The Birds (1963)

As I continue through the 101 Horror Movies, and get closer to present day, there tend to be more and more films that I have already seen, but am happy to revisit.

The Birds falls into that category.

The man was a master storyteller, and while some of the contemporary horror films can barely hit the 90 minute mark, and have interchangeable characters, Hitchock always liked to establish his characters and his stories.

You get more of an emotional impact out of the horrors that befall them if you care for them.

In fact, while there are some odd occurrences with birds in the early part of the film, there isn’t a full on mass attack until an hour into the film. That is because we’re establishing characters, relationships, and hinting that something is off.

Now while it’s true some films can work by throwing us right into the action, stories like this, which take something very ordinary, something we see everyday, and make it horrific, works if you bring the story to a slow boil, and then let it simply explode.

Tippi Hedren stars as Melanie Daniels, a fun, if misunderstood socialite, who sparks with Rod Taylor’s lawyer, Mitch Brenner in a bird store, after Alfred Hitchcock has left the premises in his cameo.

She eventually follows him up the coast to Bodega Bay, to deliver a pair of lovebirds to his kid sister Cathy (played by Veronica Cartwright). She meets both Cathy and Mitch’s mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), who eyes Melanie with a great deal of aloofness, while Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) watches her with a measure of jealousy.

Tippi is the latest in a long line of Hitchcock blondes, elegant, clever and lovely (though I prefer Grace Kelly’s turn in To Catch A Thief). She and Taylor have some witty banter, and you get the impression that they really do like one another.

The witty banter serves it’s purpose as it always does in a horror movie, as a release valve, as the tension, reality and horror of the situation continues to grow.

Sound plays a huge part in this film, and you’ve never heard birds sound so evil, or vicious, the cawing and the screaming become almost inextricable from one another, one mass chorus of pain and hate. Something Hitchcock’s composer Bernard Herrmann served as consultant on.

There are some troubling and horrific images in the film as well, Lydia’s discovery of a body, the eyes eaten out of its skull. Melanie trapped in a glass phone booth watching the city fall apart around her, the classic playground scene with the monkey bars, and of course the last shot of the film.

Yes, you can tell in some of the attack scenes that the birds were put into the scene optically afterwards, and there are some pretty goofy looking prop birds used as well, but much like the shark in Jaws (how I love that movie) your suspension of disbelief is firmly in place, and you just go along for the ride.

And just from a geek stand point, I love his tracking shots in the movie, or anytime the camera shoots down onto a subject, like when Melanie is stuck inside the phone booth. Love shots like those!

Classics stay around for a reason, and that’s because they adhere to telling a good story, giving us characters we care about, and a director who pays attention to details and makes you buy in to the film, raising it above the level of simply another popcorn flick.

For those of you who have never seen a Hitchcock film, I really think it’s time you remedy that… There are a lot of stories for you to explore, and you know you’re in the hands of a master.

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