Take it from someone owned by a parrot ... birds can be scary! Their ancient ancestors were airborne flesh-eating dinosaurs whose leathery wings darkened prehistoric skies. While those behemoths shrank and evolved into something (mostly) smaller with infinitely more feathers, there is still a certain primeval throwback to those creepy claws and eerie eyes that horror-movie makers have used as nightmare fodder for decades.
Killer chickens, raven armies and giant flightless rocs that can jump fences and potentially take your head off in one bite have forever been flying into the twisted imaginations of directors in the genre. From the Japanese kaiju films of the '50s that feature giant birds brushing shoulders with Godzilla to zombie flu-infected hordes that feast on human eyeballs, shut the lights and marathon these 9 avian fright flicks and let the feathers fly!
You don’t have to understand Japanese to figure out that a huge pterodactyl able to knock over pickup trucks with its claws means chaos, even if it does kind of look like Jar-Jar Binks suddenly grew enormous leathery wings. Cue the mass evacuations. Inspired by the long-extinct monsters of antediluvian skies, Rodan took off when he terrorized Tokyo next to Godzilla. Both dinosaur-esque kaiju were also conceived as terrifying physical embodiments of the looming Soviet threat. Suitmation brought the thing to life in 150 pounds of rubber that almost drowned the actor suspended above a water tank when its weight snapped the wires that made him airborne. Rodan’s name is a Japanese contraction of “pteranodon” that is technically supposed to be Radon, like the element. It was changed for English-speaking audiences who have enough scientific knowledge from high school to know that there are no pteranodons on the periodic table.
The Giant Claw (1957)
There are some UFOs you don’t want to have a close encounter of the third kind with, especially when the air traffic controller that enjoys crashing them to Earth is a 17-million-year-old battleship-size bird from an antimatter galaxy just as many million light years away. This thing plays with flying saucer crash landings like some sort of deranged video game until it gets bored and decided to attack the Empire State Building. Never mind that this thing looks like Big Bird’s evil twin (the one thing they do have in common is that they’re both puppets). Now imagine pre-CGI moviegoers in the 50s watching this thing with its freakishly long neck and grotesque eyeballs, thinking those colossal claws were going to rip the screen to shreds. Someone’s fascination with particle physics hatched this monster and its bizarre universe, merged with inspiration from Rodan and the mythical feathered banshee la Carcagne.
Mysterious Island (1961)
Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea spawns a menagerie of monsters created by the mad scientist of stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen. The flightless two-headed Roc (because it’s just that much easier to pronounce than phosrusrhacos) looks like the result of a chicken and emu DNA mashup that somehow got to be the size of an apartment building. It jumps fences and seems to have a taste for human flesh until it becomes dinner itself. Where did this thing, along with crabs the size of cars and something tentacle that could be Cthulhu’s hench-creature, come from? Thank Captain Nemo’s obsession with chromosomes that got him into splicing together potentially hazardous genetic material in a petri dish. His intent to make hunger extinct ended up bringing back a prehistoric bird that never intends to go hungry. Harryhousen’s model Roc strikes again as Ornithomimus in 1969’s Valley of the Gwangi.
The Birds (1963)
You know something isn’t right when you find a dead raven on your bed. You then realize you’re either entering the second circle of hell or spiraling into insanity (or both) when you walk open your bedroom door and walk straight into a frenzy of beaks, claws and feathers. Alfred Hitchcock proves his mastery of the genre in a movie that is impossible to keep from flying onto any list of bird horror flicks. Eerie sound effects and atmospheric elements are enough to give you the chills even without a soundtrack—that jungle gym overrun by ravens and the phone wires against an almost-dark sky full of winged silhouettes are just downright scary. And that feathered bedroom assault scene where Tippi Hedren flaps her arms and shrieks like a banshee? It was purposely unrehearsed so Hitchcock, whose genius was often slightly sadistic, could catch a terrifyingly real reaction on film.
