A Little more Hitchcock for that ass!
My original opening sentence was “The Birds doesn’t fuck around” in these sense of it promises birds and then delivers some birds. But I take that back as The Birds kind of does fuck around. The titular (I use this word a surprisingly large amount, has anyone else noticed that?) birds don’t do much attacking until about an hour in (the movie runs for two hours). Everything leading up to that point is a very slow build that feels as though it should be boring, but it actually works quite well at increasing the tension before all hell breaks loose.
We meet our heroine Melanie Daniels (Tippy Hendren) in a pet shop where she pretends to be an employee in order to help this guy Mitch (Rod Taylor) find a pair of love birds. She lets the ruse go on for a really long time, to the point where she even retrieves one of the birds from the cage, letting it get away to fly around the store. Ok you say, those are some sitcom style lengths to go through to talk to a guy, but let me breakdown what happens next.
She proceeds to buy the two love birds and goes to the guy’s apartment (I honestly forget where she got his home address from) to give them to him. She’s informed he’s not there as he spends his weekends at Bodega Bay, a small town about 60 miles up the coast. Ah so she’ll just wait until he gets to hand over the birds right? Nope! She hops in her car and drives up there to surprise him. First she stops at a general store to find out where this Mitch guy lives. However she also needs to know the name of his little sister as that is who the birds are actually for. So she then has to go and see the girl’s teacher in order to get her name. People are crazy trusting of this strange woman who wants to know names and addresses for reasons that she refuses to specify. She even says she doesn’t want to go to the front door as she has a surprise for him. I guess people were far more trusting in the sixties because if this woman were to go around asking these sorts of questions today, the police would be tazing her within 10 minutes.
So she goes to this guy’s house by boat, then proceeds to actually sneak inside of his house, where she leaves the two love birds and takes off. He sees her leaving by boat and thankfully for Melanie he is charmed by her actions and not horribly offput as most of us would be. He follows here, they meet and start to fall for one another, while Melanie also beings to make friends with a local schoolteacher who I think is Mitch’s ex but I might be wrong about that one.
Then the birds all decide “fuck these people” and start attacking everyone in town.
This is definitely where I felt the movie is at its best though I would never call the first half boring. It can definitely feel a little slow at times but the dialogue and acting help keep things interesting. Plus by this stage you’ve really gotten to know all of the central characters well which helps further your investment once they all come under fire from the murderous birds. Yes you may have to stretch some believability with the idea that this woman would go to such ridiculous lengths to do a favour for a man she interacted with for maybe five minutes, but eh, I saw it as quirky so I’m cool with it.
The scenes with the birds are all highly unsettling. What really helps is that the movie does not have a traditional score. A few scenes feature source music, but for the most part there is no music, only silence or sound effects. This means for extended sequences are you hear are the sounds of the birds, which makes it far more effective than if you had music trying to convince you how intense all of this is. Yes the bird sounds often sound as though someone is playing a record backwards, but it’s off-putting and really draws you into the proceedings.
The bird effects are of course pretty primitive since the movie is now 50 years old, but it never takes away from anything. The model/puppet birds used in the close-up shots actually look pretty convincing; I’ll admit I was surprised. Some of the shots were the birds are attacking as a group don’t hold up as well as clearly the birds and actors were shot separately and then spliced together, but again how upset can you really be. Considering the technology they had at their hands when the movie was made, the work they accomplished here is highly impressive.
The scariest scenes however are not the actual attacks, but when the birds are just sitting around. You would never think shots of birds literally doing nothing could be so damn creepy, but man are they ever. There’s an extended sequence where Melanie is sitting outside of a school as you hear the children inside singing a song that seems to last for-fucking-ever. After each refrain of the song, another crow perches on a play structure behind her. By the end, there’re dozens of the damn things. It’s a very chilling scene, especially with only the singing of the children as a backdrop for it. A later scene where dozens, if not hundreds, of birds are nested outside of Mitch’s home, forcing him to navigate through them slowly and quietly in order to reach his car, is another definite highlight. Basically any of the stuff where the birds are hostile is immensely entertaining.
The Birds is one of the best examples of a “fuuuuck would this ever suck” situation in a horror movie I’ve seen recently. I mean seriously guys, are you aware of how many birds there are out there? Like a whole fucking lot of birds. If they ever decided they had had enough with us, that would be it you guys. We clearly can’t fight back against that. But yeah, if you can get past the deliberately paced first hour (which I more or less had no issues with) then you are in for some good stuff with this one. It would appear this Hitchcock is a talented dude. Why didn’t anybody tell me?!