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'Psycho' vs 'The Birds': Here's how these two Hitchcock horror classics stack up
Both films are now streaming on Peacock — so you can decide for yourself which is the creepiest.
When pitting Psycho up against The Birds, it’s tough to choose a favorite. Both horror-thrillers are Alfred Hitchcock classics and regularly land on lists of the greatest movies ever helmed by the English filmmaker.
Lucky for fans, both flicks are now streaming on Peacock — so you can decide for yourself which is the creepiest. The films each feature Hitchcock’s signature “icy blonde” in a lead role, have an unlikely killer, and boast bone-chilling scenes.
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Pyscho edges out The Birds when it comes to awards and accolades, with the former being nominated for four Academy Awards and the latter getting a nod in just the special effects category (neither film scored an Oscar). Janet Leigh won the Golden Globe Award for best supporting actress for her role in Psycho, while Tippi Hedren earned a Globe for new star of the year for The Birds, sharing it with two other actresses. Psycho currently holds a 96% rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, while The Birds isn’t too far behind with a solid 94%.
Separated by just three years — with Psycho ensuring no one will ever feel safe in the shower again beginning in 1960, and The Birds flying into theaters in 1963 — here's how these two classics stack up against each other in other areas.
PSYCHO: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), a secretary in a real estate office, longs to marry her divorced lover, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), but he can’t because he’s in debt. She heads to work after their hotel-room tryst, where her boss asks her to deposit $40,000 that a wealthy home buyer left in the office.
But instead of taking it to the bank, she takes off with the cash and sets out for Sam’s home in California. With rain pouring down while she’s driving, Marion stops off at the Bates Motel to spend the night. There, she meets the property’s owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who puts her in a room “right next to the office,” in case she needs anything.
Norman seems nice enough — he makes Marion dinner because it’s too rainy for her to leave, and invites her into the office to dine there. The hotel guest catches a creepy conversation right before that, though. Marion overhears Norman arguing with his “mother” in their house, who’s angry about him bringing “strange young girls in for supper, by candlelight.” And when Marion eventually sits down for dinner, she spots the dead birds Norman has stuffed as part of his taxidermy hobby. Norman gets a bit more creepy when Marion suggests that he put his mother “some place.” But she gets out of the awkward situation and goes back to her room to shower, which doesn't work out so well.
THE BIRDS: Lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) pops into a San Francisco pet store and spots socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) at a counter. He claims he’s looking to buy some lovebirds for his 11-year-old sister and asks her for help. It’s soon revealed that Melanie, who’s been playing along and showing him different birds, doesn’t actually work at the shop.
But Mitch already knows this. He says he recognized her as someone he saw in court after one of her “practical jokes that resulted in the smashing of a plate glass window.” He adds that he believes in the law and isn’t into practical jokers, and that he wanted to show her what it was like to be on the other side of a joke, and then goes on his way.
Despite the awkward — yet flirty — encounter, Melanie decides to buy the lovebirds for Mitch's sister. Tracking down where he's staying, she heads to Bodega Bay. That’s when things get way more weird, starting with Melanie getting struck in the head by a gull.
PSYCHO: Depends on who you ask. Norman believes his mother's the one doing the slashing and the audience, until the end, is only shown a figure in a dress and woman's hairdo hacking away with a knife. But in a shocking later scene, Melanie's sister Lila (Vera Miles), while trying to get to the bottom of what's happened to Melanie and a private investigator who's also disappeared, sneaks into Norman's house and hides in the cellar when she sees him coming. It's there that she discovers Norman's mom sitting in a corner facing the wall — who's then revealed to be long-dead once the corpse is turned around.
Lila screams and Norman emerges holding a knife, lunging at her in a wig and woman's dress. Sam subdues him and later scenes in a police station show a psychiatrist explaining that Norman killed his mom and her lover a decade ago because he was jealous of their relationship. So he recreated his mother as a different personality in his own mind, making her possessive and jealous of Norman's relationships with women.
