A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness. (IMDB synopsis)
Good old Alfred Hitchcock. His films are in a ‘must-watch’ list all of their own, and this one in particular is said to have frightened audiences at the time right out of their trousers (which women were now getting to wear! Bonus). In my horror-centric undergrad dissertation, I came across a quotation that said the right stories can inspire fears that people never knew they had. This is one of those stories.
Just so you know, I heard chirping outside my window before the film started, so I drew the curtains shut. I don’t want those sparrows getting any ideas.
The film starts with Tippi Hendren’s character, Melanie Daniels, going into a bird shop. A customer comes in wanting love birds, and she tries to keep up the pretence that she works there, until he reveals that he actually knows her from a spell in court for an unspecified prank. To get back at him, she goes to the trouble of tracing his licence plate, ordering a pair of lovebirds, driving to Bodega Bay where he’s staying, asking a local where he lives, visiting the schoolteacher to find out the name of the man’s sister, writing a card to the sister, renting a goddamn boat to cross the lake, breaking into his house and leaving the birds on the table. Boy, it sure was easy to stalk someone back in the 60s, wasn’t it? On her way back across the lake, a gull swoops down and scratches her head. WoooOOOooOoOOooo.
Anyway, the man, Mitch, catches up to her and she tells him that she’s staying in the area for a few days. They get together a few times, have snarky banter, etc, etc, etc. But something funny is going on. Nobody’s chickens are eating their feed. Birds seem to mass on telephone wires at night, and then later on, a flock of seagulls ruin a child’s birthday party. IT BEGINS.
I’ll tell you one thing, it’s very nice to watch a horror film in bright Technicolor for a change. Recently, I’ve been watching so many dark and gloomy films that I can feel a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder coming on. Also, The Birds has no real jumpscares and no musical score, scary or otherwise. It actually works quite well, as the only sounds we need to look out for are fluttering wings and cawing in the distance, and any scary music would only serve to drown it out.
The birds in this film take their time coming, but that’s just fine. Probably my favourite scene is when Mel goes up to the school (in the same green dress and jacket she’s been wearing for three days, by the way), to check on the little sister, Cathy. She waits outside the school as the children have their singing lesson, and behind her on the climbing frame, there’s, ooh, a crow.
Now there’s four.
ALL of them! EVERY CROW THERE IS!
Then, as you would imagine, they try to get the children to exit the school quietly and run home, but the crows swarm and claw at the children’s heads. I mean, that’s pretty dark there, dudes, filmmakers. You actually see blood running down their faces! Holy hell!
Apart from the scenes with the birds, a surprising amount of the movie is dedicated to Mel’s relationship with the residents of Bodega Bay. Which is fine; it’s interesting to watch. And you know me, ordinarily I can’t stand movies that take place in a small town where nobody acts like a normal human being, but in Bodega Bay, they behave reasonably for the most part. There’s an old lady who happens to be an orthinologist, and she gives a rational explanation as to why the birds couldn’t be attacking, and I can understand where she’s coming from. Also, the child actors are very good, so no complaints there.
The only character I have a problem with is Deputy Al Malone, who cannot or will not consider that birds might be attacking, even after numerous incidences. I mean, why? There’s a guy, Dan Fawcett, who’s found in his home with broken windows, feathers all over the shop, his eyes torn out and tons of claw marks on his face – this is AFTER all the other bird attacks, mind you – and Malone’s calling it a homocide? As in, a crime committed by another human? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
Oh well, shortly afterwards the birds mass outside the gas station, somehow causing two cars to explode, and launch a relentless attack on the residents. EXPLAIN THAT, MALONE!
One thing I should comment upon before I finish this review is the bird effects. In some places, the effects have not aged well and you can tell the birds are, in reality, nowhere near the actors. In other places, real birds are used. Tippi Hendren’s face was actually cut in one scene where a whole flock of seagulls and crows launch themselves at her. That scene took a week to film and apparently, birds were attached to her suit by strings so they couldn’t get away. Really, Hitchcock, that is no wait to treat one of your leading ladies!
Pretty cool, actually. I wasn’t sure about the ending, initially, but I think it’s implied that the bird problem is spreading out from Bodega Bay, so there’s that. The horror is very intense, but it’s only there when it needs to be. The many quiet moments employed in the movie make the reader wonder what’s coming next. And I’ll certainly be avoiding the pigeon-filled market square the next time I go into town, just to be on the safe side.
7 jam sandwiches.