It’s difficult not to feel cynical about the work of Alfred Hitchcock given the lavish praise and reputation he’s been awarded posthumously.
He’s been given ‘best director ever’ plaudits, and whilst he was pretty bloody good at his peak, he did make some extremely bad films too, especially in his latter days. The Birds represent him at his peak though, what with it being a brilliantly suspenseful, still shocking bit of horror that still has the ability to give you a jolt 50 years after release.
Based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, it involves a young woman called Melanie (played by Tippi Hedren) and a blossoming romance with a chap called Mitch (Rod Taylor) in a quaint area called Bodega Bay.
Things are going smoothly until Melanie is suddenly attacked and injured by a frenzied seagull. Soon after, all the birds in the area start becoming incredibly aggressive, and inevitably quite deadly, as they start attacking the townsfolk en masse.
If The Birds was released today there would doubtless be some awful bit of exposition explaining why the feathered menace started attacking all and sundry, delivered by a horribly generic protagonist/genius scientific researcher.
The movie is that much more effective as it’s not explained at all why they start attacking, making scenes such as the one where Melanie’s casually having a sit down on a bench, as an all too literal murder of crows silently gathers behind her, that much more dread inducing.
Clearly the ravages of time have maybe diminished some of its ability to frighten, but it’s still capable of delivering the odd jolt, and as an exercise in suspense it’s flawless.
Like the best sci-fi and horror fiction, it poses a ‘what if’ question that isn’t completely unrealistic. What if all the birds in the world decided they’d had enough of us (and honestly, who’d blame them)?
We’d have no chance. For this reason and others, The Birds has lost little of its power.