All right then, this evening we've got Dead Birds in the DVD player (not literally), and the DVD has a pretty cool menu thing going on, with creepy sounds and animated flotsam and stuff. And it stars Henry Thomas (of ET fame) and some other people, and one Patrick Fugit. And I’m curious as to how his name is pronounced. I imagine it is probably “Fugue-it” which is what people would yell to J.S. Bach when stuff got dull. But it could be “Fug-it” which sounds pretty bad, nearly rude in fact, or it might be “Fudge-it” which is what Chef from “South Park” said when he really wanted to say “Fug-it.”
Well, enough of these shenanigans, let’s get this thing started. And it turns out if you copy this, you’re looking at five years in jail and $250,000 dollars. And so on.
And we start getting our credits, and some black bars fly up over a sandy landscape and spell out Dead Birds. It’s all, well, pretty Blair Witch Project-y, and some of the credits are spelled with “f”s for “s”s, like “Cafting by Shannon Makhanian.” Unless there’s a production role called a “cafter.” Which there may be. But then, there’s also a “coftume designer.”
And the credits over with, we fade to black, and then open on “Fairhope, Alabama, 1863” as the subtitle informs us. It’s a small down with an early kind of mall or something, there’s a big building that seems to take up the whole block. Lots of insect noises. And we seem to follow some old doctor guy as he walks down the block, but then we lose him, and we go to a group of Confederate soldiers. They dismount at the Commerce Bank, and go inside. The leader asks one of the clerks to go get the manager. The clerk goes off to comply.
The Manager comes out, and the leader says they have some stuff (a bag marked “Mint”) to deposit, and the manager asks if they have a note from their corporal. A note is duly handed over, and we cut outside, to see some more Confederate soldiers slogging into town. The music is a bit ominous. Two guards wonder who these new arrivals can be, and figure they are not good people.
Inside, the manager has finished checking the note, and says they can put the Mint bag in the vault (“The best one in the state”) but they have to sign for it first. Leader sees no problem with this.
Outside, the new arrivals banter a bit with the two guards. The new arrivals have some business with the bank, but the guards say they’ll “have to wait a few minutes.”
They decide not to wait, and kill the two guards, then go inside and gorily dispatch most of the people inside. Some pretty good gore effects, here. They grab the bags of Mints and leave. But some of the soldiers file out of someplace else and shoot at the robbers, but the robbers shoot the soldiers without much problem. The robbers also manage to kill a little boy, and that’s probably not good for their karma.
The robbers ride on, and pause in a nice arboreal glen. One of them was hit in the shoulder, but he insists he is okay. The robbers discuss how many people will be after them, and the consensus seems to be, not too many at first, but more later.
They continue to ride off, and ride some more through some woods and stuff, and they come across a wagon which has a bunch of dead bodies and some people picking over these dead bodies, looking for wallets and things like that. The bank robbers ask where the Hollister place is, and they don’t get any useful information. It seems there is no Hollister place, or a creek whereby it might be found against, according to the wallet robbers.
Two of the more thuggish members of the robbers think this means the robber leader’s plans stink, and this is simply the latest stink to emanate from them.
So, the riders ride off, and the other guys watch them, and the riders watch the other guys watch them. And we get some more very nice scenery. And more Blair Witch soundtrack echoing vastnesses or maybe cellos.
At length, they come to a cornfield, beyond which is a house which they figure is the Hollister place. They can’t see a path to the house, so they just trample down the cornfields where the corn of wrath is stored.
One of them, who is female, spots a scarecrow. But not just any scarecrow. It seems to be a body put up as a scarecrow. It creeps everyone out for a moment, but they all move on. And they keep moving on, until something pale with sharp teeth bursts through the corn and runs away from them. The wounded guy shoots it, though, and it falls over dead. Seems to be a pale person with empty eye sockets. They all gather round the body and speculate about it, some saying it was a skinned human, others say it was a wild boar. Yeah, well, they’re pretty similar aren’t they. Looks like our cover creature, to be honest, a rather raw looking humanoid with empty eye sockets and sharpened teeth.
Leader decides getting to the house is a good idea, so they do that. Just before they get to the house, a big storm rolls in. Leader yells out how they’re leaving for Mexico in the morning. And they get to the house, and it is large and deserted.
Wounded guy notes how he just stepped on a dead bird (hey!), but female (Annabelle) says Yeah, whatever, we need to get that bullet out of your shoulder. Not before a shock cut to the dead bird, of course. What are friends for? And a zoom to the bird, too, accompanied by red filters and loud insects.
Then a match being lit. A lantern lit (I guess) and people wandering inside (now that it’s dark, I guess they waited a long while because, uh, something). They see some dust patterns disturbed and figure it was tramps, so they’re going to go looking for these scofflaws. How dare they, etc.
One robber decides to check, now, to see if the gold is real, and he is satisfied that it is. Leader tells him not to worry about that now, as there may be tramps. And you know tramps can’t be good, unless they’re the ones who sang about a “disco inferno” all those years ago. Those tramps were okay, besides they were Trammps. Also, it is unlucky to check about gold when you are in a house of death, because…it just is. Of course, they didn’t have movies back in 1863 so perhaps they might be unaware of this simple rule.
So the two guys who didn’t like Leader go upstairs, and they talk about how this is a rich man’s house, but now they’ve got more money than this theoretical rich man so that is all right and fine for them. But they’re uneasy because the gold they stole hasn’t been divided into easily sharable parts. They both agree this stinx.
The one guy who seems most evil says that if the one black guy in the gang (he uses the bad N word) gets the same as everyone else, he (Mr. Mean) will be very unhappy. The Fat Guy says nothing. They agree to split up their room searching duties
Downstairs, Leader is poking through some rooms as well, and he finds an old picture of a family, the music telling us this is ominous and should be heeded. He doesn’t though, he goes on to where Black Guy is struggling with a door. Black Guy says the door isn’t locked, but it won’t open, and even Leader can’t persuade it to do so. As they both struggle, we get a shot from the other side and a musical sting, but back up top they decide this is worthless. “We’ll find something to pry it open,” says Leader. “Let’s come back to it.”
