Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Dead Birds

“I’ve saved your life many times”

“That doesn’t mean it belongs to you”

Jarv’s Rating: 2.5 most unexpected Changs out of 4.

What in this day and age does £1 buy you? 2 Snickers bars, less than 3 cigarettes, less than half a pint of beer, a bag of crisps, or, if you’re really lucky, a completely unexpected film.

So, there I was, buying some ingredients to make dinner with, when next to the checkout in the supermarket (of all places) was sitting this little film. For £1. Well, there was a bit of a queue, so curiousity compelled me to pick it up, and, well fuck it, it was only £1.

It does sound like complete and utter shit, honestly. I was expecting a horrendous piece of complete garbage that I’d laugh at. You do not laugh at this film. Also, and let’s be honest about this, my track record impulse buying at the counter is about as good as a fucking paraplegic in the 100m. Mrs Jarv has a theory- it’s down to me not having a functioning quality control system and therefore am completely unable to prevent myself from buying utterly heinous crap when I see that it’s less than £3. Alien V Predator: Requiem (for fuck’s sake) was there as well for £2 and I honestly considered buying it out of some sort of boneheaded completeness drive.

Dead Birds is essentially a ghost film. It’s about a group of confederate assholes that rob a bank, then take refuge in a dilapidated farmhouse (killing a demon dog on the way), where frankly dreadful things happen to them. It turns out that the farmhouse was the scene of a satanic ritual and is possessed by demons. The erstwhile bank robbers fall out with each other over their ill-gotten gains before dying messily at the hands of (in most cases) the demons.

Dead Birds opens with a fucking bang. In far and away the goriest scene of the film, we see the heist in all it’s violent glory. Claret is spread fucking everywhere, there’s exploding heads, squirting arteries and a big fucking mess. It’s gory enough to satisfy the most desperate gorehound, while being exciting and well staged.

The script is OK. Aside from the little humdinger I used for my title quote, it isn’t anything outstanding. The characters are all well drawn, but you’ve seen them hundreds of fucking times elsewhere. They’re all thieving ratbags, and there’s nothing else really to say about them. They’re all backstabbing criminals, and behave as such, there is literally no more depth to them. They start out as if there’s going to be more depth- one is a flaming racist sociopath for example, but they don’t particularly go into it. The actors aren’t given a huge amount of help by the script and as a result are all serviceable without being spectacular. It’s entertaining enough to see Patrick Fugit and Isaiah Washington slumming it, but they honestly aren’t asked to do all that much.

However, I’ve given it a high rating, so I’ve got to justify it- and this is how: the first hour is genuinely scary. The setting itself (I’ve seen that house in other films, probably that shitty Texas Chainsaw Remake) is unsettling- what is it about cornfields that are scary? The ghost/ demon sequences are all hugely effective (one of them in particular is fucking messy), and they cleverly use superb sound design to enhance the effect. It’s all rustlings, crackings, the ubiquitous minor key, and other innocuous noises that just make my hair stand on end. The monster designs themselves are pretty generic- all pink fleshy colours, black marble-like eyes and pointy teeth, but still somehow manage to be effective. The first 60 minutes is exceptionally creepy, nerve jangling stuff.

Unfortunately, they fuck up the last 20 minutes. They reveal the events at the house far too early, and the sacrifice of the slave boy is clearly going to be nastier than anything else the film can manage (although they give it a good go) and as such the tension just evaporates. Whereas in The Descent (which is a far superior film) they sacrifice the horror and tension for ballsy action, here it just leads to 15 minutes worth of damp squib. Isiah Washington’s character in particular suffers a truly lame death (he’s evaporated), but the whole thing reeks of that they ran out of steam.

It’s irritating, because they touch on things and don’t follow through (the female character makes references to the house’s owner, for example), but it feels really strongly that they simply ran out of ideas. This should have condemned it to 2 Changs but it receives an extra half a Chang for the very, very inventive way that they tie up all the loose threads at the end- it manages to completely come full circle. Kudos.

Overall, would I recommend it? Absolutely. In a decade bereft of decent horror, this one really stands out. It may essentially be a fairly generic haunted house film, but it’s also a damned effective one and if the ending lets the side down, it’s only 87 minutes long so doesn’t hang around for long enough to outstay it’s welcome. It’s a good old-fashioned ghost story delivered with no little panache.