THE BIRDS: The title says it all. While we now know that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, it's still hard to think of the small, fluffy winged creatures as predators, and that was likely even tougher in 1963. That's what makes their role as plotting, murderous fiends in this film even more eerie. Early on, kids are attacked by gulls, sparrows swarm houses, and one man is pecked to death by birds.
In one masterful scene, suspense builds while Melanie is waiting outside a school to pick up Mitch's sister. As Melanie sits outside and smokes, crows gradually land on a jungle gym to the tune of children singing inside. Eventually, it's completely covered. The buildup is somehow even more creepy than the later scene, when crows attack screaming kids fleeing the school.
PSYCHO: Janet Leigh was already a seasoned actress by the time she starred in Psycho, having appeared in earlier films like Act of Violence (1948), Little Women (1949) and Touch of Evil (1958). But it's her role in Hitchcock's psychological thriller that she's best remembered for. After Psycho, she went on to score roles in films like Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and Night of the Lepus (1972).
Leigh married her third husband, actor Tony Curtis, in 1951, and they divorced a little over a decade later. One of their daughters, Jamie Lee Curtis, starred as Laurie Strode in 1978's Halloween, who's stalked by psycho killer Michael Myers. The film gives a nod to Psycho, with Michael's psychiatrist named Samuel Loomis, after Marion's lover's name in Psycho. Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis starred together in the 1980 supernatural horror film, The Fog; as well as in 1998's Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. Leigh died in 2004 of vasculitis, or inflammation of the blood vessels, at age 77.
THE BIRDS: Tippi Hedren was a fashion model before landing her starring role in The Birds, which was her first credited film part. Hitchcock spotted Hedren in a TV commercial in 1961 and set his eyes on her for a role. Though Hedren's character was overly confident and mostly in-control in The Birds, Hedren was less sure of herself on set, this being her first big film.
And so Hitchhock took on the role of her drama coach and she listened to his direction, even praising him at times for that aspect of their working relationship. But things sadly took a darker turn, with Hedren later alleging sexual harassment and intimidation by the filmmaker, and claiming he once grabbed and forcibly kissed her in the back of a car. Her experiences were recounted in her 2016 memoir, Tippi, and depicted on the 2012 HBO film, The Girl, which starred Sienna Miller as Hedren and Toby Jones as Hitchcock.
Hedren, now 93, is mother to actress Melanie Griffith, and grandmother to actress Dakota Johnson.
Most Memorable Scene
PSYCHO: The shower scene in Psycho is not only one of the most famous scenes in a horror film, but in cinema history. It's notable for the act of killing off the protagonist, Marion, early on in the film, and also for its dozens of camera angles showing different points of view of her being stabbed to death.
The scene kicks off with Marion enjoying her shower in her Bates Motel room, after she's decided to return the money. We see a shadow of a figure creep up from behind the shower curtain. The curtain's flung open, and the figure is seen holding up a knife. We're then shown a series of shots of the knife moving towards Marion, though we never see the killer's face, or the knife striking her skin — just blood mixing in with the shower water intermingled with shots of her body, all set to chilling string music. It's followed by Marion falling out of the shower and a close-up shot of her face as she lies dead on the bathroom floor.
THE BIRDS: While there are plenty of horrific attack scenes in The Birds, some of the creepiest ones come in the quiet moments. At the end of the film, after a gruesome bird attack at the Brenner family home, in which Melanie is badly injured by the birds in the attic, Mitch makes a plan to drive to San Francisco to get her to a hospital.
Mitch and his mom Lydia escort a bandaged and near-catatonic Melanie to the front door, where she sees that thousands of birds are waiting outside, around the car they're planning to escape in. They quietly make it to the car, past the menacing creatures. Mitch's little sister Cathy convinces him to let her bring the lovebirds Melanie bought her since "they haven't harmed anyone." And the four drive off with hordes of birds watching them.