The Birds

The following is an excerpt posted by Bookgasm of Horror Films FAQ, written by John Kenneth Muir. Check out the rest of the excerpt here.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds opens on a seemingly normal day in the early 1960s with attractive Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) visiting a bird shop in scenic San Francisco. As she enters, a flock of birds is seen in the distance among the skyscrapers: circling and cawing but otherwise nonthreatening. This view is a deliberate foreshadowing of what is to come, a simmering before the inevitable boil.

Once Melanie is in the store, however, things do heat up. She attempts to pull a prank on a handsome man, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), by pretending to be a bird-shop employee. But Mitch, who claims to be there to purchase two “love birds,” is actually pulling a prank of his own and soon gets the better of Melanie.

This game of cat and mouse spurs a veritable obsession in Melanie, and she soon tracks Mitch to his home, sixty miles up the coast in scenic Bodega Bay, a little hamlet described as a “a collection of shacks on a hillside.” Her not-so covert mission is to initiate a sexual relationship with Mitch. Melanie does so under the guise of delivering him his love birds.

Once in town, Melanie also meets the town’s schoolteacher, Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), another woman who once shared an intimate relationship with the apparently promiscuous Mitch. There is a quick rivalry between Annie and Melanie, and some jealousy, too. Meanwhile, as Melanie grows closer to Mitch, she is looked upon with stern disapproval by Mitch’s shrewish, controlling mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy). Lydia is a cold, emotionally closed off woman, still despondent over the death of her husband years earlier.

While all these tumultuous personal relationships shift and grow, the inexplicable suddenly occurs. Birds of all varieties launch a coordinated attack on Bodega Bay, ambushing the local school, killing Annie, dive-bombing the local diner, and laying merciless siege to Mitch’s family farmhouse, a location reachable primarily by motor boat and therefore isolated…

Today, The Birds has lost little of the searing dramatic punch that captivated audiences four decades ago. The lack of a scientific or rational explanation behind the avian attack lends the film a powerful and undeniably sexual subtext. The bird attacks, one can detect upon close viewing, occur because of turbulent human emotions. In short, this film is all about not just the birds, but the bees.

Keep reading at Bookgasm!

Horror Films FAQ explores a century of ghoulish and grand horror cinema, gazing at the different characters, situations, settings, and themes featured in the horror film, from final girls, monstrous bogeymen, giant monsters and vampires to the recent torture porn and found footage formats. The book remembers the J-Horror remake trend of the 2000s, and examines the oft-repeated slasher format popularized by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).

After an introduction positioning the horror film as an important and moral voice in the national dialogue, the book explores the history of horror decade by decade, remembering the women’s liberation horrors of the 1970s, the rubber reality films of the late 1980s, the serial killers of the 1990s, and the xenophobic terrors of the 9/11 age. Horror Films FAQ also asks what it means when animals attack in such films as The Birds (1963) or Jaws (1975), and considers the moral underpinnings of rape-and-revenge movies, such as I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Irreversible (2002). The book features numerous photographs from the author’s extensive personal archive, and also catalogs the genre’s most prominent directors.

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About HLPAPG

Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on September 19, 2013, in Film & TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I loved watching The Birds. I loved how Hitchcock took an ordinarily mundane creature and turned it into a horrifying monster. The only part of The Birds which I thinks falls short of the mark is the resolution. The a car driving off slowly and almost silently into the distance was a bit of an anti-climax after the tension of the rest of the movie. Great post!

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