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,