‘The Birds could be the most terrifying motion picture ever made’ said no-one ever
[INT. 1962, Universal lot, Burbank, CA. Board meeting. Overworked studio execs fumbling paper, looking nervous.]
EXEC 1: We’re all dry. We’ve got a big gap next spring, no way of filling it, what the heck are we going to do?
EXEC 2: Stop panicking. We got this. Get Hitchcock on the line.
EXEC 1: What, you think he can just pull movies out of thin air?
EXEC 2: (Makes a call) Hello, Hitch? Yeah, it’s us. Listen, we’ve got a teeny-tiny slot next March and we think we can get you in. Any ideas? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Great! Perfect. (Hangs up)
EXEC 1: And?
EXEC 2: You’re gonna love it. Horror.
EXEC 1: Yes?
EXEC 2: Small holiday town, Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren –
EXEC 1: Yes??
EXEC 2: And killer birds.
EXEC 1: Birds?
EXEC 2: Killer birds.
[They exchange a look. Look at the blank paper. Look at their watches. Nod.]
EXEC 1: Killer birds it is.
You think it’s ridiculous, but this actually happened (give or take some artistic license.) Yes, in 1963 Hitch made a movie about killer birds – albeit lifted from the Daphne du Maurier novel – and the world went nuts for it. Not only that, but it spawned many parodies and homages over the years – Birdemic even because a thing, for goodness’ sake – that it obviously gave something of value to the world of cinema that people are still thinking about half a century later.
Make no mistake though: The Birds is dumb. I can appreciate Psycho and how we’re afraid of the unknown; I can stand back and admire Hitchcock for his decades-long career and game-changing approach to multiple genres. But for some reason, he thought it was a sensible idea to have killer birds attack ordinary people and that really hit it off with audiences. I do not share this opinion. I think it’s a fantastically stupid idea that somehow seemed to get a glowing response: the perfect example of a really popular, iconic horror movie with a premise that is just the worst.
I’ll admit, I can see why everyone went crazy for it. The Birds is shot in spectacular high definition for 1963, has a chilling setup (if you perhaps substituted the birds for a serial killer), and has all the makings of a good crime drama, suspicious characters with elusive backstories included. In characteristic Hitchcockian style, the dialogue flows brilliantly, unfolding the plot with bags of suspense. But the problems really start when the birds come into the picture. Naff special effects and obviously fake prosthetics mean I just can’t take this thing seriously. Every time there’s meant to be a jump scare, we just get – oh! another fake bird chucked at the camera. And another one. Let’s lob a few more in for good measure and film it in extreme close-up so it looks dramatic! Somehow I’m just not buying it. I can’t suspend my disbelief for long enough to really get my teeth into it.
There’s bound to be some Freudian reading of how the birds represent our primal fears and how getting our eyes gouged out stands for some kind of loss of self or whatever, but in truth, this is a silly movie about silly things which a lot of people nevertheless loved, possibly because of its silliness. It may be well executed to some degree, but no matter the strength of its cinematography or editing, its longevity or even the fact that a new adaptation is coming this year: a plastic bird, once seen, cannot be unseen.
Zombeavers – Nick Hershey
There’s an oversaturation of zombies in entertainment. Between shows, movies, and video games, there are plenty of single-minded, gaiting antagonists to fret over. However, because this post is about the bad and not the good, may I present the 2014 non-cult classic, Zombeavers. The movie is basically what happens when one friend thinks they have a good idea and someone else encourages them even though the idea is bad. So bad.
All you need to know about this film is in the trailer, and it hits all the typical horror tropes in a manner so goofily unscary that it nearly becomes hilarious. There are over-stimulated college coeds complete with internal drama and relationship problems. There are phones and cars that don’t work right when they’re needed most. There’s a creepy neighbor who ends up being kind of helpful. One guy survives nearly the entire movie after pulling his severed foot from the pond he’s swimming in and losing more blood than humanly possible. In its final horror trope, the film ends in such a way that a sequel could conceivably be made. Let’s all ironically hope for this, because the world could use a few more laughs.
Rubber – Jesse Lab
Rubber is the story of Robert. Robert is a tire that gains sentience one day in the middle of the desert. He’s not a demon inhabiting a tire or a monster that took on the form of a tire. He’s just a tire that got up one day and started to roll around and live his life. And what’s the first thing he does with his newfound sentience? Use his psychic powers to make people’s heads explode. Because I’d be disappointed if he did anything less.
There’s so much to unpack with Rubber that I don’t think my thoughts can be contained in two paragraphs. It’s a French Indie horror movie that tries to deconstruct the genre under the slogan of “no reason,” there’s a scene where Robert decides to take a shower, Robert falls in love with a human which makes me think how they would procreate, and it’s actually a movie within a movie, except it isn’t, but it kind of is, and that has to deal with a poisoned turkey. To this day, I have no idea what I saw. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t know what drugs were involved in the making of Rubber, but I’d love to get some. How else would you come up with the premise “psychic killer tire blows up people’s heads?”
