Favorite Horror Films of the 1960s: The Birds

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After Psycho in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock directed and produced his other masterpiece of horror in 1963: The Birds. Both of these movies place Hitchcock in the forefront of filmmakers, not only in America, but in the history of world cinema. The Birds was based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, and starred Tippi Hedren in her first featured role, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jessica Tandy, an extraordinary cast.

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The movie follows an unexplained series of attacks that centers on a small California coastal village of Bodega Bay. That the attacks come without warning are crucial to developing a central theme of this film: that nature can strike back at humanity without warning. It is a mid-20th century movie that posits an ecological warning to the world that we are not alone and our actions are not without potential consequences. Certainly, this might not be the only way to view this film, but I suggest it is a central and deeply important theme.

As such, the ecologically horrific implications transcend the horror film aspect of the story, which is very powerful and effective, even nearly 53 years later. Hitchcock creates great tensions and frights throughout the film, often alternating sense of sparse filmic density with overloaded density of visual images to create impact. For example, the scene of the attack on the school begins with Melanie Daniels, Tippi Hendren, going to check on her friend, the schoolteacher. Daniels realizes that a class is still in session in the very quaint, old-fashioned schoolhouse, so she goes to smoke a cigarette. Remember, this is the 1960s, when most people smoked. She sits on a bench with a hill behind her, a schoolyard, and a wide expanse of sky. It is peaceful, serene, and visually calm. Then, in a classic moment of dramatic irony, we see the jungle gym behind her slowly filling with crows.  By the time Daniels notices the coming birds, the schoolyard is filled with them, creating a vast threatening menace. Without going into all the details of what happens, in case any of you have not seen  this film, it is a powerful and terrifying sequence.

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The film was a very expensive production for that time, costing between 2.5 to 3 million dollars, and it brought in over 11 million.  By any standards, it was highly successful and has elicited many forms of critical academic reaction, but all, or almost all, agree that it is a masterwork.

I give this movie my highest recommendation. If you love cinema, American movies, or horror films, you need to see it.

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41 thoughts on “Favorite Horror Films of the 1960s: The Birds

  1. Two of the best; one creeps me out and the other creeps my husband out, to this day. Hitchcock was the master of understanding fear, and it was always subtle. “Marnie” is an excellent Hitchcock film, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. I highly recommend it!

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  2. Sarah

    ‘The Birds’ is a masterpiece. It makes for chilling viewing however many times you watch it. I’ve read that Tippi Hedren had a pretty difficult time of it during the making of the film, which makes me question Hitchcock’s methods, but her genuine sense of terror is palpable and really amps up the tension.

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  3. Loved “The Birds” and the movie “Marnie”, and I do not live very far from that old school house in, Bodega. Every time I pass it, I think back to the scene where the kids are running down the hill. The town is only a few hundred feet down the hill from the building, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they shot that scene.

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  4. This remains one of my favorites (if not THE favorite) of my youth… I still remember “accidentally” seeing it on a bedroom TV set of the kids of our military sponsors while our parents chatted in another room… Such scary-stuff-that-will-give-you-nightmares was forbidden in our house at the time… Thus, a sneaky Horror writer was introduced to her addiction!

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