And it only cost one fucking pound.

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

21 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Dead Birds”

  1. Jarv says :

    Very surprised by this.

    To think I could have bought House on Haunted Hill

  2. Continentalop says :

    The reason corn fields are so scary is because each cob of corn is phallic shaped.

    That means you are in a field of penis-shaped objects reading to fuck you as soon as your backs turned.


  3. Continentalop says :

    BTW – Is this film based at all on Robert E. Howard’s Pigeons From Hell? It sounds like it was influenced by it.

  4. herrmilflover says :

    Sometimes these little unknown movies can be very good.
    Is there some kind of meaning to the title? I would have thought it would be about killer birds or something like that.

    The most surprising aspect of this review is that you dont take any shots at top-billed Henry Thomas, AKA Elliot in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial! Just looked at his IMDB, I didnt realize he actually had a fairly steady acting career.

    • Jarv says :

      The kindest thing I could do was not mention the acting. It really isn’t worth remarking on and he’s unrecognisable from Eliot.

    • Jarv says :

      There is one shot of a dead bird in the film (just before what on first inspection appears to be a hilarious continuity error), but having read up on it, it’s clearly influenced by Howard’s story.

      A lot of the elements are the same- voodoo, extreme sadism, woman’s footprints and so forth.

      Where Dead Birds is clever is that the film closes with the final surviving outlaw running from a dog out of the cornfield, whereupon he’s gunned down. The camera pans round to reveal that he was actually a hell hound, and he’s lying there with a couple of the old gold coins prompting the 2 lawmen to investigate the house (one remarks on finding the girls body that there’s another ugly critter).

      What happens is that the 5 outlaws stop to look at a bird, the screen flashes red and then it appears to be pitch black- what actually happened is that they were transformed into demons- the pigeons from hell, but didn’t realise it. So when they were turning on each other, that’s why- Isiah is evaporated by Fugit as demon.

      The sadist father actually tells his condemners (in flashback) that he’s giving them something much worse than death, and he’d been cheated by the ritual (hence why he had to kill his family).

      Clever, and I missed it last night, but on retrospection, that’s obvious.

  5. Jarv says :

    No. Smoking arseholes cast £2 and made Jarv very sad.

  6. Droid says :

    Yeah, I’ll never see this. But good review, and well done for finding a good cheapie at Morrisons. But to be honest, I would’ve preferred you have bought AvP: Rectum. That would’ve turned out much funnier.

    • Jarv says :

      Unfortunately for you, I was completely sober.

      • Droid says :

        Bad Jarv. That’s a very bad Jarv. You know a shopping expedition to Morrisons requires at least six beers.

      • Jarv says :

        It was a Monday!

        Degenerate alky. Unlike you, some of us have to be at work this week.

      • Droid says :

        I’m at work, doofus. Only had yesterday off.

        Plus I’ve not touched a drop since late January. Feb is my month off the sauce.

        And a normal persons Monday is your Saturday.

      • just pillow talk says :

        I think you off the special sauce for a month is quite a bit more disturbing than this movie.

        I just can’t wrap my brain around that. Not even one drink during dinner?

      • Droid says :

        Nope, not even a sip. I was doing that nearly every day. I made a habit of always having “1 or 2” beers in the evening. Not exactly a bad habit or anything, but just a habit that I started to think about. So I decided to see how easy/hard it would be to not do that. It’s been pretty easy so far. But when March rolls around I’ll get back on the beers. Just not as much as I was.

      • Droid says :

        Plus you save shitloads of money.

  7. just pillow talk says :

    Oh, I didn’t recognize this title, but I’ve actually caught the very ending of this on syfy or chiller, one of those channels, a bit back. I’m glad I didn’t see it from the beginning since they would have chopped a lot of shit out.

  8. koutchboom says :

    So THIS is why Isaiah Washington left Greys!

    Nice review, and Patrick Fugit slumming it…wouldn’t that be pretty much everything he’s in? Patrick Fugit aka star of Spun?

  9. koutchboom says :

    You know what was a pretty decent movie no one fucking knows, Star Kid. The kid from JP is in it.

    Also speaking of panic purchases I once bought a Pingu dvd because Pingu is the shit!

  10. Continentalop says :

    Now that I know it is inspired by REH’s story I’ll have to track it down.

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