This movie is truly terrifying. It manages suspense so well. It scares you not by showing you the title creatures, but by hiding them from you.
Take for example the scene late in the movie which starts with what could be described as a tone of “calm after the storm”. Everyone is fine; the big thing has passed (for now). Melanie (played by Tippi Hedren) hears a noise upstairs. She knows she shouldn’t go up there, and so do we. But, of course, she does. Every step she takes just increases the “suspense factor”.
The Birds benefits from some great performances and some great, likable characters. Hedren doesn’t take those steps upstairs alone, because we are with her. We are with all of these people. We are as invested in their fates as they are.
Like many Hitchcock pictures, this one teases you. Birds are seen early in the film. Hedren’s character is hit by one. The chickens won’t settle down. Then, one normal morning, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), Rock Hudson‘s mother, discovers something wholly gruesome. And it just gets worse from there.
Alfred Hitchcock is probably my favorite director, and almost all of his (best) films are about normal people doing normal things turning into weird people, doing weird things, or having weird things happen to them. Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Notorious… their plots all stem from a degree of coincidence. The same goes for The Birds.
What if Hudson and Hedren never meet? What if Hedren never goes to Bodega Bay? What if Hitchcock never made this movie? I can only answer one of those (the last, of course). And the answer is sadness, on my part.