The Test of Time: The Birds (1963)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, and Jessica Tandy

Since the horror movie genre has been around, a lot of people have been anointed the king of horror. And while many could make a case for the title, only one dude will keep hold of that title no matter a box office result or current fad.

Alfred Hitchcock has been dead since 1980, but I can’t think of another individual with a bigger impact on horror. Oh sure, others gave us brand name monsters or even created a new sub-genre, but Hitchcock made movies that mattered. They were studies in psychological torture, and he never minded f*cking with the audience if he felt like it. By all reports he was an asshole, but I usually assume most famous folks are assholes so that cancels that out.

Anyway, Hitchcock’s 1960 classic PSYCHO remains the finest horror movie ever made. So with the new animated movie ANGRY BIRDS out in theaters, it seems like the perfect time to see if Hitchcock’s follow up to PSYCHO holds up against the test of time.

Under the examination: THE BIRDS.

Birds. Just like the name of the movie.

THE STORY: Hitchcock loved to put beautiful blonde women through hell, and perhaps no other movie illustrated that more than THE BIRDS. Here, we follow pretty rich Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) as she decides to leave San Francisco and more or less stalk a guy named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) as her next conquest. She follows him to the small seaside town of Bodega Bay, where she meets his family, meets his other suitor, and starts to notice the birds here seem really aggressive. Actually, the birds are assholes and really do their best to destroy human civilization as we know it. And that’s before things really get bad.


WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: BLUE VELVET is often credited with trying to disrupt the safe, pure American town, bringing chaos to a place that’s supposedly removed from it. And while that movie does do that, THE BIRDS equally accomplishes that feat. Hitchcock takes the ideal, picture perfect town and does his best to crush it, taking away any and all safety that folks would expect. The government can’t help. Reasoning is gone. Worst of all, it’s mother nature who is being the ultimate bitch. And that’s really what makes THE BIRDS still work, because the villains can’t be reasoned with. They can’t be explained. They can’t be locked up. When birds decide to revolt against us, we’re all screwed. Sure, we can attack or hide, but there are just too damn many of them. That’s the beauty of Hitchcock, creating fear from the commonplace.

Walk it off. You're fine, buddy.

Another great element is that Hitchcock avoids explaining too much about what’s actually occurring. The most information we receive arrives either through a few radio broadcasts or when the old bird lady Mrs. Bundy shows up at the diner just after the school attack (and an Irish drunk (lawsuit!) announces it’s the end of the world). She explains that 8,650 species of birds exist in the world with over five billion birds in North America alone. In other words, humans are f*cked. This is the moment when the acting really shines. Everyone, from the stars to the suckers cast just to have birds peck out their brains, seems truly fearful. Most of all, poor Tippi as Hitchcock did his best to destroy her.

Now something that people could fault THE BIRDS for comes from the dated effects. Yes, the “green screen” technology blew in 1963. Yes, when the birds attack it doesn’t look too real when it’s rear projection. Yes, when the birds attack …But it still works. Hitchcock has a style that might not look modern, but it never looks outdated. Take for example the iconic scene when Melanie seeks refuge in that phone booth (kids, that’s a place where people went into a “booth” to talk on the phone) and she watches the world fall into chaos around her. The effects aren’t exactly AVATAR-level, but that rear projection gives it a style all its own. It looks like a movie, and that’s not a bad thing.  

Look behind you, lady!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: THE BIRDS isn’t exactly the fastest movie ever made. In fact, until the birds start flocking around about 45 minutes in that things finally pick up speed. Until then, the movie plays like a typical romance tale that drags on a bit too long. I get it. Writer Evan Hunter (the movie is based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, which is a good read) wanted to make viewers care about Melanie and Mitch. But…he could’ve got to the point a little faster. With that said, part of the reason that the last hour plays so intense probably comes from the fact that the first hour is slow.  

Driving Miss Daisy can run.

THE VERDICT: Yes, PSYCHO remains Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but THE BIRDS isn’t far behind. It takes too long to get moving and the characters aren’t as interesting as a Norman Bates, but it’s such a well-made, interesting film that really pushes the human psyche. It’s brutal without being graphic, and it creates more fear about the end of the world than most post-apocalyptic movies can hope to try for. So yeah, of course THE BIRDS holds up. Don’t be stupid.



Mr. Hitchcock looks fun.

Extra Tidbit: Do you think THE BIRDS holds up?



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