When I recently interviewed writer Simon Barrett, I had realized that I had only really seen one and a half of his movies. Maybe I’m getting too specific with my fractions, but I’d only seen A Horrible Way to Die and he had written two segments of V/H/S, but I guess there were six segments? So I guess I’ve seen one and one third of his movies? Wait! I saw The ABCs of Death, and he wrote one of those, meaning he wrote 1/26 of the film? One and one third plus 1/26 equals….oh fuck, I don’t know. Point is, since I had liked the things he had written, I wanted to check out some other things he had written. The title alone confused me, because the last time I remember the implication of death being connected to birds in a film’s title was with Zombie 5: The Killing Birds. Considering that Zombie 3 had birds that eaten zombie flesh, becoming zombies themselves and infecting other people, I wondered how “the killing birds” would differ. It turns out that with Zombie 5, there’s really nothing happening with killer birds. It ended up being about a group of college kids LOOKING for birds and they get involved in some weird ghost zombie story thing involving Robert Vaughn. The point is that having birds and death already got me a little apprehensive about where this movie might take me. If only someone had made a GOOD horror movie with “birds” in the title!
Nobody had dentists back then! What’s the big deal?!
In the mid-19th century, a group of confederate soldiers, led by William (Henry Thomas), rob a bank and make off with the gold. During the robbery, Sam (Patrick Fugit) is shot by someone in town. As the group tries to make their way to Mexico, they realize they must spend the night at a seemingly abandoned plantation. As soon as they arrive, a strange, hairless creature comes running out of the cornfield and is shot dead. None of the men really know what the creature is, but they stay at the plantation anyways. Each one of the thieves has a different supernatural encounter while spending the night on the farm, but the desire to be able to safely get away with the gold is the priority, so they decide to stay. One by one the thieves pursue one of the strange phenomena and end up getting killed. From hearing voices coming from down a well to seeing a slave tied up in the barn to seeing demonic children hiding under beds, the experiences get stranger and stranger. The more time they spend there, the more details of what has happened here unravel, learning that the previous owner’s wife had died and he got mixed up in black magic and sacrifices in hopes of bringing her back. Rather than bringing her back, it brought back these terrible things and now the thieves are the ones to deal with them. Sadly, the days of the thieves are numbered as they continue to be killed by the creatures, and when William thinks he’s finally escaped, he’s shot dead by the men who were pursuing him for the robbery. Strangely, rather than William’s body, it is the body of the same creature as was killed earlier on, and seeing the trail of gold coming from the plantation, a few men head into the plantation to investigation. AND IT ALL STARTS OVER AGAIN!!!!!!!
How could you not know what that is? It’s obviously a dog… wildebeest…that’s naked?
It comes as no surprise to me that the story ended up being reminiscent of the work of H.P. Lovecraft in its incorporation of necromancy gone wrong, as it’s not a similarity altogether new for me to notice with Barrett’s work. Definitely more than just your average ghost story, all of the bizarre creatures really only come together at the end for the reveal of what they are and how they got there. If you combine the tone of the story with the setting of the American Civil War, Dead Birds definitely stands out against any other lower budget genre film. Because it took place so long ago, it made sense that when characters were faced with a humanoid creature trying to attack them that they didn’t think much of it, whereas had the story taken place in present day, a good chunk of the movie would be dedicated just to figuring out what the thing was. There were other examples of why the time period was something that helped sell the movie, but that’s probably the strongest example. One of the things I was first impressed by, which I ultimately had to hold against the film, was the quality of the cast. As already mentioned, the film stars Henry Thomas and Patrick Fugit, whose work I regularly enjoy, but also included genre character actor Mark Boone Junior and even Michael Shannon, both whose work is always enjoyable. My initial reaction to seeing all of these actors in this movie I hadn’t really heard much about was that it was sure to be entertaining to see this combination of actors, but now I realize how much money must have gone towards paying these actors rather than other aspects of the film. A lot of the CGI was clunky and very generic, whereas the practical effects were handled pretty well. I feel that the scope and scale of the monsters and creatures could have been elevated and featured more prominently had the cast not been as well-known. But then again, had the cast been of lesser quality, you might have been able to put up with poor acting all the way to the film’s climax, so I understand the double-edged sword. If you’re interested in horror movies set in a different time period and dig the Lovecraft-y demon stuff, I’d definitely recommend checking this film out. And as far as the birds are concerned, I think they were involved in a sacrifice? Or something? Dammit, stupid misleading birds.
Wolfman Moon Scale