Black Guy looks less than assured, but we cut upstairs anyway. Fat Guy is walking into some room on the upper floor.
You know, we’re twenty minutes in, and I’ve been having this growing sense of déjà vu, as if I’ve watched all this before. And then it strikes me. I have seen this movie before. And I reviewed it on this very site, but it had a different title, a different time-frame, and a different locale. Still, it seems very, very similar. (This brought out a flood of writing which I moved to the end of this review, since it is more or a wrap-up thing.)(The name of the other movie? You’ll find out then!)
So, Fat Guy is walking into a room. Oh, the suspense. The music is all tense high strings and low rumblings, and he pokes his lantern in the dark room, and seems to find nothing, except he hears demonic giggling. He asks if anyone’s in the room, and doesn’t get an answer. He pokes his gun under the bed and tells the gigglers to “come on, get out” but no one does, so he turns to leave and gets scared by Mr. Mean, who likes scaring people.
”Why you do that?” asks Fat Guy.
”Well, like the breeze through the trees, Corporal,” Mr. Mean answers. If you call that an answer. Fat Guy says he found nothing, Mr. Mean found nothing as well, other than some clothes. The two of them decide to check the “barn out back.” I should point out that their lanterns seem awfully bright for Civil War era technology, but then, I should lighten (ha!) up. Film-makers have to be practical as well.
Speaking of practical, someone is pulling the bullet (sounds like a euphemism) from Wounded’s wound. It’s Annabelle and she tosses some liquor on the wound, and while Blair Witch ambient low noise plays, it kind of seems like Wounded and Annabelle are having a moment, if you know what I mean.
Outside, Mr. Mean and Fat Guy approach the barn. They’re cautious and stuff (what with all the Blair Witch noises and stuff), and…it turns out it’s not Fat Guy and Mr. Mean, it’s Black Guy and (I think) Leader. This film is pretty dark and everyone is dressed similarly (everyone has a hat). Anyway, they’re in the slave quarters. They find what looks like maybe a skeleton and also a book, with crabbed writing and a number of bloodstains in it. “There’s a book over here,” Black Guy announces for those in the audience unfamiliar with such things. He also says that the book contains “spells, for raising the dead.”
And NOW we cut to Fat Guy and Mr. Mean, checking out the barn. Mr. Mean immediately starts on how the gold should be divided. While Fat Guy tries to count up the number of gold sharers (in response to Mr. Mean’s assertion that dividing the gold by two is easier), Mr. Mean says that Wounded “already has a bullet” and how Fat Guy could “take care of our lady friend.”
Just then Leader and Black Guy show up, and Mr. Mean reports that they’ve found nothing here, but it will be nice that the storm will wash away any tracks they might have left on their way here.
”Ground’ll be muddy tomorrow. Leave tracks that’ll last for days,” Black Guy says.
”You hear me ask for your opinion, boy? Cause I didn’t,” Mr. Mean says.
Black Guy considers his response for a moment. ”Ain’t no boys in here, speculator.”
”I wouldn’t speculate on you. I wouldn’t have no use for you. None at all.”
”I don’t see any palm trees for you to hide behind up in here.”
”Oh, boy, I’d knock those eyes straight in your head,” Mr. Mean says.
”Shut up, the both of you,” says Leader, speaking on behalf of audiences everywhere.
Fat Guy laughs and says, “Yeah, I wonder how they got up in there. Ain’t no ladder.” Who “they” are is unexplained, as well as where “up in there” is, though I suspect some kind of hayloft.
”Place is gonna turn me into a little girl,” says Mr. Mean. Uh, good, thanks for alerting us. This guy definitely seems to be trying for his Non-Sequitor Merit Badge.
Leader notes that if anyone was here, they’re long gone now. And everyone leaves the barn, and we cut to some people playing poker. Could be Fat Guy, Wounded and Mr. Mean but they’ve all taken their has off so it’s anyone’s guess.
Leader and Annabelle decide they’re going to go try out one of the beds upstairs. Wounded (pretty sure it’s him) looks askance at this prospect but doesn’t say anything. And Leader and Annabelle kiss and go on upstairs. They choose one room and start kissing and undressing. I’ll say this for the music, it never lets up on the minor chord lonely gloom noise, even when folks are getting it on. Turns out, naturally, they’re getting it on in a room right above the poker game, so everyone gets to hear the groaning and what-not. It distracts only Wounded. Black Guy decides to leave the room to go think somewhere else. He takes a bag that he has in a necklace and rubs it around his face, which may be some kind of voodoo thing or it may just be actorly business. Then, though, he notices something near to us, and moves his lantern to investigate. It’s footprints in the dust, leading out of the room and into some other kind of room with several windows. Again, the music is promising bad things to come, but then I imagine this kind of music, played while puppies frolic, would also seem to promise bad things to come.
And the slow motion (not in the literal sense, but in the pacing sense) of all this also bespeaks of bad stuff, too, right? Halfway across the floor, the shoe prints seem to turn into simian (or dog, or otherwise beastly) prints. And…Black Guy leaves and nothing happens. Well, how about that!
Upstairs, Leader and Annabelle talk (in hard to decipher whispers, and I’m wearing headphones) about, well the following is a kind of paraphrase: Annabelle: Do you know anything about this property, where your folks got it? Leader: No. She then talks about how awful it was to watch one of his patriarchs descend into senility or some such. “He called me ‘Belle’” is her summation. Well, gosh, that certainly made this into a totally rich cauldron of well-rounded characters. Cough. Now, how about some gruesome deaths? I’ve said this before, if you want to make a rich character study, that’s fine, I have no problem with that, but don’t put a scary ghoul-creature on the cover. You’re just asking me to be impatient. You wouldn’t like me when I’m impatient.
