coughlan
VidAmerica VHS

THE FILM
“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 rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby that ever was, complete with a Billy Joel LP. And minus the baby. 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.

Humpday, beware! Alison’s got your number.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
This tape was manufactured in 1983. I’m impressed. The image was sharp, bright, and low on color saturation. Good shape overall, with little to no print defects. The mono sound bowed in and out a few times, but was otherwise perfectly listenable. The back cover art features the longest plot synopsis I’ve ever seen.

EXTRAS
Just so you know, VidAmerica deals in “Special Interest Video Software.” I assumed that meant video games like “Montezuma’s Revenge” and “Jumpman Junior”, but actually, it was a trailer for The Riddle Of The Sands. Bullshit.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Keep this film away from the weekends. 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. I could’ve used another cameo from The Piano Man, but you can’t win ‘em all.