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  Alison's Birthday Many unhappy returns
Year: 1981
Director: Ian Coughlan
Stars: Joanne Samuel, Lou Brown, Bunny Brooke, John Bluthal, Vincent Ball, Margie McCrae, Julie Wilson, Martin Vaughn, Ros Spiers, Robyn Gibbes, Ian Coughlan, Ralph Cotterill, Marion Johns, George Carden, Belinda Giblin
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: At age sixteen, Alison Findlay (Joanne Samuel) and her friends are messing about with a Ouija board when they inadvertently summon the spirit of her late father. The ghost takes possession of her friend, Chrissie (Margie McCrae) and in a comically croaky voice warns Alison: “don’t go home for your nineteenth birthday!” Almost a full three years later, Alison is understandably reluctant to do just that but changes her mind upon learning the uncle who raised her is in ill health. Kindly old Aunt Jenny (Bunny Brooke) and Uncle Dean (John Bluthal) are warm and welcoming, but turn nasty when boyfriend Peter (Lou Brown) grows suspicious and tries to take jittery Alison away. Supernatural shenanigans are afoot on Alison’s birthday and have something to do with a one-hundred and three year old crone (Marion Johns) lurking in the backroom…

This Australian horror obscurity fits snugly into a cycle of unsettling “possession by old people” movies, presaged by the likes of Brotherhood of Satan (1971) and The Mephisto Waltz (1971) and latterly continued with such films as Doctor Sleep (2002), The Skeleton Key (2005) and even Being John Malkovich (1999), if you think about it. Like most of these, Alison’s Birthday is marred by a fatalistic streak that leaves the ending a foregone conclusion, but the film has a sly sense of humour and lively, well drawn characters. The occult conspiracy does not stand up to close scrutiny, the miniature equivalent of Stonehenge lying at the bottom of the Findlay family’s garden complete with chanting druids and a shimmering supernatural entity! Also the conspirators trade in an uneasy amalgam of numerology, Celtic myth, and traditional Judeo-Christian horror tropes.

In The Wicker Man (1973) the central conspiracy is believable, being confined to an isolated island, whereas a movie like Race with the Devil (1975) stretches it to ludicrous extreme. Alison’s Birthday is caught somewhere in the middle. The sweet-natured old folks easily dupe the cops into thinking Peter is a dangerous loon and have an ally in the sinister yet outwardly respectable Doctor Lyall (Vincent Ball). Lyall briefly fells Peter using some kind of Vulcan neck pinch, one of several instances that imply the filmmakers had their tongues near their cheeks. Not least the campy sequence set in a graveyard with Peter pursued by tuxedo-clad Satanists! Peter is our resourceful, rational sceptic hero. Aided by a young, hippie like occult enthusiast (whose knowledge of events leaves the seemingly conclusive ending with a few loose ends), he figures out what is going on, but movies like these fail to take notes from the classic The Devil Rides Out (1968) and leave the playing field so uneven, events lack suspense. Fans of Aussie genre cinema should look out for Ros Spier, inexplicably wasted here with barely a minute of screen time. This was the sole big screen outing for director Ian Coughlan who became a regular writer on that most diabolical of Aussie soap operas: Neighbours!

Click here for the (very brief) trailer

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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