TERROR FROM ABOVE!
When was the last time you saw a bird and felt a stomach churning sense of fear? Probably never I bet. I mean, what's the scariest bird out there? An Ostrich is pretty big. Not particularly frightening though is it? And all those stories you were told as a kid about Swans being able to break your legs (or was that just me) are pretty much unfounded.
How about an eagle or a vulture? Yeah they're pretty mean looking but you know what? I feel pretty confident I'd be able to take one. It's probably this lack of primal fear (birds have never really been above us in the food chain after all) that has led to the fact that there are very few horror movies out there about our winged friends. However, here's a little look at the exceptions to the rule.
Interestingly, the first real horror movie that revolved around birds is without a doubt, the most famous and most impressive. Plus the title kinda leaves little doubt to what the subject matter is. Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' (1963).
However, it was another Hitchcock movie – and probably his most famous – that introduced the concept of birds within horror movies. That movie was 'Psycho' (1960).
It's worth noting that none of the birds in Psycho are actually alive. But that isn't really the point. First off, it's worth mentioning that the film starts in Phoenix, Arizona. Also, is it a coincidence that Janet Leigh's character is called Marion Crane? Possibly, but I doubt it.
Norman Bates certainly seems a little obsessed by birds. In one room within Bates' Motel, several pictures of birds hang on the wall. Things are a little bit more sinister in the parlour, where there are several stuffed birds on display. Norman also observes that Marion (Janet Leigh) 'eats like a bird'.
If Pyscho allowed Hitchcock to touch upon this rather odd theme then his next feature allowed him to grope at it repeatedly.
Hitchcock's movie was inspired by a Daphne de Maurier short story – also called 'The Birds' that was published in 1952. The film wasn't the first dramatization of the story however, with a couple of radio episodes being broadcast in the mid fifties.
After an encounter with a suave lawyer named Mitch (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop, Melanie (Tippi Hedren) a young socialite, drives out to his house situated in a small Californian community called Bodega Bay. She purchases a pair of lovebirds en-route (he tried to buy a pair for his sister at the pet shop but they were sold out) and leaves them at his mothers house with a note.
However on her way back she is attacked by a sea gull. Mitch drives past, sees her and invites her back to his for dinner. She quickly befriends not only Mitch's mum but also his little sister, Cathy, as well as his ex girlfriend! Weird set up eh? Later that night a sea gull kills itself by flying into a window. Coincidence? Think again!
The next day, at Mitch's sister's birthday party, things get really weird when a flock of seagulls attack Cathy and her friends. To compound the issue, they are attacked by bunch of sparrows after they get into the house via the chimney!
The next morning, Mitch's ex goes to visit a neighbour who has been having a bit of trouble with his chickens and finds him dead – his eyes have been pecked out! Now chickens, sea gulls and sparrows aren't exactly standard horror fare are they?
But this is Hitchcock we're talking about. He has the ability to make anything menacing, as is the case here. It's partly due to the concept of something so harmless as a sparrow suddenly turning into a killing machine that is so disturbing!
'The Birds' was shot during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when fears of nuclear war were seared into people's minds. There is a logical argument that the birds represent an assault from the air and the scenes of children screaming and running amok in the streets are an eerie reminder of the danger that people faced at the time.
It is a long film. At 119 minutes it is one of Hitchcock's longest and it spends a good deal of time focusing on the human drama aspect of the story before entering anything approaching horror territory. It's got a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and rightly so. It's a very good film.
If you are after an out and out horror movie then forget it, 'The Birds' isn't that. It's essentially a drama with a bit of horror added in for good measure. Nevertheless it's thoroughly suspenseful and still rates as one of Hitchcock's finest movies.
In 1994, a sequel was released. 'The Birds 2: Land's End' was a TV movie, directed by Rick Rosenthal and starred Tippi Hedren, albeit playing a different character to her role in the original.
To say that it was a failure is a bit of an understatement. Rosenthal was so ashamed of the film that he essentially tried to disown it. The credited Director for the movie was 'Alan Smithee' – which was a pseudonymn used by Directors at the time who did not want to be associated with their own movie. Tippi Hedren also regretted starring in the movie – in an interview in 2002, the actress said 'It's absolutely horrible, it embarrasses me horribly'. In a nutshell, it's one of those movies that just shouldn't have been made.
Flash forward to 2001 and it's probably worth mentioning the crows in 'Jeepers Creepers'. Not for any particular reason really but Director Victor Salva obviously has a bit of a thing for them. They essentially act as a bad omen here, a harbinger of death – and seem to hang out wherever The Creeper is. I guess crows tend to follow death around don't they? Plus the Creeper himself has wings although I don't think we can classify him as a bird somehow...