”I wanted you the first time I saw you,” confesses Annabelle, just to further make this the evocative three-d world that it is. Leader says nothing, as the camera slowly tracks in toward the two of them. Finally, though, as she appears to be asleep, he says, “Annabelle…I think I killed a kid in town today.”
Really? What with the blood and the mother howling in despair, I bet no one noticed (I am being sarcastic). “Did you see it?” he asks her, and turns to see she’s sleeping.
Down below, the poker game is starting to wind down a bit. Fat Guy is out, but Wounded and Mr. Mean are needling each other and still going on. Fat Guy takes a bit ole swig from a bottle of liquor drinks and I say, Boy Howdy, deal me in. For liquor drinks.
Fat Guy leaves to put the horses in the barn. Wounded and Mr. Mean glance at the gold on the table. But outside, Fat Guy is herding the horses into the barn, and being nice to them. Now that we know he didn’t kill the little boy, I kind of feel sorry for Fat Guy, as, let’s look logically at this, he’s alone in the barn in (what I hope is) a horror movie. That spells victim in all caps. The music makes a sudden upturn, as if to awaken whatever demonic forces are in hiding, waiting to bust out some Fat Guy Whomps.
And he leaves the barn, to go walk out to some ruined brick structure, like a well or some such. He tosses a rock into it, and some kid’s voice comes up, asking for help. Fat Guy is all about helping the youth of today, or at least the youth of the Civil War era, so he lowers the bucket into the well to try and haul the kid up.
The “kid” grabs hold and Fat Guy starts to try hauling, but the “kid” seems a lot heavier than just a regular kid (maybe it’s a Fat Kid, now that would be ironical). Fat Guy leans in closer to pull harder, and a dead white arm reaches out and grabs Fat Guy’s arm and pulls him into the well.
Well, I didn’t see that coming, did you? You did? Oh. Well, okay, I confess, I saw it too. Gosh darn it all.
Back at the house of this film, Black Guy comes back to the poker game room and asks Wounded, “You okay that’s him?” Or maybe “You okay there, Sam?” It might help if we knew his name was Sam. Wouldn’t it?
Wounded says his wound is “itching” him. “Mean’s it’s healing,” says Black Guy.
”Mm. Guess so. How long you think Joseph’s been gone?” I am going to take a wild stab here and guess Joseph is Fat Guy, because I don’t think we heard his name earlier.
I wish I didn’t like cheese as much as I do. Huh? The movie? Oh, sorry.
No one answers the question about Joseph, but a creepy POV moves through a room. Actually it’s just a regular POV, not really creepy at all. And we see Annabelle, sleeping alone in the big bed. Oh, wait, we pan and she’s not alone, Leader is still there, the bed just got bigger or she just got annoying and he scooted away to the other side? Perhaps she snores? The movie does not answer this query but instead we get a flashback or a dream sequence or such like. Leader sees some guy all bandaged up like a mummy but having a way worse time of it than Boris Karloff ever did. And as he turns away we see Leader has a bandage on his arm. And we pull back a bit, and see that he is in an army hospital of some kind, with gross wounded all around, and Annabelle the nurse comes to him and slogs water on him via a cloth.
The guy in the next bunk, who was playing with blood and paid the price, says that Annabelle is the most beautiful chick ever and he’s going to marry her when he heals all up (which goes to show the horror of war, when Annabelle can be considered beautiful, it is the product of a deranged mind. Hey, sorry, but she’s not that cute. She’s not really cute at all in fact. Not that she’s horrid looking, but…let’s get back to the movie.)
We track back down to Leader in his bed, he looks over at Mummy, then looks back at the Next Bunk guy, but the bunk is empty, and Next Bunk Guy rears up from the floor and starts choking Leader, who wakes up in the big bed with Annabelle right there and stuff. Why, it was only a dream! And there’s a knock at the door.
It’s Wounded, noting the absence of Fat Guy. Everyone who’s anyone is out looking for him, and Leader says he’ll be down directly to help out.
And yeah, there they are, outside of the house with lanterns…good thing that oft promised storm just keeps breaking those promises, because…um, rain is expensive to film in. Wounded informs Leader that Black Guy and Mr. Mean are “out back” and he takes the opp to have some kind of seizure or pain or something that means he’ll have to play catch-up to join the rest of the group. He moves off camera anyway.
Next, out in the dark fields, someone is out in the fields looking for Fat Guy (though he calls out “Doug” or something like that). It’s Wounded, and to his whistle, he hears some rustling off to the side, and goes to investigate. (You’d think with the creature they saw earlier they’d be a bit more careful, but what the heck, right?) Now he hears rustling on the other side of him (sound design is quite good, I think I noted this earlier though). Finally he catches up with the other three guys, mentions that he heard “a dog,” and Leader says that with the storm coming (cue the rumble) it’ll be hard to find one’s way around in this large corn field. Man, this must be the most massive storm in history if it’s been rumbling like that all this time and still isn’t here.
”He’ll either come back or he won’t,” someone says, making impeccable use of logic. Leader suggests they keep their guns handy, and everyone except Mr. Mean goes back inside. Mr. Mean goes off into the darkness to check on something. Okay, whatever.
Back inside, Leader tells Black Guy and Wounded that one of them (this particular three) should be with the gold at all times, as he doesn’t trust Mr. Mean or Fat Guy. They all agree this is a good plan, and Leader throws his knife into the wall, because it was a cool idea for a shot or something.
Outside, Mr. Mean goes into the outhouse (I think) and has a seat. This is a bit too realistic if you ask me (and you didn’t). Someone outside starts fooling with a light, and then the outhouse walls start shaking because (I think) someone is digging furiously. Mr. Mean stands and dresses and opens the door, but there’s no one there and all is quiet again. He’s on alert, though, and he sees some of the corn moving ominously.
