Thirty-one years ago, thousands of ticked-off gulls ominously perched along the Bodega Bay telephone wires in the closing shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” At last, someone has decided to dust off the old Universal franchise. Hitchcock and Brian De Palma being unavailable at the moment, the task fell to another veteran, and if anyone decides to mount an “Alan Smithee” Film Festival, this wouldn’t be too embarrassing a centerpiece. After all, haven’t industry observers been noting for years that Smithee’s work was strictly for “The Birds”?
Story takes place in present time, across the country from Bodega Bay, Calif. Ted and May Hocken (Brad Johnson, Chelsea Field) have come to Gull Island to escape the painful memory of their son’s accidental death several years earlier.
May is working at the local newspaper, where she and editor Frank Irving (James Naughton) are evidently the entire staff. Frank’s a former hotshot photojournalist; we know that he knows his stuff when, putting the make on May, he tells her, “You should see yourself in this backlight.”
Killer seagulls have already attacked a marine biologist, which nobody but the viewing audience knows when the frenzied flock begins attacking the Hockens’ rented house at Land’s End. Before long, the family — including young daughters Jill (Stephanie Milford) and Joanna (Megan Gallacher) and dog Scout — are under airborne siege by the birds.
By the end of the picture, the people of Gull Island begin to accept the fact that, to quote shopkeeper Helen Matthews (Tippi Hedren), “The birds … they’re acting funny.”
Presence of Hedren (in a role bearing no relation to the one she played in “The Birds”) is pic’s most solid nod to the original, though several scenes are reminiscent of the first, and one character notes that “something like this happened before, 25-30 years ago, somewhere on the West Coast. … Only lasted a couple of days.”
Script, by Ken Wheat, Jim Wheat and Robert Eisele, would have been sharper if characters were smarter; if there’s a wrong turn to be taken here, somebody takes it.
Vidpic is credited onscreen to Alan Smithee, the traditional pseudonym of disgruntled directors, but the poster and cassette box list Rick Rosenthal as helmer.
At any rate, the results are routine and acting is pedestrian, but high marks go to the avian villains — real, animatronic and (it appears in some scenes) animated. Gary Gero trained live birds, Kevin Brennan is credited with the animatronics. Bruce Surtees was director of photography; Maryann Brandon editor.
Story is left open-ended, with birds eventually getting the flock out of Gull Island and heading for the mainland.