#186 The Birds

(1963, Alfred Hitchcock)

“How could we possibly hope to fight them?”

BIRDS. Scourge of the sky. Horror from the clouds. Monsters from up on high. I mean, have you seen those pudgy baby sparrows, aren’t they terrifying? What? No? You’re saying that not all birds are terrifying? Well, let me tell you, you are wrong and have clearly never seen Hitchcock’s classic horror movie that isn’t Psycho, The Birds.

The Birds starts out pleasantly enough. A young socialite named Melanie (Tippi Hendren) meets a DASHING MAN named Mitch (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop where he pretends to think she’s a shop assistant and asks her about lovebirds he’s trying to buy. Intrigued, she buys some lovebirds and tracks down Mitch’s address with the help of her father’s newspaper so she can deliver them in person. But during her adventures in Bodega Bay, birds start acting strangely and begin to attack people at random, turning the film from a comic romp into a nightmare.

I’ve so far liked the two other Hitchcock movies I’ve reviewed for the blog, and this is certainly no exception. The Birds is a fantastic movie for all sorts of reasons.

First of all, let’s talk about that Hitchcock staple that was used in Psycho and is used to great effect here too – the sudden shift in plot partway through the movie. While Psycho started out as a noir-ish crime thriller before turning into a murder mystery, The Birds has an even more jarring tone shift. The movie starts out as a screwball romantic comedy, with a playful female lead running around trying to be sneaky in her attempts to find out more about a mysterious dashing man before suddenly becoming a zombie movie with wings.

This shift is actually a more effective one than the one employed by Psycho, actually, since the genre shift is so dramatically different, it’s a real shock to the system. Psycho was effective, but it really did little more than go from one crime theme to another, while this goes from light and happy to dark and terrifying.

The light and happy tone also helps to really flesh out the characters as normal people. While Melanie’s actions in the earlier scenes seem quirky and bizarre, they make her a charming and interesting character. Similarly, we get some development on her relationship with Mitch before stuff really starts going down. We start to care about these characters and want them to be happy.

And then the birds start attacking and it’s terrifying. Saying that Hitchcock is good at suspense and horror is like saying the sky is blue, but let’s say it anyway. Hitchcock is really good at suspense and horror, especially here. Those bird attacks are terrifying, and even when they weren’t pecking people’s eyes out, the movie is incredibly tense.

When the leads are holed up in Mitch’s house with his mother and sister in the later parts of the movie, it’s creepy as all hell. Hitchcock really showed how not showing anything and keeping things completely silent can be so much more unnerving than throwing a bunch of gore around. Add to this a series of scenes towards the end where birds are sitting in complete silence merely staring at the characters and you have one of the scariest horror movies ever made.

I have no flaws for The Birds either. It’s brilliantly paced, the effects still hold up well (certainly more than its much more recent imitator Birdemic) and I liked the characters. No question about this being another of Hitchcock’s classics. In fact, I probably enjoyed this more than I did Psycho, which is usually held up as being THE Hitchcock movie, and while it is absolutely fantastic, The Birds just seemed that tiny bit better in my book.

The Birds, then. Find a copy of this film and watch it now, that’s all I can say.

Starring Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette & Tippi Hendren
Written by Daphne Du Murier (short story) and Evan Hunter
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Cinematography by Robert Burks
Edited by George Tomasini

Favourite Scene: That absolutely terrifying scene where the birds just STARE at our leads en masse.
Scene That Bugged Me: I was a little bothered by how Melanie didn’t just say she didn’t work at the pet store at the beginning of the movie.

Watch it if: You like zombie movies with wings
Avoid it if: You don’t want to tar your love of cute widdle birdies

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Posted on May 21, 2013, in 1960s, Horror, Mystery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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