Directed by Alex Turner
Produced by Ash Shah, David Hillary & Timothy Peternel
Written by Simon Barrett
Director of Photograpy Steve Yedlin
Music by Peter Lopez
Cast: Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Isaiah Washington & Michael Shannon
2004/91 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment DVD
As a rule, I'm not a big fan of period pieces. I don't know, maybe it's because I consider the past to be boring. Yet, I make an exception to this rule for horror films which are set in the days gone by. While times may change, fear remains a constant in our world, and thus scary movies can transcend time. DEAD BIRDS is a nice entry into this genre, as it represents a well-made period horror film and one of the best haunted house movies that I've seen in a while.
DEAD BIRDS takes place in 1863, during the height of the Civil War. A group of soldiers, led by William (Henry Thomas), rob a bank (killing everyone inside), and head for Mexico. William has instructed the robbers, Sam (Patrick Fugit), Annabelle (Nicki Lynn Aycox), Todd (Isaiah Washington), Clyde (Michael Shannon), and Joseph (Mark Boone Junior), that they will spend the night in a nearby mansion. The mansion was the ancestral home of a late soldier who William met in a military hospital. When the group reaches the house, they find two peculiar things; first, they are accosted by a bizarre creature which looks like a skinned dog, and secondly, in the cornfield which borders the house, there hangs a very life-life scarecrow. As a violent thunderstorm hits the area, the group settle into the house. However, they begin to feel unease, as they experience odd noises, disembodied voices, and apparitions with blank faces. The growing fear is matched by the paranoia that the robbers feel as they each hunger for the gold that they've stolen. As the night wears on, members of the party begin to disappear and the survivors learn the dark secret of the house.
DEAD BIRDS is the most recent member of that group of movies that I like to call "Movies with actors that you recognize which are better than most of the crap out there that never made it to the theater". Also, along with SAW, it's one of the most effective movies that I've seen so far this year. The movie isn't necessarily original, but it's effective and does a great job of combining suspense, creepiness, and gore. Once the group reaches the house, we know that something is going to happen...why else would we be here?
But, director Alex Turner and writer Simon Barrett, take a very deliberate approach to the story, and after the "skinned dog" is found at around the 13 minute mark, it's quite sometime before anything truly scary happens again. This period of the film focuses on the group exploring the house and talking about the gold. But, once the frights begin, the last third of the film is very powerful. Also, the movie waits until this final act to begin explaining exactly what is happening inside the house. And even though some details of the story remain a bit murky, overall the script is quite impressive. Barrett's script is an odd mixture of western and EuroHorror (the score definitely has a EuroHorror feel), and shows quite a different pace from his wacky FRANKENFISH.
Those of you who have grown tired of PG-13 horror films which focus on mild shocks will find DEAD BIRDS refreshing, as it doesn't pull any punches. From the gory bank robbery scene at the opening to the bizarre creatures which inhabit the house, Turner has filled the movie with disturbing images that will linger with the viewer after the film has ended. The creatures in the film have a very unique look and Turner gives us teasing glimpses of them throughout the film. The movie also benefits from its stellar cast, despite the fact that some of the dialogue sounds a bit forced at times. In this age of watered-down horror, DEAD BIRDS is a nice throwback to the no-holds-barred kind of independent filmmaking from the late 70s, mixed with the respectable indy movement of today. The film gets off to a slow start, but it soon picks up and delivers some creepy goods. And once the ending is revealed, many viewers will want to watch the film again to see what twists they missed. Thankfully, DVD will give DEAD BIRDS a chance to fly.
DEAD BIRDS lands on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fine as it is quite clear and sharp. The daytime scenes show some fine grain, but it's not distracting. Once night falls, the movie becomes quite dark, but the action is always visible. The colors look good and the blacks are very true. There is some minor artifacting, but it isn't that bad. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. DEAD BIRDS is one of those films which is made even better by its sound design and the DVD brings home nice usage of surround sound and subwoofer action.
The DEAD BIRDS DVD contains some nice special features. The DVD contains two audio commentaries. The first features director Alex Turner, who speaks at length throughout the film. He does a nice job of balancing thoughts on the story with details about the making of the movie. He is honest about the low-budget aspects of the film and how certain obstacles were overcome. The second track has Turner, along with actors Henry Thomas & Nicki Aycox, composer Peter Lopez, and screenwriter Simon Barrett. This is a fun track as the group reminisces about their time on location in Alabama. They pay great attention to the details of each scene and give us a lot of information about the making of the movie. The DVD contains a 27-minute featurette called "Making DEAD BIRDS". This segment is mostly made up of on-location vide and takes a non-linear "fly on the wall" approach. I'm not crazy about this style, as it seems to raise more questions than it answers. I wanted to know more about the story, but I didn't get that here. What we do get is a hilarious moment with Henry Thomas and his bagpipes and some odd dirt on where some of the crew came from. There are 5 Deleted Scenes included here, but they are really extended scenes, as they are missing moments from existing scenes. These can be watched with optional commentary from Turner. The extras are rounded out by a trailer, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©