Upstairs, Annabelle is getting dressed, and a closet door opens by itself. She goes over to look. There’s like a big black bunch of cloth all stuffed into a corner. And someone on the soundtrack whispers her name. She turns away from the closet and slowly walks back across the room. She picks up her lantern and looks under the bed, then lowers her lantern some more. She sees a small boy shuffle toward her, and then his face instantly morphs into a hollow-eyed, needle-toothed, pale creature and she screams. (It’s a well-done shock.)
Downstairs, Leader, Black Guy and Wounded all listen to her scream and the two white guys run upstairs, leaving Black Guy with the gold. Inside the room, Annabelle tells them “There was a boy in here. He ran outside.” Wounded goes to look in the hallway.
He comes back and notes that the three of them are the only ones on this floor, and Leader asks if Annabelle was dreaming. She gets all upset at this, but then Wounded has a convenient seizure and collapses, and the two of them go to his aid. He stands and insists he’s okay, but they make him lie down on the very bed where Annabelle says she saw something. I guess they figure it left the room. Fair enough.
As Leader and Annabelle leave, Wounded says he believes her about the boy. This is a kind of plot point, as Leader doesn’t believe her. She tells him to get some rest.
They close the door and go downstairs, and we cut to Black Guy. He’s having a few sips of his liquor. He hears something brief, which makes him alert, but we cut to Leader and Annabelle on the porch. The rain has finally got here, and they’re arguing over whether he believes her or not. Blah blah blah, she finally notes that there’s “something wrong” with the house and they should all leave now. Well, Leader stands at the edge of the porch in the pouring rain and notes that conditions don’t seem optimal for travel.
Just then Mr. Mean shows up, asking if Fat Guy came by. Leader says no, and Mr. Mean says, “I saw a head and shoulders moving through the rows, but then I didn’t see it no more. It’s either him or something pretty big.”
Cut to the inside, with some pans along the material with the composer and the sound guy all goin’ nuts with the ambience and the creepy-outy-ness. And we cut to Wounded, lying in bed. He wakes up and it seems to be daylight outside—who wants to bet this is a dream? He pulls his hands up to his chest and starts reciting the Our Father…because at the foot of the bed is the little boy again.
”My parents used to lie together in this bed,” the boy says. “This is where my mother was when the consumption took her.”
Wounded keeps praying and squeezes his eyes shut. When he opens them again, there’s an older gentlemen, a typical Southern patriarch type, standing where the boy was. “I had to do it,” he says. “I put the children where they’ll never be found, by anyone. I tried to bring my wife back, but they tricked me. They changed my children into demons.” Wounded is looking like he would really, really like to wake up just about now.
”Who are you?” the man asks Wounded. “Where is my wife?” He starts to get a bit steamed. He raises what might be an axe. “Where is she!”
Then we cut downstairs, where Leader is relaying the news that Mr. Mean might have spotted Fat Guy “and doll” (he means “dog” but the soundtrack says “doll”).
”At least it was some kind of animal,” Mr. Mean says, and looks askance as Black Guy is playing with the gold.
Mr. Mean says they should divide up the gold now, and Leader says they’ll divide it when they get to Mexico. This goes on rather long, but what they heck. Tempers start to flare. But Mr. Mean backs down. He decides to get some rest, though an odd shot shows his hand quivering over his gun, like they were all seconds away from a battle. As he leaves, everyone relaxes.
He goes upstairs and sits on a bed, and sits on a weird looking doll with stitching for eyes and a mouth. He looks at it while the sound guy and the composer get re-enthused, then he tosses it aside and lies down.
Downstairs, everyone is resting around the table with the gold on it. Black Guy hears some weird voices which wake him up briefly, then there’s a scream and a thud which wakes him up for good. He suspects something, so he grabs his gun and the lantern and goes to another part of the house. He goes to that door that no one could open earlier (we get a brief shot from the other side) and stands there, ready to shoot something, or to shoot at something.
Then he decides to move on to another room, and someone starts tapping on a cymbal (on the soundtrack). He goes to a window and looks outside, and just then a creepy face appears in the heavy rain and hisses at him. (It looked, through slow-motion, as if it might have been Wounded.)
Black Guy goes outside to see further what shenanigans folks might be up to. Indeed, Black Guy calls out Wounded’s real name (which was Sam after all if you’re keeping score). But he doesn’t get an answer, so he goes back inside, and as he passes the room with the closed door, it squeaks slightly open. He hears it of course, and after poking his gun in the opening, he goes downstairs. Doesn’t sound smart to me, but at least he has his gun at the ready.
Upstairs, Mr. Mean is awakened and finds a sobbing child over in the corner of his room. He picks up the lantern and goes over to her (it’s a little girl this time).
”Listen, kid, you need to tell me if there’s someone else in this house,” he says, moving closer. We, in the audience are expecting another shock cut. Seems a pity that a film-maker who knows how to generate atmosphere and sets up some really inventive, creative shots, doesn’t know how to scare people other than through shock-cuts.
”Did something happen?” he asks her, and sure enough we get our shock-cut as she turns around. She has a cut throat, a huge, distorted mouth and eyesockets, and there appears to be nothing but crushed innards or bone behind these orifices.
Well, Mr. Mean jumps back and grabs his gun belt, but of course there’s nothing there when he looks again.
And down in the basement, Black Guy is doing some further exploring. Doesn’t seem to be anything down there other than some haphazard junk and some blankets, but that’s not stopping the sound man and the composer. Also, like a lot of this movie, it’s too dark to see anything really clearly. The palette here is pretty monochromatic, by which I don’t mean it’s black and white, there seem to be thinks that are very clearly lit and things that are completely in shadow, no “grays” so to speak. It’s like everything has a really brightly lit side, and a really dark side. Kind of like the Force, I guess.
