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Birds are painted onto prehistoric cave walls and ancient Greek vases. As long as storytelling has existed, so too have birds as a metaphors. How has horror utilized these symbolic creatures?
While many may think that these winged creatures represent soulful freedom, they are often used as a messenger of horror. A 1780 nursery rhyme begins with “one for sorrow” and finishes with “thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.” This children’s song is meant to teach the symbolism of the number of birds in a flock. About a century later Edgar Allan Poe uses a raven to symbolize death and grief in the short story, “The Raven.” Birds have even struck horror into modern society. In what may be a clever blend of activism and performance art, the satirical Birds Aren’t Real campaign claims that the winged creatures we see around us are actually government drones created to spy on unassuming citizens.
Crows, ravens, and other birds often make appearances in horror cinema. In The Witch (2015) a crow feasts on a mother’s breasts. Damien: The Omen II (1978) shows a bird doing the Devil’s bidding by clawing the eyes out of a journalist getting too close to the truth. More eye-gouging birds take the screen in Opera (1987). Birds make great horror scenes, and they can make even better feature antagonists. Keep reading this article for the best horror films featuring birds, and prepare for your fear to take flight.
Horror Films about Birds
Hitchcock started many trends in the horror world. “Scary Birds” is one of the biggest, and perhaps most notable. The Birds shows violent birds flocking together to attack the citizens of an otherwise peaceful coastal town. Alfred Hitchcock describes this horror as an animal revenge film. When asked why the birds are attacking humankind, he explains, “Birds are tired of being killed, plucked, and eaten by mankind, so they decide to avenge themselves.” The script was also based on a real-life mass bird attack in a seaside town in 1961. The reasons were unknown until scientists discovered a toxic algae that was likely ingested by the birds.
Damien: Omen II is set seven years after The Omen (1976). It is a coming-of-age story about the Antichrist who is a young boy, Damien, attending a military academy. Throughout the film, a raven acts as a harbinger of death, being present at the scenes of multiple deaths. Occasionally, the bird even takes an active role. In a frightening scene partway through the film, the raven attacks a woman who has learned Damien’s true nature. The bird blinds the woman with its claws and beak, leading her to wander dangerously into a road.
People often marvel at the idea that crows and ravens can hold grudges against humans. Studies show that these birds can remember faces and can even pass their anger on to the birds around them. Dario Argento’s Opera uses a raven’s grudge in a pivotal scene where a flock of the birds, some of who were previously killed by the film’s murderer, are released in a crowd of people and manage to pick out (and peck at) the person who wronged them.
A zombie infection spreads in a hotel. The outbreak is contained, but the infected bodies are burned, sending infected smoke and ash into the sky. A flock of birds flies through the smoke. The birds die, reanimate, and attack. Now the zombie infection spreads back to humans through the pecks of the birds. Even for a cheap zombie movie, Zombie 3 is quite ridiculous. Its director, Lucio Fulci, reportedly didn’t care for the film’s script, and he left the production before the movie was finished (though Fulci’s health problems are also cited as a reason for his departure).
A bird plays a helpful role in this gothic horror, but it is just as deadly as the rest. When the crow resurrects a musician from his grave, it helps him in a quest for vengeance. Like any good animal sidekick, the crow helps the musician, Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), track down and kill the gang that originally killed him and his fiancée. The man and bird share a mystical connection that helps the crow guide Eric from one gang member to the next. The crow even joins in fighting, using its beak to maim one of their enemies.
A mad scientist hidden away in the woods experiments on people with a highly infectious virus. Fueled by rage and a compulsion to kill and consume, the infected victims of the scientist’s experiments escape. Vultures that feed on the corpse of a rage monster turn into rage monsters themselves, attacking a group of friends. The Rage is a low-budget splatter movie made for viewers who enjoy a lot of camp and a lot of gore.
An abnormally high number of people go missing in the otherwise peaceful town of Nome, Alaska, a place that can only be accessed by flight. One widowed psychologist searches for the reason behind this phenomenon. She discovers that one creature is a commonality in her patients’ experiences. Upon interviewing people who have insomnia and blackouts, she realizes that they all recall being visited by owls. Oftentimes, they are the last thing the patient sees before darkness takes over. What other mysterious beings are flying into Nome, Alaska?
