ALISON’S BIRTHDAY. (1981) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

ALISON’S BIRTHDAY. (1981) AN AUSTRALIAN FOLK HORROR FILM WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY IAN COUGHLAN. PRODUCED BY DAVID HANNAY.
STARRING JOANNE SAMUEL, LOU BROWN, BUNNEY BROOKE, JOHN BLUTHAL, VINCENT BALL AND BRIAN WENZEL.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched this Australian folk horror film on Shudder at the weekend for the first time and I really liked it, although it wasn’t too difficult to work out the plot, based on the information that we’re given in the first scenes when the titular Alison and her school mates ‘mess about’ on a Ouija board after school.

In the first place, you do not ‘mess about’ on Ouija boards; they are much too dangerous for that and should be taken seriously. Secondly, if we’ve learned anything from every horror movie that ever featured a Ouija board as its means of communicating with the ‘other side,’ it’s that when you open that door to the other dimension for someone to step through, it may not always be your sweet old deceased granny or your childhood pet who does so. It could be a raging demon or a malevolent spirit who’s thrilled with the chance to be back in the world again.

In Alison’s case, she gets a deadly warning from her dead father; her parents died in a car accident when she was a child. She’s been brought up by her Aunt Jennifer and Uncle Dean. The message involves a certain birthday, and, as I said, a deadly warning concerning same. The Ouija board session has serious enough consequences for Alison to never fully be able to put the warning to the back of her mind…

Jump forward nearly three years later, and Alison and her boyfriend Pete are motoring to Aunt Jenny and Uncle Dean’s house in the country for Alison’s nineteenth birthday celebrations. Birthday, you say? But wasn’t there something about a birthday, and a warning, or something…? You’re right. There was…

Auntie and Uncle are a bit dismayed to see that Alison and Pete are practically joined at the hip. It seems that whatever they have planned for Alison, they’ve reckoned without an ultra-protective boyfriend who genuinely only has Alison’s best interests at heart.

How to get rid of him without arousing Alison’s suspicions? How to do the thing they’ve lured Alison here for without arousing his…? They seem like a resourceful couple, dearest Auntie and Uncle. (They remind me of Roz and Brother in the brilliant 1976 supernatural horror film, BURNT OFFERINGS). I’m sure they’ll rig up something…

Two horror movie tropes of great interest here; firstly, the shocking presence of a one-hundred-and-three-year-old woman in a bedroom at the top of the house, whom Alison’s Auntie and Uncle have the cheek to tell her is a granny of hers she’s just forgotten. You don’t just forget you have a living granny. The nerve…

Secondly, there’s a wild, overblown space beyond the end of Auntie and Uncle’s back garden filled with old standing stones that you immediately understand will figure in whatever ghoulish fate Alison’s relatives have in store for her.

Standing stones rock, if you’ll excuse the pun, associated as they are with ancient runes and ancient rites and other ancient things that may or may not begin with ‘r.’ Watch NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957) for a truly cracking example of same.

Australia is such a mystical, mysterious country, isn’t it? It has its indigenous ghosts and spirits and mythical creatures, and so much open, untamed space that you could well imagine strange, wild things happening there.

The dreamy, atmospheric PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) is a fantastic example of Australian mystery/horror cinema, but even modern Aussie horror films like WOLF CREEK (2005) and WOLF CREEK (2013), both starring John Jarratt who, coincidentally, was also in PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, also compellingly feature treacherous Australian landscapes, and not always treacherous for their wild animals and legendary ghosts, either. Sometimes, it’s the people you have to look out for, eh, Mick…?

WALKABOUT (1971), starring Jenny Agutter of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN fame, is another film which, while more survival and adventure than horror, showcases the wild barrenness and dangerous beauty of the magnificent, but unforgiving to the uninitiated, Australian Outback.

Even A CRY IN THE DARK (1988), probably better known as ‘The Dingo took my Baby’ film, features the massive primeval sandstone formation known as Ayers Rock, a place where you could well imagine bad things might happen…

I was pleased to see Brian Wenzel from A COUNTRY PRACTICE, the popular Australian soap opera, turn up at Alison’s house as a middle-aged copper. Who did he play in A COUNTRY PRACTICE…? Oh, a middle-aged copper, Sgt. Frank Gilroy.

He was married to Shirley and his daughter Vicki was a vet, remember? I loved A COUNTRY PRACTICE, which ran from 1981 to 1993. It’d still be on today if it hadn’t been elbowed out by NEIGHBOURS, grumble grumble.

Anyway, ALISON’S BIRTHDAY is interesting straightaway for being both Australian and cast in the folk horror mould. The opening scene, with the schoolgirls and the Ouija board, is not quite as good as the opening five minutes of THE APPOINTMENT (1981), but it’s still pretty good.

THE APPOINTMENT, by the way, is a British supernatural horror film starring Edward THE EQUALISER Woodward, who also appeared as the ill-fated Sergeant Neil Howie in the Mammy and Daddy of all the folk horror films, THE WICKER MAN (1973).

Other English folk horror films of note include THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), starring Vincent Price, and BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971), which is the film to watch if you’ve ever sat down and actively thought, Eeeeeeh, I wonder what Frank Spencer’s missus Betty would be like if she were in a folk horror film, attending an orgy as a dead sexy imp of Satan’s…? This fillum answers that question.

I think I’ve imparted enough of my wisdomness to you lot for today, lol. I’d best be off now, anyway. It’s time to keep my appointment with the Six o’Clock News and a baked potato…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thirteen-Stops-Later-Book-ebook/dp/B091J75WNB/

 
 
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