Anyway, Black Guy in the basement. He finds a leather apron full of various tools. I see a hammer and (I think) an axe, but I’m not sure if these are butcher’s tools, medical implements or leatherworker’s stuff. He finds something curious on the floor, so he picks it up, and it turns out to be a human jawbone.
He drops it quickly and wipes his hands on his shirt. No, no, Black Guy, that’s why we have napkins!
Suddenly hearing sobs, he turns around, gun at the ready. “How did you get here?” he asks.
We see a black woman, tied to the ground via four stakes. She sobs and asks him to please let her go, she promises she won’t say anything about “the others.” He asks if she’s a runaway (remember, this was during the Civil War, and you might recall one of the bases of that war), and starts to cut the bonds holding her.
Suddenly, though, she screams “He’s here!” Black Guy whirls around, but sees nothing. She continues to scream, and he goes to look elsewhere, and her screaming gets more and more intense.
Finally, he turns to her and sees a slit open itself up in her stomach. It widens and widens, and a bunch of internal organs rise out in a big ball, and lift themselves from her body. (She’s still screaming, by the way.) Kudos to the director for once not using a shock-cut, though I’m sure he’ll make up for that in the future. Of course, I don’t know if you could really do a shock-cut with an effect like this…but then I remember John Hurt. So, the kudos remain. I wonder what the hell that was supposed to be, other than a really good gore effect?
Anyway, Black Guy looks on in disbelief, then falls over out of shot, and we cut back to Mr. Mean upstairs. He hears something and looks out the window, and sees someone staggering around outside.
”Joseph?” he says, and it might be. It did look vaguely like a drunken fat guy, though the clothes looked a bit different. I’m sure he’ll go outside to check just for us.
Back at the gold table, Leader and Annabelle are sleeping. A shadow passes over Leader’s face, and after a moment or two he springs awake and points his gun. He’s relieved to find out that it’s Wounded, and we get a shot of Wounded in the shadows, looking pretty twitchy and not at all well. Hard to see clearly but it looks like he’s somewhat bloody (turns out his wound is leaking slightly). No matter, Leader notes that the gold is all gone (hard to tell in the dark like this). He runs past Wounded on his way to see Mr. Mean, who he is certain has committed this malfeasance. Wounded, for his part, says nothing but looks twitchy. A couple of bright lightning flashes show no blood, or at least not where he’s framed.
:Leader runs upstairs. He kicks open all the doors, but finds no Mr. Mean. Running back downstairs, he tells Wounded to stay and watch over the sleeping Annabelle (who is a pretty sound sleeper through all this kicking and shouting). Leader runs outside, and Wounded moves closer to Annabelle…
Outside, it’s still raining like crazy as Leader dashes around the farm house. He seems to see something, but after pausing he runs on. We don’t get to see what he was looking at, so I’m not sure I care.
Inside, Annabelle wakes up and looks at the twitch-o-matic Wounded, and she doesn’t seem to think this is odd at all. She asks where Leader is. He just keeps twitching and doesn’t answer.
She notes the missing gold as well, and when she asks about it, Wounded pipes up and says Leader is “taking care of it.” He has a scrap of paper that he’s all a-twitchin’ about, and he finally puts it on a table.
”What’s that?” she asks.
His next bit of dialogue is hard to decipher. It’s either an overly accented “A door,” or it might be what it is phonetically, which is “a doo wah.” He then goes on to say it’s “a page from that book.”
She questions him further, and he says it’s “no doo wah that you would understand. It’s for sacrifices. First all the slaves. The cheap ones, the females past their prime. We have to follow certain rituals to be heard. Most think of them as spirits, and ghosts. But they’ve always been here. They exist in a world around our own. They wanna change what is in this world. They wanna torment us.”
Annabelle notes how she doesn’t understand this. I’m kind of with her, but I get the gist I think. It’s The Evil Dead!
He, however, notes how his wound hurts. She peels off his shirt and the bandage, and it looks pretty bad. She says they need a doctor. She goes to get something for the pain, but suddenly Wounded notes that there’s no pain now. He also speaks in a Louisiana accent and calls her “Belle” which startles her. (Do you remember that earlier bit about someone calling her Belle?) He asks if she wants to see what “they did to me” and he stretches his hand toward her.
Annabelle notes that she was shot, and she reminds him that she was there when it happened. So she kind of knows what they did to him.
”No! Preacher said shooting’s too good for me!” he snarls. “They just left me up there to rot for what I did!”
Annabelle notes how this still isn’t terribly clear to her, and Wounded seems to be undergoing some kind of struggle, here. She goes toward him, saying “Sam” (Wounded’s actual name as noted) a bunch of times, until he snarls, “Stop calling me that!” and jumps up at her. She screams, and we cut to some bunch of folks in a flashback out in the sun, in the fields, dragging Patriarch (the guy from earlier) out through these very fields, prior to stringing him up on a cross. The leader of the mob asks him where his children are.
”Where they belong!” he shouts.
Mob Leader tells the assembled folk to hoist the guy up on the cross. (This looks like the scarecrow we saw earlier in the film, and in fact there’s a quick shot of a figure that looks very similar, before we show Patriarch pretty unrepentant about the stuff he has (apparently, though not specifically) done). “I’ve opened the door,” he shouts. “They’re here forever.”
Mob Leader says, “Fine, we’ll see that you get a taste of hell in this world, before you go on to the next.” They put a sack over Patriarch’s face and Mob Leader laughs evilly. We get a quick flash of what (I am guessing) was Patriarch’s wife, sitting on a bed and looking pretty wan, like an ill person. (“Ill” in the sick sense, not in the contemporary slang sense.) (“Sick” as in ailing, not in the contemporary slang sense.)
We then get a very quick montage of the mob leaving (“You’ll see!” shouts Mob Leader), some pixilated shots of Patriarch on the cross, shots of his wife on the bed, shots of him thumbing through that book they found with all the drawings and bloodstains on it, and shots of him and some skinned guy staked out in the basement, like that black woman from earlier.