Unfriended– Tarah Bleier
Oh boy, where does one even begin with this movie? Skype is evil? Don’t post videos of your drunk friend half undressed on Youtube? This is pretty much the messages I got from seeing Unfriended (luckily I haven’t seen its sequel Unfriended: Dark Web.) The directors wanted it to be scary, but it just isn’t. How can it be when it’s shot entirely on a laptop screen with a bunch of one-dimensional high school teens and a Skype icon with no picture? Sure, it is filled with jump scares, some graphic death scenes and a ghost basically screwing with people using technology – but this is probably one of the dumbest concepts for a horror film that I’ve seen. Trust me, I will never look at Skype the same way ever again.
There was a lot I just couldn’t keep up with in this film and watching it strictly through the eyes of a laptop screen got old real fast. Yes, it’s a new concept, I get it, but really – could we have some stuff happen off the laptop? I don’t get why this movie was made in the first place, and it didn’t need a sequel but I guess there was enough interest. This is one of those movies where I can just watch it and just laugh at how horrible the acting was but appreciate it for the use of tech.
The Beast Within – Kyle Yadlosky
From looking at the beautifully over-the-top poster, you might think that The Beast Within is another werewolf flick about a teenage boy reaching horrible, hairy puberty and all the sexualized murder that comes with it. You’d be wrong, however, as the film suggests early on that our dear boy will be turning into something more terrifying, something more menacing than any pansy-ass wolf. And after one wholly ridiculous transformation sequence, the monster he becomes is – a cicada!
It’s super dumb and turns what was a pretty effective Gothic tale into some very campy nonsense. Cicadas aren’t bloodthirsty creatures. Sure, one fell out of a tree and screamed at me once and I freaked the fuck out, but that doesn’t mean it works in a horror movie. I don’t know what cicadas can do. I don’t even think the movie knows. All tension is instantly lost, and you’re left with a goofy and bizarre spectacle enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.
De Lift – Bradley Sexton
As we all know, the Netherlands is an innovative country. They embraced marijuana early, their most patriotic colour is orange despite it not being on their flag, and they’re called the Dutch, avoiding the fate of being called Netherlanderthals. So of course they would shake up the horror monster movie genre with a truly terrifying beast: an elevator. In what was definitely thought up by a claustrophobic writer stuck in an elevator, the movie concerns an errant elevator corrupted by organic (human?) microprocessors, meaning they threw a buncha Gak on a computer for the big reveal.
The lift racks up a surprising amount of kills seeing as how it can be defeated by, ya know, using the stairs. It’s really weird because the movie has a “Beware new technology” message but frames it within an invention that has existed in its modern form since the 19th century. Of course, since the early 2000s were so, so weird, there was an American remake of De Lift called Down. Interestingly, it stars a pre-Mulholland Drive Naomi Watts and this gem of a scene. All jokes aside though, both are still better elevator-themed horror movies than Devil.
One Missed Call – Chris Compendio
“New technology will murder you” seems to be the premise of most stupid horror movies. Off the top of my head, I can think of movies with gruesome deaths involving Skype (Unfriended), social media (Friend Request), wi-fi (Pulse), and so on and so forth. Perhaps even The Ring counts during an era where VHS tapes were novel. But the first one that always comes to mind is a little film, which unsurprisingly is a remake of a Japanese film, called One Missed Call. What is it this time? Cellphones, man. Fucking cellphones.
That’s right, the premise here is that you hear your death through a voicemail from the future, and then later, that death happens. And we ain’t talking your modern-day touchscreen smartphones, but vintage flip phones. I’m sure this film ages great a decade later. To be quite honest, I don’t remember too much of the movie, having seen it almost that long ago—I watched the film on cable television late at night, out of morbid curiosity. The one scene I remember is one involving an attempted exorcism on a cellphone on a live television show, which ended with flickering lights and someone dying, followed by a piece of candy rolling out of her mouth. I was drowsy while watching this, but I’m absolutely sure that I didn’t make this up. Also, Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks is in this movie for some reason.
I’m hoping for a film one day to capitalize on the Fortnite craze, the premise being that you have to floss dance or fucking die.
Night of the Lepus – Hubert Vigilla
The 1972 film Night of the Lepus is about giant mutant rabbits that attack a town. Read that one more time. Giant. Mutant. Rabbits. Giants can be scary. Mutants can be scary. But are you afraid of rabbits? I mean, sure, some of those scenes from Watership Down might have left a lasting impression on you as a child, but how about just fluffy wittle bunny wabbits? Aww, wook at wittle snookums. As the rabbits hop across the miniatures in Night of the Lepus, I don’t think of the terror of nature run amok or the hubris of mankind. Instead, I think of someone’s pets frolicking in their child’s playroom. I just want to feed the wabbitses carrots and give them kisses on their cute wittle wiggly nosy-wosies, yes I do.
Compare that to the 1954 sci-fi classic Them!, which is about giant nuclear ants. Giants can be scary, as we have previously established. Nuclear things are terrifying (both during the height of the Cold War and now.) And ants are freaky-looking in the way that all insects are freaky-looking. Maybe if Night of the Lepus was about potato bugs or giant ladybugs it would have been more effective. Still dumb, but at least I wouldn’t think “Aww, look at those pwecious wovely hoppies” during moments of mayhem.