The Birds II

(Alan Smithee, USA, 1994)


It is a brave filmmaker who takes on the challenge of creating a sequel to a Hitchcock classic; only Richard Franklin’s ingenious Psycho II (1983) has satisfied a decent majority of Hitch buffs. The person who directed The Birds II: Land’s End – Rick Rosenthal of Bad Boys (1983) fame – did not, finally, even want their name on the credits, turning that honour over to the infamous pseudonym of Alan Smithee. (Another B movie team – Ken and Jim Wheat, who have together made several horror-thrillers including Lies [1983] – supplied the script.)

Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) was, and remains, a unique film, straddling several genres: supernatural fantasy, suspense thriller, romantic melodrama. Its style was chillingly minimal (with Bernard Herrmann supplying only simulated bird noises, not a conventional musical score), and its precise meaning was open, elusive. The birds, attacking in a vast, anonymous mass, could be responding to any number of human conditions, such as environmental crime or interpersonal malaise. They might be seeking revenge, or simply giving advance notice of the apocalypse.

In The Birds II these ambiguities are no longer very tantalising. Every interpretative option is ploddingly spelt out: a wise old lighthouse keeper (Jan Rubes) collects birds murdered by pollution and warns of “the revenge of nature”; the domestic argument of a couple (Brad Johnson and Chelsea Field) calls up a horde of angry seagulls. Compared to Hitchcock’s terrifying attack scenes set in a children’s playground, a house and a town square, the moments of violence here look cheap and uninventive.

Although the setting has been changed from Bodega Bay to Land’s End, this version strives to recreate many physical details of the original, right down to the domestic fittings. Tippi Hedren makes a pallid return appearance, but at least this time she is spared grievous bodily harm. There are very few contemporary touches: a malaise-ridden family reminiscent of the yuppies-in-peril common to many recent thrillers; a squad of grotesque, shotgun-toting, law enforcing rednecks straight out of a Porky’s movie; and split seconds of gruesome gore reminding us that Hitchcock’s masterpiece was, after Psycho (1960), one of the first slasher films.

© Adrian Martin November 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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