Then some more stuff, like wife turning into one of those hollow eyed needle-toothed things, Patriarch grabbing his son and carrying him off, daughter hiding in a closet, a great wash of blood on the floor as Patriarch reaches under the bed to grab someone huddled under there, then some more monster shots, crawl-thumping along a corridor (quite effective) and rawring from somewhere in the hayloft.
Finally, we cut back to Annabelle, screaming “No!” So I guess she was seeing all this? She looks over at Wounded who seems much calmer now. She goes and vomits up some white fluid.
Outside, Leader is still looking for Mr. Mean and Fat Guy. But then he comes back inside and notes that Annabelle looks pretty shaken. He asks what’s going on, and she says “I saw…everything.”
Leader, though, wonders what’s wrong with Wounded. He goes over to him and discovers the reason that Wounded has calmed down so much is that he’s dead. He wants to know what went on here, and Annabelle says “this place! This place did something to him!”
Leader says, in essence, eh?
”Why would Jeffrey Hollister send us to here?” Annabelle asks. “What’d he know about this farm?
Leader says, in essence, eh?
Annabelle says “It was a trap, [Leader]!”
Okay, here’s a question that has to be asked. Do they know Patriarch? Earlier, you might recall, Annabelle was talking to Leader about some relative of his, who called her “Belle” and she liked that. Just a few moments ago, Wounded also called her “Belle.” She seemed to recognize this voice. She also asked him, back in the bed, where his family got “this” property, which is something that was just never really elaborated upon. My thought was that it was a convenient place to go that this Hollister mentioned, and no one really had any connection to it. You might also recall that folks mumble rather a lot in this movie. Maybe the farmhouse is owned by relatives of Leader? If that’s the case, if anyone recognized Leader, wouldn’t the farm house be one of the first places the authorities would go? Would it make sense to hide out there?
But the big question is, did Patriarch set all this up so these people would come here and find demons?
Well, anyway, back to our story. Black Guy just shows up then, and says that “the farmer that lived here, he sacrificed his slaves in some sort of ritual…to bring his wife back. He killed them because they turned into beasts. Demons! I saw it.” (This is quoted from the film, and you’ll note he doesn’t say, “your relative that lived here.”)
He sits down next to Wounded (who I guess I should call Dead now, but changing horses etc.) and takes a big ole swig from a bottle. “We need to get out of here, [Leader],” he says, and he’s on the verge of tears when he says it. He’s seen some crap, let me tell you. Of course, I’m rather surprised that he’s seen some crap, and is still alive, something that doesn’t seem to apply to anyone else in the cast.
He again notes that everyone should get as far away from this house as they can. But Leader asks about the gold, and notes that Black Guy was the last assigned guard (although I seem recall he, Leader and Wounded all sleeping next to it, so guard duty is a pretty flexible position I guess).
Well, Black Guy and Leader pull guns on one another, but Annabelle is there too, with a razor at Black Guy’s throat. She notes the odds (two against one) and asks him what he’s thinking about. He notes that he can still shoot Leader before she can cut his throat…which of course would make Annabelle all alone in this ole scary house, something I doubt she’d like (and might put the odds slightly in Black Guy’s favor). Still, tensions rise and all that. Leader notes that he has saved Black Guy’s life “more times than I can count!”
”That don’t make it yours!” Black Guy says, but he puts his gun down. He says that the gold is worthless, but Leader still wants it pretty bad. He thinks Fat Guy and Mr. Mean are still around and they want that gold a lot as well. Black Guy starts hearing more voices, and he asks if anyone else hears them. Leader doesn’t. Black Guy is all for leaving right now, and when he sees Leader is still hesitant, he decides that he’s going to leave on his own. So he goes out to the barn, with the other two following, and they see…that the horses have been eaten, it seems. Though not eaten all the way, if you get what I mean. Someone has bad table manners. This seems to put paid to any idea of non-foot transport.
Black Guy starts to laugh. “Looks like I’m walking!” he shouts. “Who the hell could have done this to the horses?” he asks, not really expecting an answer. Then the voices start up again, and he asks if anyone hears them. Apparently, the answer is no, so he collapses, and sees some of the same flash-back stuff we saw earlier, then he looks up at the hayloft and sees a demon thing leaning over the edge toward him, saying, in essence, booga-booga.
”I can’t trust my eyes anymore,” he sobs. “There are worse things than dying,” he continues, echoing the tag line on the cover of the DVD.
Everyone, having had enough, gets up to leave. As they all walk through the rain, Leader runs back to the house saying, “I’m not leaving without that gold!”
“I am,” Black Guy says, and he walks off. Leader says Annabelle needs to figure if she’s going or staying, she should go now so she can be with Black Guy and be safer. She decides to stay with Leader.
Inside, Wounded’s body is gone. This sparks more from Leader, who says they can’t leave without Wounded. This riles up Annabelle, who shouts that Leader ought to listen to reason (ie, her).
Back outside, well, you didn’t think Black Guy was going to get away that easily, did you? He’s walking through the cornfields, when he hears scary noises. Gun at the ready, he advances cautiously. He turns…and walks smack into Dead Wounded, who screams, and…I’m typing this very carefully…Black Guy flies backwards and explodes into a CGI effect that looks like streamers. Dead Wounded seems to think this is a job well done. Me…well, I guess we didn’t see anyone else CGI’d, but, heck, you know it was probably in the budget so use it or lose it.
Also outside, it now seems, are Annabelle and Leader. I guess her shouting at him convinced him pretty quick (off screen). They’re running through the fields, and they come across the Patriarch Scarecrow (a popular tourist attraction). She’s thinking let’s keep going, but he’s got a bee in his bonnet about looking at this thing. He seems to know that it’s Mr. Mean tied up there. So he climbs up and frees him.
