The Birds review by The Grim Ringler

The When Animals Attack subgenre has never fared well on film. Sure, there was Jaws, and Cujo is pretty good, as well as a scant few, but all in all, the killer animal movies are pretty bad. Let’s face it, as scary as animals may be in real life, they don’t translate well in movies. So leave it to Alfred Hitchcock to take one of the most banal of species and to make them into horrifying and inescapable monsters that have been lying in wait all these many millennia.

Set up like a noir romance, Birds begins in all places an exotic bird store as we find Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedron), a seemingly ‘spoiled little rich girl’ with a penchant for pranks as she tries to convince a ‘handsome’ customer who has asked for her assistance that she works at this store she is merely a customer at. When it turns out that he (the he in question being Rod Taylor as Mitch) has played her in an effort to make her realize how her pranks can make people feel (he was a lawyer trying to punish her when one of her pranks went awry). Furious and not to be outdone, Melanie sets about ordering a pair of Love Birds for Mitch (the birds he had been looking for) and uses her connections to track down where he lives. Birds in hand, she heads towards his apartment with a nasty note, planning to leave them on his doorstep only to find he has left San Francisco for Bodega Bay for the weekend. Drat. Unwilling to give up her game Melanie makes the hour long drive up the coast to Bodega Bay, intent on getting even with Mitch and proving she is the better prankster. On arriving in the bay Melanie inquires as to where Mitch lives, and upon finding out, rents a small boat and heads across the bay to the isolated house of this man that intrigues her so. Melanie docks quietly and sneaks up to the empty house and inside, leaving the birds on a chair as she discards her own nasty letter and leaves a sweeter one for Mitch’s sister, who the birds are for. Leaving as quietly as she arrived, Melanie manages to see Mitch as he realizes she’s been there and races to the other side of the bay to catch her, a wry smile on her face. Just as we are beginning to think that this slowly growing mutual interest between these characters is Hitchcock’s focus Melanie, on her way back to dock, has a seagull swoop down and peck her head in an unprovoked attack. As she docks the boat, a thin line of blood running from her head, Mitch helps her gain her feet and the two head to the local diner, shocked by the actions of the bird. It is apparent in this sequence that there is more forming between these two than rivalry and when Mitch asks Melanie to stay come to dinner that night we can see that his interest is in more than her health. All around them though the birds are watching. In the town word spreads of other incidents locals have had with birds acting peculiarly and Melanie is beginning to sense a dark pattern to it all. This pattern couldn’t be more apparent though when a local man is found dead, windows smashed in, eyes pecked out, and suddenly the simple birds that surround everyone at all times and which none had paid much attention to are a threat. The attacks begin to increase in numbers and brutality, beginning with isolated attacks, which change to coordinated efforts. Mitch’s sister has a birthday party and while she and her friends are outside playing they are assaulted by seagulls and barely manage to get inside the house before anyone is seriously injured. Still though some of the locals refuse to believe that these incidents are truly a threat. This changes though when Melanie, having remained in the town to be near Mitch, goes to the school to pick up Mitch’s sister and, while waiting outside for the class’s singing lesson to finish, finds herself surrounded by birds in a matter of moments. As the children try to escape the school and the birds, many falling beneath the barrage, we come to see how very deadly these foes are. The town though sees all this too late and when the greatest attack, one which has several species joining forces to kill any and all that are outside in the town, the terror seeps in. Mitch and Melanie barricade themselves in his home with his sister and mother and hope they can somehow survive another attack from the growing mass of birds. But how do you escape something that is everywhere?

Brilliantly paced, this is one of those movies I remember hating when I was younger but, like Psycho, I finally can appreciate it now. Hitchcock creates a feeling of boredom and normalcy in this world so that you begin to focus not on the growing number of birds, but on the budding relationship between the two main characters. But as the attacks begin the film’s tone shifts and this beautiful bay town is an unprotected place, which is easily taken by the birds. The ordinary is made into the thing of nightmares here and an animal we assume is ‘safe’ is shown as something very deadly and very dangerous. This film is actually made darker with age considering how badly Man continues to treat the world and environment and the idea that nature could revolt against us becomes a frightening thought. The special effects in the film are also breathtaking and were innovations that Hitchcock had created in order to create this world where the birds have become predators. And when you see the work that went into creating this nightmarish landscape. And sure, some of the effects are less effective than others but this film stands up very well in an age of computer aided cheats. The horror of what is happening is never better shown than in a scene in the diner when a woman, all but mad with fear, blames Melanie for the bird attacks, insisting that she is the reason and that she is evil, saying these things without reason or proof but because in a world gone mad, what more can you blame? Which is why this film works so well, because who would ever imagine birds, of all creatures, as a thing for us to be fearful of. But when you think of how many there are, and how much space they own, you begin to enter into the terror of this world.

The DVD has a plentitude of extras, none better than the wonderfully done documentary on how this film was created and how the effects were achieved. And as always the movie trailer is as much fun to watch as the movie as Hitchcock tells the audience of the nature film about birds he is making, all while the sound of birds gathering just off camera gets louder and louder.

Not a perfect film as the romance does feel a bit odd in this film, but a very strong film nonetheless. This will never be appreciated in the same way that Hitchcock’s classics are (Psycho, North By Northwest, Vertigo, and Rear Window) but as a film this is a wonderful ride, and as a horror film, it’s as creepy and well made as any of the classics. A must see for film fans and Hitch lovers alike.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus