Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful film, The Birds, was released on March 28, 1963—fifty-three years ago today.
Among the many ways in which The Birds broke new ground, helping to shape the modern horror film, is in its profound influence on George A. Romero’s inaugural zombie film, Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Numerous critics have pointed out the similarities of the two films, and the ways in which The Birds created the narrative formula that would be emulated by so many zombie films. [i] The birds, like zombies, are dangerous en masse, as they flock and herd—and birds and zombies are also largely silent. Both The Birds and Night of the Living Dead, moreover, involve humans trying to board themselves up in structures that inevitably prove vulnerable: grasping dead hands and beaks always manage to penetrate their walls.
Both films also left in obscurity the origins of the mysterious attacks by the birds and the returned dead, each of which represented a grotesque overturning of natural law. As The Birds’ ornithologist, Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies) proclaims, birds are “peaceful” and different species of birds would “never” flock together. Her definitive pronouncements (like those that insist the dead are dead) prove, of course, spectacularly wrong.