And when they get Mr. Mean on the ground, and remove the hood over his face, it turns out that his eyes and mouth have been sewn shut, like the doll from earlier. Leader asks for Annabelle’s razor. Leader tries to cut Mr. Mean’s mouth open, but something sparfs around about then, and both he and Annabelle are thrown back, and Mr. Mean’s head tears itself off his neck and goes flying. Tourist, I suppose.
Annabelle dashes off and gets separated from Leader. She finds herself in the corn stalks, stalked by something other than corn, so she comes to a stop and looks around. She runs back, yelling out for Leader. And we cut to Leader, also stalking around the stalks, looking for Annabelle.
They both walk through the stalks, looking distraught and hearing noises. Leader, gun at the ready, hears something dead ahead and gets off a shot, and I bet there’s an ironic consequence to this action on his part. Who’s with me?
Well, we may never know, as he kneels over his target and starts sobbing. Me, my bet is that he shot Annabelle by mistake. No matter, we fade to the rain stopping, then fade to black. We get some bird noises, and then we’re in full sunlight, and we see Leader still kneeling in the corn. We get a number of angles of this.
And sure enough, we look down, and there’s Annabelle with a bullet hole in her head (also apparently her throat cut as well). She also seems to be wearing different clothes than she had on before, but I’ll be generous and say it was dark back then.
We slowly track into to Annabelle, and hey, maybe she’s got a shock cut in her. Maybe. Leader gets up and walks away through the corn.
He eventually comes upon a dog, who looks like a cross between a German Shepard and a Greyhound. The dog growls at him, he whistles at it, while trying to reach his gun. However, he apparently sucks at both music and weaponry and the dog attacks his arm. He gets up and runs away, and as he dashes through the corn, we get some quick shots of the dog, who now looks very different…still a dog shape, but it has a humanoid face with the hollow eyes and needle teeth of the other demons we’ve seen throughout this endeavor.
Finally, he reaches the edge of the field and stops, stunned. Just as a Confederate soldier takes aim and shoots him straight through the heart. Leader collapses back against the corn, and we fade to white.
Fade in on the soldiers looking over what they’ve just killed…a pale-skinned, hollow-eyed, needle-toothed humanoid (though also kind of dog-shaped). They wonder about this thing a bit, until the leader says they need to get a move on (not before we see that the thing is still breathing, though).
Two of the Confederates are assigned to check out the house, but they’re told to be back before nightfall. One of the soldiers notes the gold coins near the creature’s body, and the other notes it as well. Both of them start thinking about whether or not there might be more gold there in the cornfields. They carefully step over the creature and go toward the house, while the rest of the soldiers continue on. As we leave the creature, we see that it has rather dog-like front hands.
I’m supposing that this is Leader, transformed into a demon-dog-thing (you may recall that some dusty footprints also changed from human to animal in mid-path). So, when we saw him running through the fields earlier, and that was intercut with the demon-dog also running through the fields, was that actually him? Showing how he thought he looked and how he actually looked?
Well, the movie doesn’t answer this, leaving it to discussion groups and extra-credit reports, and the soldiers continue into the corn field.
”Johnson,” says the first soldier, apparently coming across Annabelle. “Here’s another one.” (Which perhaps is another perception thing. She looked like her throat was slashed, perhaps that was how Leader killed her, he only thought he saw a bullethole.)
”Um, hm,” the first says. “Damn, he’s ugly.” They walk further in as the camera pulls back, and we get the credits.
Leader was played by Henry Thomas, probably best known for being Elliot in “E.T.” Wounded was Patrick Fugit. Black Guy was Isaiah Washington, also a co-producer. Jeffrey Hollister played “Jeffy Hollister” who got everyone into all this trouble, but I don’t remember him…unless he was the boy ghost. “Father” and “Girl Ghost” are both credited, so it could be. Fat Guy was Mark Boone Junior, Annabelle was Nicki Aycox, Mr. Mean was Michael Shannon. Well, heck, further on down we have “Boy Ghost” essayed by Steve Green, and after that we have “Dead Boy” played by Evan Hipps. And further down that we have Terry Jones playing “Weeping Mother” but I think it is not the Terry Jones that you and I know best. You know, the one from Monty Python. Right?
Black Guy’s stunt double gets a credit. Too bad I was too slow to write it down, but he did. In the music credits, composer Peter Lopez played the trombone, while the “June Synthesist” was director Alex Turner himself. By the way, none of those “f”s for “s”s stuff here in the end credits. Visual effects by “Difarm” and “Girl Studio.” Man, I want to work for Girl Studio. That is a great name for anything, let alone a visual effects house.
Apparently this was filmed in and around Mobile, Alabama.
Now, as promised, here are some notes I wrote around the twenty minute mark. Much of this is flat-out wrong, as it happens, but I liked it so I’m keeping it anyway. Heck, if Mr. Alex Turner can delay the demons for nearly half the running time, I can do whatever I want, too. [In keeping with my tradition of making snarky little comments throughout the movie, I will make snarky little comments throughout my theorizing, noted by the use of these brackets.]
Let’s pause a moment here. We’re twenty minutes in, and I am starting to get this overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. The group of people who are pretty indistinguishable from each other…the fact that these people are bad people…one of them is wounded, as well…the isolated location…the overwhelming use of atmosphere….
My God. It’s The Bunker, all over again. [As it turns out, not quite.] You might recall from that review that we had a group of soldiers pinned down in an abandoned bunker with an extensive tunnel system. You might also recall, if you read the review, that pretty much nothing happened for most of the length of the movie other than people spooked themselves and got lost, and there was some arguing and some elliptical discussions, all overlaid by a ton of (admittedly great) atmosphere. Those soldiers, you’ll recall, were Nazis, so it was pretty difficult for me to work up a whole lot of sympathy for their fates—these are the folks who were shooting at our grandfathers and putting Jews in death camps. The one factor in their favor was that we never saw these soldiers kill anyone (until the final twist).
