Monster Movie Mayhem: The Birds

Tiger Media Network

As we reach the end of October, our monster movie marathon reaches its conclusion, and this time, with a film that I managed to watch in theaters. During that time, I came up with what I believe to be the ideal circumstances for someone to watch this movie. So picture this: you’re not somebody who’s very fond of scary movies, monster movies, or anything like that, but maybe you like a good romantic comedy, and you have a friend who knows this. One day, this friend invites you over to watch a romantic comedy. At first, you find it a little odd; that’s not their type of movie, but maybe they’re just being nice. So you take them up on their offer, but when you get there, the movie has already started, paused on the opening scene. You don’t think much of it at first, but as you sit down to watch the movie, you notice the lack of opening credits or title card. Maybe the movie doesn’t have those. You ask your friend what the movie is called, and they nervously reply back, “Uh, Uh… Love Birds…” You naturally find this very suspicious, but as you watch the film, it seems to be just as they said. 

The story follows a woman named Melanie Daniels, a prankster, troublemaker, and chronic liar, who one day, while at a bird shop, ends up on the other end of a joke, when an attorney by the name of Mitch Brenner asks her if he could buy some love birds from the shop, knowing that Daniels would lie about being an employee, since he recognized her from a court case. He makes a fool of her, so to get him back, Daniels gets the love birds and tries delivering them to him, but soon learns he spends his weekends in a small far-off town called Bodega Bay. Being the determined prankster she is, she hops in her car and takes off after him. Once there, after talking with some of the locals, she figures out where he lives and rents a boat, in order to sneak out to his house to deliver the birds. She does so, gets back in her boat, and makes a break for the dock, just as Brenner spots her. The two race for the dock, but instead of the following scene being that of the two playfully flirting with one another, something more startling happens. Ms. Daniels is struck on the head by a seagull, and from this point on the film has a far more sinister tone, and you realize you were never watching a romantic comedy, you were watching Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of suspense, 1963’s “The Birds.”

Melanie Daniels tries to sell Mitch Brenner love birds, despite not working at the bird store.

It really is a testament to Hitchcock’s skill as a director to turn a frankly silly idea on paper into such a good film. It’s basically two films slapped together, starting as a silly rom-com, but then turning into a suspenseful thriller. This is a tactic many of the best monster movies utilize, as it allows the film to avoid some of the potential cliches and tropes of the creature feature genre. Now, it is a fairly slow movie. Even after the first attack, there are quite large gaps between the first few incidents and these incidents aren’t all that crazy, but when the film starts going, it goes. 

If you’re going to have a slow monster movie though, you have to have good characters, and “The Birds” succeeds. Our main two characters Ms. Daniels and Mr. Brenner are fun and have a nice little dynamic going on. There’s also Lydia Brenner, Mitch Brenner’s mother, who is very good as well, and she has some pretty great scenes of her own. I also enjoyed the school teacher, Annie Hayworth, who has one of the eeriest lines in the whole film, telling the kids to walk out of the school slowly and to run as fast as they can when she tells them, while the kids have very little idea what’s going on. The characters all feel distinct, and even the town folk who get only one or two scenes are all great and memorable. I think the weakest link of the cast is Cathy Brenner, but this is one of Veronica Cartwright’s earliest roles so I’ll let it slide. Overall, though, the film has a great cast of characters who are all well-acted, and keep the film interesting throughout.

When the birds do show up, it’s excellently creepy and unnerving. Oftentimes, they don’t even need to be doing any attacking to have you on the edge of your seat. The scenes of them gathering are suspenseful enough, especially the scene at the school where Daniels waits on a bench in front of the school’s playground, waiting for Ms. Hayworth, and behind her, crows slowly gather on the playground. First one, then four, then seven, then Daniels finally spots one flying overhead, the camera follows it, revealing that the entire thing is covered in crows! A collective gasp rang out through the theater when this happened. 

The crows gather on the school playground, preparing for their next attack.

When they do lash out, it leads to some pretty intense scenes, especially towards the end. The majority of the birds are real, though I think a few puppets were used, but I could rarely ever tell which of the birds were real, or fake, and I just have to assume the ones the actors are being really violent with are the puppets. One of the things I really dig is the fact that the film never definitively gives a reason as to why the birds are attacking. The characters do speculate why, and one crazy lady blames Ms. Daniels since all of this started the moment she entered town, but nothing is set in stone. A modern film would have the characters figure out exactly what the cause is, but here, it’s all just speculation from the characters, and the audience.

The film’s eerie atmosphere is really brought out by the music, or sheer lack thereof. There isn’t a single musical track that isn’t part of the scene. The school scene is accompanied by the somewhat creepy singing of children, but that’s because the kids in the school are singing. The rest of the time, the audio is either taken up by dead silence, or the flapping of wings and screeching of birds. It comes together with spectacular filmmaking to make something as commonplace as birds sitting on a telephone wire suspenseful.

The crows pursue Melanie Daniels and the schoolchildren as they flee for safety.

So yeah, “The Birds” is a really good film, and it was very cool to see this film in theaters. The characters are great, the romance storyline is decent, and the bird scenes are surprisingly effective. It really is quite impressive how Hitchcock and his crew managed to make a small animal most people never think twice about, truly terrifying, and the film’s ending is rather surprising. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend this film to everyone. I give this film eight “drunk Irishmen shouting about the end of the world” out of 10.

Connor Keating is a junior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. Connor is an old-school movie fan, particularly Japanese monster movies, and is an avid DVD collector.

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