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John’s Horror Corner: Dead Birds (2004), a low budget Civil War period piece mashing up a cult creature feature with an odd haunting, and starring Michael Shannon!

May 16, 2018

MY CALL:  This oddity stars a lot of before-they-were-stars and aims high with a low budget to deliver a dumb but fun romp full of cheap jump scares. Enjoy.

Alabama, 1863—A gang of bank robbers with little trust among them spend the night in an abandoned plantation estate. As soon as they wade through the corn fields to ensure the house is truly vacant, they encounter (and shoot) a strange, eyeless and relatively hairless monster that they pass off as some sort of animal. Shortly thereafter one of their men disappears and another has visions of a horrifying little boy in the house. So, clearly their threat is supernatural and intelligent. Naturally, they say in the house.

The plot sounds overly basic—and a lot like Feast (2005) or Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)—but ends up delivering something more like a haunting than a creature feature. I actually only watched this when I learned it was one of Michael Shannon’s (The Shape of Water, Bug) early films. Then I noticed more familiar faces.

The cast includes Isaiah Washington (Ghost Ship), Nicki Aycox (Joy Ride 2, Jeepers Creepers II), Patrick Fugit (Gone Girl), Henry Thomas (Gerald’s Game, Fire in the Sky, Ouija: Origin of Evil) and Mark Boone Junior (30 Days of Night, Halloween II, Vampires).

Despite its low budget, this film is ambitious with its special effects. The opening scene depicts a rather gory bank robbery complete with blowing someone’s head clean off, and we see our monster up close—both in the first 15 minutes. The gunshot and slashing wounds are almost entirely CGI (much like The Walking Dead), but at least it’s all on-screen. I appreciate the effort and feel it looks more than good enough to entertain.

Director (Alex Turner; Red Sands) and writer Simon Barrett (You’re Next, Blair Witch, The Guest) truly succeed on delivering a fun popcorn horror night full of jump scares (although cheap, they’re fun if you know what you’re getting into) and a variety of special effects. Admittedly, this $1.5 million direct-to-DVD film’s scares may not compare to the jumpy fun or scare-ticipation of Lights Out (2016), but it does a solid job of mixing things up. I was especially surprised (and pleasantly so, given the low budget) with the scene of the monster emerging from the woman’s stomach—and I was so glad they went with practical effects. Additionally, however hokey, I enjoyed the “scarecrow decapitation scene” towards the end.

This film has earned a small cult following. You know what? I think it’s deserving. It aims high and features a broad cast of before-they-were-stars. One may be annoyed that nothing about the haunting, the monsters or their form are explained. But whatever. It’s dumb and fun.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    May 17, 2018 9:39 am

    I kind of like the look of this : )

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 17, 2018 9:59 am

      This is how we all pictured our mothers when they’d drop us off at school before they got ready for work in the morning… still in their curlers and bathrobes.

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  1. John’s Horror Corner INDEX: a list of all my horror reviews by movie release date | Movies, Films & Flix

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