Here, we have some ruthless and bloodthirsty bankrobbers. We’ve already seen them kill innocent people, including (and this shouldn’t need emphasis but it will get it anyway) a little boy. Just to ram that home, we saw the boy’s mother agonizing over his body for rather longer than we needed to get the point.
Speaking of points, mine is this: I could cut Jason Flemyng and Bald Captain and the others in The Bunker some slack, because they weren’t shown killing Allied soldiers, they were just shown to be tired, desperate men at the end of their ropes and on the run from the advancing good guys (let’s face it). So, when they were facing the stresses being in the tunnels, I could empathize if not sympathize. I had no particular stake in any of them escaping, because I knew they’d go back to shooting at Americans, but that was a pretty abstract future, just as their past actions were also abstract. As characters in a situation, I could see their predicament. Their abstract past and future (killing Allied soldiers) were kept at arm’s length so that I could place myself in their current situation for the drama to work.
Here, in Dead Birds, I keep seeing the bank robbers shoot that little kid. That’s an event that has already transpired, and the distraught mother made sure we noted and filed it away. I ought to point out that Leader Guy seemed slightly taken aback at the child’s death, but no one else seemed to think anything of it [future note: this taken-aback-ness was ironic, considering Leader was the shooter]. All in a day’s work, I suppose.
Now, given the emphasis placed on that kid’s death, here’s the question: do you think I’m pulling for any of these people to make it out of the house alive? Is there anyone here I’m looking at and saying, “Oh, you’ve got to keep trying to escape! You’ve got to try some more ideas so you can survive!”?
No, I feat it’s more, “Bring it on, Dead Birds.”
Which is a shame, as it’s clear that director Alex Turner is a very talented man. The atmosphere, shots, camera motion and set-ups are all first-rate here. Why do talented people shoot themselves in the foot by making movies about unlikable people, and asking us to care about them? Because, and let’s be honest here, I imagine Leader Guy is going to be the only survivor, the other robbers have essentially doomed themselves. [I was sure wrong about that.] In other words, we know the ending already. What are we supposed to do now? Just watch film unspool? Because that’s what it is, if you know the characters are doomed and you don’t like them anyway, and (furthermore) it’s difficult to tell a lot of them apart.
Movies aren’t just actors saying lines while a camera records them. They’re supposed to tell stories and generate feelings in an audience by presenting characters who have understandable goals and who work to achieve them. More importantly, to work as drama, the audience has to be able to invest themselves in the character’s goals. In other words, we have to be able to watch and see something of ourselves in what’s on the screen. When, um, so-and-so wins the skating championship after overcoming various obstacles, I should feel as if that’s my triumph as well.
I’m not sure what kind of audience would cheer on a bunch of folks who murdered an innocent boy, and hope those same folks escape from a house of death. Sociopaths, I suppose. But do they even go to movies? If you’ve seen Blue Velvet, were you watching the finale and thinking, “Gosh, I hope Frank gets away!”?
Well, as noted, most of that is wrong though I think it’s pretty well stated. It’s just not relevant to this movie, which I am happy to say, finally did give us a horror movie and gave us a pretty good one. I still think it’s a shame that Mr. Turner chose to scare us by shock-cuts. One of those is understandable. Two is pushing it. More than that and it just becomes tedious, and it makes me think the film-makers have no confidence in their menace. Anything can be scary in a shock-cut, a clown, Ed McMahon, a smiley-face button, a hundred-dollar bill. All you gotta do is synch it up with a soundtrack blare and everyone will jump.
Other than that, this is a really good horror movie. The acting was nice and low-key (though a bit mumbly), the make-up effects were very good (particularly the cellar-scene—I’d still love to know what that was), and the camera work and direction were terrific. The sound guy and the composer also deserve praise for piling on the atmosphere. Naturally, I have some more caveats, but honestly, I liked this one.
My next caveat has to do with the bank robbers. Why were they bank robbers? It made them bad people who didn’t trust each other, and thus, monster-fodder we didn’t have to care about. But it tends to be more frightening when you can empathize with people, when, as noted, you feel you have an emotional stake in them getting away from the monster. Seeing them shoot up innocent people, we knew they were going to get theirs, but as noted earlier, that really makes the movie kind of an academic exercise.
And really, they could have been people lost in the woods who came upon this house, and found the gold already in it. They could be innocents corrupted by the gold. That would add an air of tragedy to this.
Finally, I’m kind of confused about what’s really going on here. What we have is, as noted a while ago, The Evil Dead in the 1860’s. But there’s one crucial difference. The teenagers in that film unleashed the demons by being stupid—they played the tape with the chant on it. They have only themselves to blame, really. The bank robbers did nothing of the kind—the demons were already out and about when they arrived, and they didn’t have to be awakened by chanting, or pentagrams, or even bad behavior or infighting (or those perennial faves, sex and drugs). Anybody showing up would have got the same treatment. Yes, there’s some kind of family connection (barely hinted at) and Annabelle shouts, “It’s a trap!” but what kind of a trap?
Let’s say that the hinted-at family connection was there all along, and Patriarch lured these folks here because he knew they’d come, so that the demons could kill them, or transform them. (This begs another question. How was this visit arranged? “Hey, next time you rob a bank and need a place to hide…”) What exactly was his goal? Was he hoping sacrificing these people would bring his wife back? He already told Wounded that “they tricked me” so I don’t know why he’d trust them a second time.
No, I think the problem here is that, like the makers of The Evil Dead, the film-makers didn’t really think an understandable motivation was something they needed. Hey, we’ll have a bunch of people show up and get killed, and then the movie’s over.
As I said, I liked this film, I just wish the film-makers had taken some more care and made it more involving for the viewer (by which I mean me). With some care and thought, it could have been outstanding. It’s still good, and it’s still worth seeing.
Why was it called Dead Birds, though? It’s not a bad title, it’s evocative and everything, but it doesn’t really seem to fit anything (other than that one guy stepping on a dead bird). Still, the title is pretty cool. I was just asking.