Golden Oldie: The Birds (1963)

Written by Film

The Birds is Alfred Hitchcock’s highly-acclaimed 1963 horror-thriller classic. Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 novel of the same name, The Birds explores a series of sinister attacks in which birds suddenly begin to ambush residents of Bodega Bay, California for seemingly unknown reasons.

Following developing a romantic interest in attorney Mitch after meeting in a pet shop, protagonist Melanie travels to his hometown of Bodega Bay to gift a pair of lovebirds to his younger sister Cathy. Very soon after, though, Melanie is unexpectedly attacked and injured by a seagull; such incidents then begin to accumulate throughout the film, including guests at Cathy’s birthday party being attacked by seagulls and sparrows invading Mitch’s family home. It becomes apparent that the birds’ actions are motivated by some kind of resentment towards humans, who bear the brunt of their manic behaviour, leading to a farmer living in the Bay being pecked to death by his chickens. This violence only intensifies as the film draws to a close.

The Birds is truly deserving of its reputation as a classic; its brilliance is evidenced by its continued popularity despite its use of now outdated special effects. Most birds seen in the film are actually real, including seagulls caught in a San Francisco dumpsite as well as birds bought from pet shops, although more than $200,000 was spent on the creation of mechanical birds for the film. Rather than focusing on the supernatural as seen in many other horror films – see films featuring aliens, vampires and witches, alongside those focused on religious threats such as The Exorcist and The NunThe Birds is scary because its predators are indeed a realistic threat. The Birds thus hits very close to home and will leave viewers feeling uneasy upon observing a cluster of birds in a desolate park or graveyard. It is no wonder that in 2016, The Birds was classed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress, and was consequently selected for preservation in its National Film Registry, evidencing its continued legacy.

Having recently started watching Bird Box (2018), I was surprised to notice a few similarities between the films. Both revolve around a threat that leaves residents scared to go outside – in Bird Box out of fear of the unknown, and in The Birds out of fear of being pecked to death. Both films additionally show behaviour being inexplicably altered; in Bird Box people suddenly begin to display intense suicidal tendencies, and in The Birds extremely violent and manic behaviour is observed in our feathery friends. Finally, both films hone in on real-world possibilities which intensifies how unnerving the threat is; suicide is real, and birds are real. The themes explored in Hitchcock’s classic are therefore evidently continuing to influence the film industry today.

Last modified: 24th May 2020

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