Alfred ‘The Master of Suspense’ Hitchcock never failed to live up to his nickname with films that shocked the world – most memorably by killing off his leading lady half way through Psycho.
The Birds certainly followed this vein of form. It is generally considered as the precursor of all modern horror films and it is easy to see why, from plot escalation to a focus on shocking the audience rather than empathising with the central characters.
The Birds is the story of a wealthy San Francisco socialite/femme fatale (Tippi Hedren) who pursues a potential suitor (Rod Taylor) to a small Californian town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all shapes and sizes suddenly begin to attack the townsfolk in increasing numbers and with increasing aggression.
Before 1963 a fear of foot high pests with wings would have been laughed off. Hitchcock changed that, just as Jaws sparked a fear of salt water, with The Birds.
Tippi Hedren’s reported mental torture whilst filming is evident throughout only adding to the horror that ensues. What I particularly love about Hitchcock films is the use of dead air and the long take. The lack of a score only adds to the suspense, reeling you in through eerie silence. The long takes in his films make you feel like you are living every moment with the characters, it is a technique rarely used in cinema today but very effective when used sparingly and correctly.
The Birds celebrates it’s 50th anniversary this week and is still an exceptional film after such a length of time – more than can be said for a vast majority of films of a similar genre.
Although The Birds doesn’t quite stand up as well as other Hitchcock thrillers, it is THE classic horror film and a must have for any collection. I’m sure I speak for most people when I say we are in no rush for the inevitably inferior remake that is on the horizon.