[INT. 1962, Universal lot, Burbank, CA. Board meeting. Overworked studio execs fumbling paper, looking nervous.]
EXEC 1: We’re all dry. We’ve got a big gap next spring, no way of filling it, what the heck are we going to do?
EXEC 2: Stop panicking. We got this. Get Hitchcock on the line.
EXEC 1: What, you think he can just pull movies out of thin air?
EXEC 2: (Makes a call) Hello, Hitch? Yeah, it’s us. Listen, we’ve got a teeny-tiny slot next March and we think we can get you in. Any ideas? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Great! Perfect. (Hangs up)
EXEC 1: And?
EXEC 2: You’re gonna love it. Horror.
EXEC 1: Yes?
EXEC 2: Small holiday town, Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren -
EXEC 1: Yes??
EXEC 2: And killer birds.
EXEC 1: Birds?
EXEC 2: Killer birds.
[They exchange a look. Look at the blank paper. Look at their watches. Nod.]
EXEC 1: Killer birds it is.
You think it’s ridiculous, but this actually happened (give or take some artistic license.) Yes, in 1963 Hitch made a movie about killer birds - albeit lifted from the Daphne du Maurier novel - and the world went nuts for it. Not only that, but it spawned many parodies and homages over the years - Birdemic even because a thing, for goodness’ sake - that it obviously gave something of value to the world of cinema that people are still thinking about half a century later.
Make no mistake though:The Birdsis dumb. I can appreciatePsycho and how we’re afraid of the unknown; I can stand back and admire Hitchcock for his decades-long career and game-changing approach to multiple genres. But for some reason, he thought it was a sensible idea to have killer birds attack ordinary people and that really hit it off with audiences. I do not share this opinion. I think it’s a fantastically stupid idea that somehow seemed to get a glowing response: the perfect example of a really popular, iconic horror movie with a premise that is just the worst.
I’ll admit, I can see why everyone went crazy for it. The Birds is shot in spectacular high definition for 1963, has a chilling setup (if you perhaps substituted the birds for a serial killer), and has all the makings of a good crime drama, suspicious characters with elusive backstories included. In characteristic Hitchcockian style, the dialogue flows brilliantly, unfolding the plot with bags of suspense. But the problems really start when the birds come into the picture. Naff special effects and obviously fake prosthetics mean I just can’t take this thing seriously. Every time there’s meant to be a jump scare, we just get - oh! another fake bird chucked at the camera. And another one. Let’s lob a few more in for good measure and film it in extreme close-up so it looks dramatic! Somehow I’m just not buying it. I can’t suspend my disbelief for long enough to really get my teeth into it.
There’s bound to be some Freudian reading of how the birds represent our primal fears and how getting our eyes gouged out stands for some kind of loss of self or whatever, but in truth, this is a silly movie about silly things which a lot of people nevertheless loved, possibly because of its silliness. It may be well executed to some degree, but no matter the strength of its cinematography or editing, its longevity or even the fact that a new adaptation is coming this year: a plastic bird, once seen, cannot be unseen.