Roles reverse for this Thanksgiving. Turkie the turkey is released from beneath an ancient totem pole to resume his mission or murder. Turkie is an undead turkey who was created hundreds of years ago by a Native American who wanted revenge on the Pilgrims (and their ancestors) who disrespected his land and his people. This wildly outrageous horror spans generations of humans and animals devoted to killing and eating each other. This film will either inspire you to become a vegetarian or fear every farm fowl you come across.
Stranded atop a B67 TV tower in the Mojave desert, two adrenaline-addicted best friends fight for survival. 2,000 feet off of the ground, where birds starving for meat patiently await their next meal. While vultures circle the tower they cling to, Becky and Hunter have vulnerable discussions. The kind that two people can only have while sharing the last sips of water in the desert. Becky eventually confronts her greatest fear, and the vultures that want to feast on her flesh may become the catalyst for escape. Will Becky and Hunter return to the ground, or do delirium and dehydration create an unreliable narrator?
12-year-old Tinja has a lot of pressure put on her. Tinja’s mother is an online influencer who attempts to maintain the image of a perfect family and a perfect life, but Tinja feels the strain this puts on her father, her brother, and herself. One day, Tinja finds an egg in the woods which she decides to care for. The egg hatches, revealing a bird-like creature that grows and transforms in disturbing ways. Psychological horror meets creature-feature in this excellent Finnish film.
More Horror Films About Birds
- The Giant Claw (1957) – This notorious giant-monster movie features a huge, goofy-looking bird that undercuts what is otherwise a perfectly fine 1950s monster movie.
- The Vulture (1966) – The sighting of a giant bird with the face of a man begins this silly English monster movie.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) – As Freddy Krueger’s influence over Jesse (Mark Patton) intensifies and strange things happen within Jesse’s house, his family’s pet bird attacks the family before spontaneously combusting in a very memorable scene.
- Beaks (1987) – After a flock of chickens takes revenge on a farmer, a journalist discovers that this is only the beginning of an uprising.
- StageFright (1987) – This Italian slasher from director Michele Soavi isn’t actually about birds, but its killer, who wears a giant owl mask, is one of the most recognizable avian-inspired murderers in horror.
- Killing Birds (1988) – Though it’s more of a zombie movie than anything else (and it was released in certain regions as part of the Zombie franchise), a bird attack towards the beginning of the movie sets the tone for the rest of the film.
- The Dark Half (1993) – A flock of sparrows completely destroys a person’s body in this film directed by George Romero and based on the novel by Stephen King.
- 28 Days Later (2003) – Though birds should be the least of people’s worries in this movie about a pandemic/zombie outbreak, a carrion-eating bird plays a major role in one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments.
- Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006) – A fast-food chicken restaurant built on top of a Native American burial ground is the setting for this trashy avian-zombie-possession-splatter-musical-comedy from Troma Entertainment.
- Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) – Infected crows attack Alice (Milla Jovovich) and her allies, but Alice burns the birds out of the sky with her superpowers.
- Kaw (2007) – A small town is plagued by flesh-eating ravens of mysterious origins.
- Flu Bird Horror (aka Flu Birds, 2008) – Plague-ridden birds attack all who enter their wooded realm.
- I Spit on Your Grave (2010) – Jennifer (Sarah Butler) gets revenge on one of her attackers by capturing him in a bear trap, taping him to a tree, pulling back his eyelids with fish hooks, and smearing fish guts over his face and body. Then the crows arrive…
- Birdemic: Shock And Terror (2010) – A love story is interrupted by mutant birds descending upon a small California town. When the couple decides to fight back, an “epic” battle of human versus bird takes place until blood, and feathers, begin to fly.
- Roadkill (2011) – A road trip through Ireland becomes perilous when a group of friends runs over an old Roma woman. The curse she sets upon them summons a giant bird that hungers for their flesh.