Birds petrify me. I know there’s not much of a reason for that fear but the screeches they make, the flapping of their wings, the pointed little beaks, it all makes me highly uncomfortable and when a bird whizzes past my face as I walk down the street, I freeze and my heart begins to pound out of my chest. Whether my fear of birds is partly due to having seen Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at a young age or was always present and has made me appreciate the film more than I would have otherwise, The Birds has always been, in my estimation, one of the most terrifying films ever made. Like the monsters that fill so many other horror films, birds can creep up on their unsuspecting prey. They can mutilate their victims and carry diseases and let out terrible shrieks and fill the sky with darkness and worst of all, unlike the fictional monsters that can only terrorize in films and books and other art, birds are real, and they surround us all the time, wherever we go.
Even without an irrational fear of those terrible winged beasts, The Birds still serves as a masterclass in building tension (Hitchcock wasn’t called the Master of Suspense for nothing) and it would still be a compelling film without any of its horror elements. The film doesn’t aim for any grand philosophical statements- yes, it posits that the blame for horrific events will be placed on the innocent and nature is a force to be reckoned with, but it never expects much more than a surface level analysis. However, the film isn’t content with cheap thrills either and it strikes a path in that middle space where a terrifying concept of the birds that surround us turning on mankind can reinforce a simple love story to make something much more memorable than either of its parts distilled would ever be.
As is common in Hitchcock films, The Birds makes use of star power to skip the character introductions that would generally plague the first act of a film and instead relies on the audience knowing something about the on screen personas and though it was Tippi Hedren‘s screen debut, Hitchcock’s methods were so ingrained in audience’s minds that the character needed little introduction. Even half a century later, as these personas have become less widely known, The Birds still puts in enough work that the idea of its characters can be grasped without expressly going through the motions of introducing every aspect of their being. Similar to the character introductions, the symbols Hitchcock introduces in the film are blunt and to the point, with symbols like lovebirds being a repeated motif that clearly represents the love story at the center of the film, and the film is better for its lack of pretense as it provides simple entertainment to great, chilling effect. Still, though the psychological depth of many of his other films isn’t present, Hitchcock fashions the birds as an increasing reflection of the mental state of unease that the characters face and the increasingly violent behavior of the birds is almost in reaction to the increasing hysteria of humans. Though outside threats are always present, it is the reactions communities have to perceived threats that can often be most disruptive and perhaps more so than the birds themselves, it is the portrayal of the negative effects of this mass hysteria that cements The Birds as one of the foremost examples of classic horror.