If you follow my reviews, you know I’m a huge Hitchcock fan. The man is a master and I literally have not found a film of his that I didn’t like. I’ve mentioned before that the only two films of his that wind up on horror lists are Psycho and The Birds. While some, including me, could argue a few other films should be on those lists, this is the reality. Lucky for Hitchcock, both of his horrors are amazing. You should also know by now that Psycho is the partner-in-crime to Jaws as my two favorite films of all time; I suppose it’s a damn good thing I’m saving horror seeing as my favorite movies both fall in that genre. While The Birds is not quite as good as Psycho, it’s very close, and it breathes some much needed life into the animal population on horror island. Perfectly cast, beautifully shot, and rife with suspense, this film is a horror classic and one that many could learn from.
The Birds, released in 1963 just three years after Psycho, tells the story of the small California town of Bodega Bay. Melanie Daniels, the feisty daughter of a wealthy newspaper owner, meets Mitch Brenner in a pet store. After a flawless scene of banter and mild flirtation, Melanie makes it her mission to find Mitch and bring him two lovebirds for his little sister’s birthday. Her quest lands her in Bodega Bay, where the wild birds (seagulls, ravens, crows) seem to be going a little looney. Over the course of the film, the suspense builds and builds as the birds become more and more vicious. Melanie and Mitch must survive this crazy scenario while also protecting his sister and mother.
One of the reasons why Hitchcock’s films are always amazing is because of the casting. He casts a film better than anyone. We all know he’s famous for his leading ladies, and this film is no different. Melanie is played to perfection by Tippi Hedren and Jessica Tandy does Mitch’s mother more than justice. The acting, writing and plot development all come together to create a riveting tale full of emotion, humor and horror. This rare combination is seldom achieved in this genre, but when it does, magic is made. There is no soundtrack to this film, which is such a difference from Psycho, where the music was so important. The lack of background music playing over the scenes creates realism and also fear when there is only silence or bird noises.
So, it’s a great film, but what makes it a great horror? I know kids these days probably find Hitchcock boring and outdated, but true fans of the genre will not. The Birds is a perfect horror plot because it takes a creature people see every single day and turns it into a villain. The movie takes something most people see as innocent and slowly transforms it into something to be feared. The way in the which the film does this, with the lack of music and the slow-building suspense and the truly terrifying scenes sprinkled throughout, is incredible. What other film can start the viewer in a pet store, feeling totally positive toward birds, and land them fearing any bird that comes near? Birds are all around us, they are real. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see Jason Voorhees on a daily basis. I didn’t know him before he went bad. I see birds all the time. And ever since I saw this movie, I think of them a little differently. There is absolutely no explanation throughout the entire film as to why the birds are attacking people, which is also terrifying. And the ending, one of the best Hitchcock endings ever, is also frightening. Sure, there aren’t tons of gory scenes in this film, but the few are extremely unsettling and memorable.
I’ve always believed the greatness of a horror film (or any film, for that matter) can be measured, in part, by the lasting impression it leaves on you. Some films I watch I don’t even remember. Cards on the table, some of the Halloweens run together and get mixed up. A scary movie is only as good as how long the scare lasts. Am I staying indoors so I don’t run into birds? No. But I won’t be cuddling up to one anytime soon. The Birds is a film you’re sure to remember and one that other creatures on horror island should fear. We’ve got sharks in the surrounding waters and a few land creatures, but birds are owning the skies. Watch your head. Or eyes.
If you liked The Birds, you might also like Psycho, Jaws and Arachnophobia.