Dead Birds review by The Grim Ringler

Dead Birds

I can’t believe it, I, I really can’t, I have actually seen a good direct to video horror film. I know, I know, there are plenty out there, probably three at least, that never made it to a theater and that are still good. I guarantee there are others. But you know how RARE those others are? It’s like finding a direct to video action film that doesn’t have a Wings or Rutger in it, or a direct to video thriller that doesn’t have an ex-Playboy Playmate in it. It’s hard to find, man. And I give credit to the filmmakers involved that they made a suspenseful, scary movie, and one that is worthy of the actors in it.

Dead Birds is a story of damnation and doom. Several outlaws during the Civil War rob a bank as it is getting some military gold and needlessly slaughter everyone in the bank – and a kid as well when they are leaving town – before making their way out of town and towards what they think is salvation. Their goal is to make it to a house where they can lay up and divvy up the gold before making their way down to Mexico and freedom. The trouble is they get lost in the thick woods that surround the town and can’t find their destination. The group stumbles upon an old preacher and his assistant as they are gathering the bodies of some deserters they have found and when queried these men insist there is no house and tell the robbers to be on their way. Naturally the group begins to get a bit concerned that they have been misled. Their leader – Henry Thomas – insists they are on the right path and just when it looks as if he has gotten them lost he finds a vast cornfield and beyond it a house and finally a place they can all rest. As soon as they enter the cornfield though they enter another world. They are immediately beset by an awful looking thing that they believe to be a skinned boar after they have killed it, though upon closer examination it looks like nothing on earth. The house is abandoned save for the remnants of the previous family, so the group begins to settle in and make sure the place is safe. There is unrest amongst them though as greed for the gold starts to whisper that perhaps the shares would be better if there were less of them. But before those feelings can start to manifest themselves the power of the house and the land acts first as the members of the band of thieves begin to see, hear, and feel the presences of things that should not be. They start to feel watched. And when one by one their numbers begin to mysteriously dwindle, it becomes apparent that something has been loosed upon the farm, some evil that is connected to the family that had lived their, but unless the remaining bank robbers can figure out what it is and how to stop or escape it, the chances of their survival are awful slim.

Far better than the lame box art would lead you to believe, this is a damned good chiller. My friend Oktober and I were shocked at how very well made this film is. Beautifully shot and lit, well directed, and wonderfully acted, this feels not like a direct to video cheapie, but like a film that just got released on video as part of its release strategy. Everyone wants their film in a theater, but if it bombs and is there only a week, what the hell good did it do your career? Filled out with solid character actors and placed on sets that immediately evoke feelings of dread, all it takes is a good script to put things in motion…and it almost has that.

The script isn’t bad, not at all. But it’s weak. The notion of bank robbers on the lam has been done and done to death, and while I appreciate this film’s new direction, it’s a lot like another fave of mine – Scarecrows – which has some bank robbers landing on cursed land and paying a price for it. The bank robbery is more of a setup than anything else, but it still is a bit hackneyed at this point. The other big flaw is that there is so much back-story to the house and its previous tenants that we never learn that the great moments of horror feel a bit hollow. I have heard that a lot of that is explained on the commentary but it still doesn’t help the film. As well made and fun to watch as it is, it is confusing as to what is actually happening. And the end feels doubly confusing.

I hope people give this a shot though. I am sure a lot of the hardcore horror dorks are poo-pooing it for not being this or that but celebrate what it is – a solid, creepy horror film that evoked some of the same feelings of dread in me that Blair Witch did. Yes, the locations are used that well. That’s why it is so frustrating that the plot and back-story feel so under-developed. There is a great horror film dying to get out, but the use of some all too familiar plot ideas and imagery (some imagery is way too similar to Evil Dead) drop the film down to a damned good one, which is still cool, but not as much fun to brag about discovering.

The film looks great and the DVD really puts the wonderful cinematography – and delightful gore – on display. The deleted scenes are run of the mill but feature a few that really should have been in the film, especially when it concerns what happened to a dog you saw them with earlier in the film that just pops up again at the end. Not good. And the making of doc was really interesting and well made.

If you are looking for something to rent and want to see something new, I really recommend this. Not perfect in any way but a solid film that offers a lot of spooks and some great carnage for the gore lovers out there. The film is flawed, but it’s a good movie and well worth a rental.


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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