‘There are worse things than dying’
Dead Birds – aka Deadbirds and stylized as DEAD birds – is a 2004 American supernatural horror film directed by Alex Turner starring Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Isaiah Washington and Nicki Aycox.
An abandoned house with a gruesome past starts out as a hiding place for a group of Civil War criminals stealing Confederate gold, but quickly becomes a deadly trap where no one is safe from the walking dead. They must ultimately decide if their fate inside its walls is worse than the one that awaits them on the outside…
Opening during the American Civil War, Alex Turner’s simmering debut takes a sharp detour, via a bloodily executed bank robbery, into the realm of The Amityville Horror, The Shining and The Evil Dead, with a foreboding edifice – in this case, a deserted plantation house where the outlaws hide out – functioning as a portal for demonic forces.
As a western, it is of minor interest – the historical context is only fleetingly addressed – but Turner cranks through the supernatural gears proficiently enough, from unsettling portents – a dead bird; a book of spells; a skinless, deformed animal out in the corn field – to ghostly apparitions and gruesome deaths.
The central section unfolds at what may charitably be described as a deliberate pace: characters wander off alone to their doom, synced to electronic drones; ghostly children bear their fangs; mysterious human/animal footprints appear; lightning illuminates nasty surprises. The history of the house involves human sacrifice and occultism, and now it seems that anybody who enters becomes possessed by demons.
The lead roles are capably played, if underwritten, by a cast including E.T.’s Henry Thomas and Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon. Period detail and set design show diligence, as do the gore effects, and the lighting and camerawork imbue the plantation house and its surrounding corn field with palpable menace.
Turner grasps for that clammy, Lovecraftian sense of otherworldly dread, of diabolical terrors inhabiting “a world around our own”; overall, his execution is a little too mechanical to achieve those ends. Nevertheless, Dead Birds holds its own among the glut of ghost stories that have been in vogue for much of the past two decades.
Kevin Grant, Horrorpedia
“Despite a rushed ending and some less than clear ideas about its own supernatural elements, Dead Birds is still a very worthwhile horror film … Alex Turner has directed a very effective tale that is most frightening when we don’t actually see the persons responsible for the frights.” Nix, Beyond Hollywood
“Dead Birds has it all—body count, blood, creeps, ghouls and ghosts, and a major chill factor. Well, it doesn’t have dead birds—oh wait, there is ONE—which makes the title the only real issue. While the tension builds quite slowly, it’s well worth the wait, because this one is haunting.” Daniel W. Kelly, DVD Talk