Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Birds/The Birds 2: Land's End

I think these two films may have possibly the least drop-off in quality of any sequel to a Hitchcock film (the possible exception being the surprisingly excellent Psycho 2), though here that’s mostly because the original is pretty crummy, so the sequel didn‘t really have to try as hard.
To be fair, there are only two problems with the original, but both are critical: the pacing is seriously off, and then-modern special effects were nowhere near good enough to handle such a story. The first issue comes into play because of how, in a movie that audiences are attending solely for random bird violence, we don’t get our first actual attack until we’re about fifty minutes in. Prior to that we get a clumsy love angle with Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor at scenic Bodega Bay that feels like Hitch was just going through the motions to satisfy an audience that has come to expect a romance in all of his films. What it ends up causing is a fairly dull first half, leaving the second half to do all the heavy lifting with the special effects.

And sorry to all of you out there who watched this as children and have cultivated a lifelong fear of birds ever since, but the special effects in no way hold up. We get a great many shots of people screaming as stuffed birds are thrown at them, shots where the actors are clumsily superimposed over shots of birds flying, and a few shots of birds being attached to actors via string (with their mouths tied shut), so they could frantically flap their wings against actors’ backs in their terror to get away. Of these, the third is the only part that looks even a little bit convincing, and even then it just looks like the birds are more trying to get free than menace anyone. I suppose it would be more feasible to try to make a movie of this nowadays with the advent of CG (indeed, Platinum Dunes has been trying to do a remake for years now as part of their ongoing efforts to make sure every horror movie ever made has a lousy remake), but I’m a little hesitant to go along with Hollywood’s idea that CG is a magic cure all. After all, it’s that kind of thinking that leads to Transformers.

It is lightened somewhat by a brilliantly ridiculous scene in a diner before and after one of the bird attacks. Not only do we get the snooty skeptic who throws a nice exposition dump at us about birds and how many there are and their brain pans and how we’d all be dead instantly if they turned on us en masse, but we also get a guy going on in a refreshingly matter of fact way about how it’s the end times, and a woman that launches into an attack on Hedren that starts out as shrill histrionics and goes more out of control from there. I mean, I know it’s common practice to point fingers after something terrible happens, but for her to pretty much arbitrarily go after Hedren with lines like “I think you’re evil. EEEEEEEEEEEEVVVIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLL!!!!!!” is a bit much.

The sequel (which itself is more of a remake, particularly with its cameo by Hedren playing a different character) is also pretty terrible, though the special effects aren’t quite as laughably bad here. While there were more than a couple similarities between the original and Jaws, this sequel feels almost more like a Jaws rip-off than a Birds rip-off. First, we get attacks right from the very beginning, which only our hero seems to have figured out, while the villainous fat mayor keeps insisting it isn’t a real problem and we need to keep our lovely island together and avoid any kind of panic.

It is surprising that the sequel isn’t bloodier. It was made for Showtime, which has never had any issues with gore, and yet it’s barely any bloodier than the original was back before the existence of R ratings. In fact, the single goriest part of the original, the reveal of a body with its eyes pecked out, is replicated here, but done worse, as now instead of actually looking like his eye sockets are empty, he looks like he just has two glass eyes. Just a real shoddy effort all around.

Of all of Hitchcock’s post-Psycho efforts, this is the one that has garnered the biggest following, and I can only assume a good deal of that is people who saw it as children before they were old enough to notice how horrid the effects were. It does have some interesting aspects to it, like the curious decision not to have any music in the film (Herrmann is instead credited as a sound consultant), and the fact that this is Hitchcock’s only film in which the heroes lose, but the main focus is visibly on the bird attacks, which are the weakest parts of the film. Probably at least some of its fanship comes from horror fans excited that it’s his bloodiest film (though it’s really no worse than the Hammer films of the time), but overall it really doesn’t stand on its own feet. If you really need to see Hitchcock doing horror, watch Psycho or Frenzy, they’re both better films.

Rating: The Birds - * ½ / The Birds 2: Land’s End - *

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