Alfred Hitchcock’s follow-up to Psycho, The Birds, is one of his most iconic and memorable pictures. Much like its predecessor, The Birds turns from small town normalcy to massive insanity, the kind of inspired lunacy Hitchcock had mastered by this point in his career. While not at the same level of perfection as Hitchcock’s upper-class pictures such as Vertigo or Rear Window, The Birds is a highlight of the director’s filmography.
The film’s protagonist is Melanie (Tippi Hedren), the daughter of a wealthy newspaper tycoon, who encounters Mitch (Rod Taylor), a lawyer who had previously met her at court, at a pet store. After Mitch plays a prank on her, Melanie decides to buy his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) a pair of lovebirds in an attempt to get back at him, though she discovers that Mitch has left San Francisco to go to Bodega Bay to meet his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). Melanie decides to head out off to the bay only to find herself entrapped in a deadly situation.
Much of the first half is devoted to introducing the characters and scenarios that it’s only about in the second hour do the birds make their first full-out attack (though they do have brief appearances before, an omen for what’s about to happen). Ranging from seagulls to crows, the birds terrorize all of Bodega Bay, including the local school and town square. Their motives are ambiguous and unanswered, adding more fear to the residents’ minds as well as the audience.
Hitchcock’s primary success as a director is to combine fantasy with realism to tell a compelling, emotionally driven story. With this unique combination, Hitchcock creates primal fear. With The Birds, Hitchcock could have cut down or completely removed much of the first half, but doing so would lose the personality of the characters. By focusing on the lives of his ensemble, Hitchcock gives viewers a reason to care for the characters and recognize them as flawed, individualistic people, making the birds’ attacks more horrifying. Add to that the director’s rapid-fire direction as well as the tense sound effects; The Birds’ formula has undoubtedly become a staple for zombie movies.
The special effects are still quite impressive today; while some of the visuals might seem a bit outdated, the birds’ outbreaks look incredibly real, done through some very clever camerawork, which fit well with the frightened faces of the actors.
Superbly suspenseful and thrilling, The Birds is the kind of movie only Hitchcock could make and still is a landmark in the horror genre.
Editor’s Note: I saw this off the blu-ray edition Universal released, which was in very poor condition. Universal has never been renown for its blu-ray distributions, and the quality of my disc was rather pitiful. In the last twenty minutes, the playback was inconsistent and the audio kept dipping out every few minutes. While I’m unsure this was the fault of the DVD I purchased or a glitch in all the discs, I would be cautious in purchasing the picture.