We then had a little glut of low budget fun. First up was 'Kaw' (2007), a SyFy original film that, well...was pretty similar to 'The Birds'. Seriously people, you had like 44 years to try and think of something original! Possessed flamingos, zombie pelicans, mutant penguins. Anything other than just rehashing superior stuff. In 'Kaw', a crow feeds off the body of a dead cow that has been infected with BSE. The result is...well, you guessed it – birds that are hell bent on death and mayhem!
The film actually stars a couple of relatively well known actors. Sean Patrick Flanery (Dexter) and Stephen McHattie (Haven) but at it's heart, it is the same as pretty much every other SyFy movie. Mildly entertaining in places but ridiculous and cliché the rest of the time.
2008 saw the release of two bird related horror films. First, there was the wonderfully named 'Birdemic: Shock and Terror' – although it is more commonly known as 'Birdemic'. Well, where to begin?
Firstly, it's worth noting that the film had no studio backing and was financed independently by Director James Nguyen for around $10,000. Intriguingly, Wikipedia lists the film as a 'romantic horror film' which makes me chuckle for no apparent reason.
A couple of old schoolfriends hook up in a motel but when they wake up they find that the town is under attack from a bunch of eagles and vultures. But there's something different about these birds. Oh right, that's it. They spit acid. That then explodes when it hits the ground. They couple team up with several other stragglers and move from one town to another, trying their best to fend off attacks from the acid spitting birds.
The film itself is quite incredible. And not in a good way. In fact, it has been labelled by some as the 'worst film of all time'. It has a 1.8 rating on IMDB and there are many reasons for this. Bad acting, shoddy effects, a ludicrous plot. However, the film managed to spawn a sequel – 'Birdemic 2: Resurrection' which features a lot of the characters from its predecessor. Funnily enough this film sucked too.
2008 also saw the release of another bird disease related movie –'Flu Bird Horror'. This is your typical SyFy stuff. A group of teenagers on a camping trip (it's basically a rehab training exercise) suddenly find themselves under attack from a load of mutant giant birds.
The script isn't great, although that's no big surprise. The acting is pretty dire too (shock horror). The birds themselves look more prehistoric than anything else. It also stars Lance Guest, who played parts in 'Jaws' and 'Halloween 2'. Obviously the reviews were pretty scathing but essentially it's one of those movies where if you go into it with exceedingly low expectations, you may get something out of it. After all, these films are the modern day equivalent of 'Trashy B-movies' from years past.
Right, onto owls. They are quite creepy aren't they? They have flat human like faces, they look like they are pretty switched on and they can rotate their heads at crazy angles.
Well, a film that tapped into that fear (or maybe I am the only one who is a bit creeped out by them) was 'The Fourth Kind' (2009).
Olatunde Osunsanmi's sci-fi thriller was a bit hit and miss but contained several effective scares. Set in Nome, Alaska, Milla Jovovich plays a psychologist who has a series of patients who all recount the same eerie story. They all recall seeing a white owl stare at them through their bedroom window every night. When put under hypnosis, it is revealed that there is something quite sinister going on; Alien abduction.
The story is loosely based on a spate of disappearances that occurred in Nome that spanned five decades. Quite why an owl is linked to alien abductions is beyond me yet the fact remains that there is still something quite unsettling about the image of being watched by an owl through your bedroom window. A pigeon I can handle, but not an owl!
In 2011, audiences were treated to a movie called 'Roadkill' – which actually doesn't sound like a film that's going to be about killer birds does it? It was a...yep, you've guessed it...a SyFy movie.
A group of friends are travelling around Ireland when they accidentally run over an old lady, who before dying, puts a curse on the group. Classic. Why can't people just forgive eh?
Interestingly, the film is directed by Brit Johannes Roberts, who also directed 'Storage 24' and the underrated 'F'. The film also stars Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta) and you know what? It's not actually that bad. In fact, the general concensus is that it is probably one of the best movies that SyFy have ever released. Although that's not exactly the biggest compliment I guess.
The 'bird' itself is huge. If a dragon and a large bird had sex – this is basically what the offspring would look like. Although admittedly it doesn't breathe fire. If you're ever flicking around channels and chance upon it, give it a look. It ain't all that bad.
That pretty much brings us up to date with bird related horror. It had a hell of a beginning with Hitchcock's 'The Birds' but since then, no one has really managed to replicate that success. There has been talk of a reboot of Hitchcock's classic (by Platinum Dunes, I believe) but if you ask me, they'd be best to leave it alone. Hopefully someone can figure out a new idea that reintroduces raptors back into the horror fold. But don't hold your breath.