The Vulture (1967)
Prophecies of doom are that much more foreboding when they involve an enormous human-faced bird launching itself out of an open coffin. This is what you get when you bury someone alive and he just happens to have a carnivorous exotic pet bird that genetically fuses with human flesh as a result of nuclear radiation. While the vulture only appears as a pair of reptilian black-feathered legs with talons like meat hooks, it makes for the kind of movie experience that (despite its nightmarish reviews) makes leaving the most graphic and unspeakable horrors to your imagination more terrifying than anything flapping onscreen. Never mind that they never seem to move except up and down. Speaking of what deranged things your brain is capable of, its talons look like an unnaturally huge version of my parrot’s feet—which makes me relieved that I’m not within contamination distance of any power plants.
The Food of the Gods (1976)
That guy in the chicken suit advertising 2-for-1 wings has nothing on the gargantuan poultry in The Food of the Gods, which is a lesson to not feed animals anything without an ingredient list. This is no takeout! Livestock and vermin alike will gorge on unclassified ambrosia that magically appears out of nowhere until they grow monstrous enough to devour you. Based on the H.G. Wells story of the same name, it is meant to be a physically and metaphorically exaggerated warning of ecological revenge against modern development, a trending sci-fi and horror theme at the time. What really blew up the chickens (not to mention rodents and killer wasps) to abnormal size were some clever filming techniques that injected amplified creature footage into scenes that made human actors look microscopic. You have never known just how sinister a chicken’s eyes could look until they’re the size of your head.
Psychotic pigeons flock together (and viciously gouge people’s eyes out) in a film that will keep you from ever throwing them breadcrumbs again. Also known as Beaks: The Birds 2, Birds of Prey and Evil Birds, this Mexican horror flick flew past the border with blood, gore, and beaks that go for the jugular. Reporters investigating a farmer murdered by his own berserk chickens are lured into covering the even more chilling story of a ghost town whose inhabitants almost went extinct from lethal bird attacks. Maybe the victims are giving off strange vibes that provoke these birds to turn into human-hungry maniacs, though it could just be the overwhelming temptation to nest in all that ridiculously teased '80s hair. Beaks is another jab at the topic of nature arming itself against ecological threats, though no chickens will be freaking out soon if KFC has anything to say about it.
They’re in your house. They’re in your trees. They’re in your barn. This is what happens when creepy birds decide to rule your neighborhood and you don’t run screaming to the authorities. If The Birds zoomed half a century into the future, you would get KAW, the all-out Syfy Channel blood feast of ravens that overrun humanity and just happen to be carrying around a zombie pathogen. You would think that burning the carcasses of the cows that went insane and dropped dead from that mad-whatever disease the ravens were carrying would drive the crazed things off—until it makes them downright homicidal. You can also imagine what will happen when these mentally-infected birds unaffected by clouds of burning flesh-smoke storm upon defenseless humans. Rod Taylor, who starred in The Birds, was also a victim of the black clouds of ravens swarming this movie. Don’t ever call them crows.
Flu Bird Horror (2008)
It’s only fun to brag to each other about what landed you in rehab camp until monstrous birds morphed into predators by a mutant virus threaten to infect everyone with something much worse than a hangover. As if avian flu wasn’t threatening enough, this mutated version will first turn you into something resembling a zombie and then kill you. Get infected and you could look uncannily like an extra on The Walking Dead. The birds, which look like winged velociraptors more than anything that normally perches on a telephone wire, crave living flesh and use the claws on their wings to climb. Maybe a bunch of teens spending their summer out of juvie are the only people reckless enough to actually try and kill these things.This is another Syfy gem that flew in right when the avian flu scare had everyone scrambling into scrubs and sterile face masks.
Double Feature Creature: Lestat
Lestat doesn't need a Halloween costume because he is a Halloween costume. With radioactive green feathers, a beak that can bite through almost anything (and I mean anything), scaly clawed feet and almost glowing orange eyes, this bird's horror-movie look could have him mistaken for one of the stars. His repertoire also includes a few unnerving songs. Now you know who’s behind that creepy voice warbling “I used to love her, but I had to kill her…”