Posted on February 26, 2023
The best horror story ever told, to my mind, has to be The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier. For two reasons: it doesn’t explain the horror and it doesn’t resolve the horror.
Again, according to my own guiding principles, I think of any story that resolves the situation and restores order to be a thriller. By the same definition, any story that allows chaos to endure is a horror story.
Because that’s the one thing we’re all really afraid of. Endless chaos.
In the story, the protagonist smokes his last cigarette waiting to be killed without ever knowing why the birds attacked. In the movie, the survivors slip past the resting birds and drive away. Once again, they don’t know what started it and have no idea how it will end.
I rewatched Hitchcock’s adaptation last night and was struck by how good it is. Granted, I have entered that part of my life where I view with pleasant nostalgia movies made on sets with obvious rear projection, but the dread in the set pieces of that movie are incredible.
One his best tendencies is to drag out the scenes way past where your inner critic is yelling for them to stop. For instance, the scene where Rod Taylor is trying to get the shutters closed while gulls peck at his hands goes on so long it ends just short of comedy.
A point that I think of as “Exquisite suffering.”
The major set pieces – Schoolhouse attack, birthday party, Bodega Bay attack, house attack – occupy relatively small portion of screen time, but they are literally all you can remember when the credits roll.
The only false note in the entire symphony, both in the story and the movie, is when the characters figure out there is a long pause between attacks. In the movie this comes from a radio broadcast. In the story, the protagonist figures out the attacks are related to high tide.
I feel like this lets off too much steam. Without that promise of an extended lull, the scene of the survivors getting into the car at the end would be excruciating.
But one thing we can all agree on is that we know who is behind it all. Right? Has to be the corvids.
The Birds is one of my all time favorite movies. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times. The one scene where I have to cover my eyes is when Mitch’s mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), goes to the neighbor’s farmhouse, goes into his bedroom, and finds him laying on the bedroom floor with his eyes pecked out. Pretty horrifying!!
Oh, that was the scene that got all of us as kids. To this day, when someone mentions this movie, that’s where my mind goes.