#414 The Birds (1963)

An enigma of a story that is probably Hitchcock’s only true horror movie, The Birds may perhaps be categorized as the first zombie movie as we know it today. A small fishing village is terrorized by birds for no reason. There is blood. There is running. There are empty eye-holes. There is a back story with some convoluted relationships and some uncertainty as to what is going down between a group of shifty female characters and their pasts – and all hovering around vying for the attention of one man. Is it for his hand in marriage? A tryst? Revenge?

There is no doubt that this story is incredibly enjoyable to watch. Hitchcock takes Daphne Du Maurier’s short story and weaves us throughout the maze of the tiny little village of Bodega Bay. Confounding homes, weaving roads, cliffs, and the gulls themselves constantly raise the stakes for Hitchcock’s characters and our nerves much like David Lynch does with his characters many years later. On the edge of our seats, we learn that even the actors weren’t safe as Hedren was “famously…led to a nervous breakdown (as a result of an) increasingly sadistic work ethic too intense for her to handle” (Klein). Truly a masterpiece of a macabre onslaught of horror and death, The Birds is a spooky tale with nary a purpose but to evoke terror in a manner that only Alfred Hitchcock can.



I loved this story, if only for the fact that it was a wholly engaging tale that picked you up, swung you around, and slammed you down only to wonder what and why it just happened. We never get an answer – the closest to one is that the women have a past with our handsome man at the center of the tale – but more realistically, the only point? Residents of this small community: get out while you’re still alive. This trope, copied hundreds of times in recent memory, has become a staple of zombie movies and video games. Hitchcock may have been the first to realize that, as two-dimensional as this structure is, the damn thing can captivate an audience.

I was captivated.

I was enthralled by the special effects. The combination of real animal actors, puppetry, and a variety of overlay and masking techniques of previously shot footage holds up surprisingly well today. I watched it, I know how he did it, but I don’t know how he got it to look so damn good. As a matter of fact, I would challenge any filmmaker today to make something half as convincing using digital effects when the analog and practical effects worked so well. Along with his team, Hitchcock was a clear master of color correction, lighting, and editing.

A nail-biting, exciting, funny (when the ornithologist showed up in that costume, I practically died), and endearing, The Birds is a great film. Final note, I am pretty sure I saw this once before when I was on a Hitchcock kick at thirteen or so and I remember thinking to myself that there was something about the relationships I just wasn’t getting and that the old lady had something to do with the birds – and that it would come to me when I am more mature. I am pleased to say, a couple decades later, that it wasn’t me. It’s really all there is, and that makes this film a beautiful thing.


Having heard the premise of this story many times, I thought, how scary can a movie from 1963 be? It’s about birds….

Cue my absolute terror at seeing a few geese during my recess duty last week.

So many parts of this film work brilliantly.  There are no answers.  Nothing is spelled out for the viewer.  The suspense and the horror of the birds build so slowly in his movie.  First just one bird, then a few, then a flock.  After seeing this movie I began to notice birds everywhere. Evil feathered monsters snuck up on me, their potential terrorizing my senses.  Most questions I had about the characters, the plot, and the bird are never answered or explained in this film – such a powerful technique.  Garrett and I speculated for days.   

For most of the beginning of the movie, I was waiting for the male lead (Rod Taylor) to end up being the evil at the root of the film. Then there are strange and peculiar interactions with the people in the town of Bodega Bay. The people in the stores and restaurants all seem suspicious of our out of towner protagonist. Was it the men at the dock? The town school teacher? His mother? I’m still not sure if she had anything to do with it…

The scenes with the birds attacking are terrifying.  They are so scary I could barely watch them (even after mocking the concept of it before viewing. I mean, birds?).  How was Hitchcock able to do these scenes with live birds?  Even some of the more ridiculous special effects, like the fake blood, which clearly, obviously, looks like fake blood, are truly scary in the context of this film. After a slow buildup of suspense and terror, the ending of the film is relentlessly horrifying. There are no breaks or reprieves.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie quite like this.

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