The Birds (1978)

Sample images

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Publication: 29 April 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Keith Robson

Writer: Len Wenn

Summary

A young woman stares at the ruins of a chemical factory and recalls “all the terror that led to that last tragic day…”

The terror begins innocently enough, in the days when a copse stood in the place of the ruin. The woman, then a young girl, plays with a young boy, Pete. Her name is Shona, but he calls her Ginger. Some years later, their playtime in the copse is interrupted by an unpleasant looking man who tells them they are trespassing. He explains that the trees are going to be cleared for a building. Pete strikes back at the man by catapulting a stone at him, which makes short work of his bowler hat. They then make a fast run for it.

Six months later the building, revealed to be a chemical factory, is opened. Dad is furious at how it belches smoke all over the countryside and cannot imagine why planning permission was granted.

Soon after, the birds start acting strangely. They attack animals and people. They perch on branches or whatever is to hand, and wait to pounce. They pounce on whatever there is to eat, even things that birds do not normally eat. Crops and gardens get stripped clean. Their attacks grow worse, and people are driven indoors, securing whatever food and animal feed they have so the birds do not get it. Dad suspects the chemical factory has caused the change in the birds’ behaviour as they did not act like this before it was built.

When Dad tries to phone for help, he finds the line dead because the birds have chewed through the wires. There is no help unless they go out and get it. Pete and Ginger offer to cycle to town to get help. But the birds follow them and start gathering in wait. Shona realises that this the same way they lay in wait for a mouse before attacking and killing it, and realise that the birds intend to do the same to them.

The birds attack, forcing Ginger and Pete back to the farm. And at the farm, the birds attack the windows of the farm house. They are trying to break in, sensing the food hoarded inside. Mum and Dad try to get to town in their old car, although it has not been on the road in years. But the birds attack and force the car off the road and down into the quarry. The parents are killed and Ginger is now an orphan.

The inquiry afterwards vindicates Dad’s suspicions: “airborne particles in the smoke causing a chemical change in the birds”.

Back in the present, it is revealed that Ginger and Pete are now married and managing her parents’ farm. Rover the dog also survived and is still at the farm.

Thoughts

No doubt this is based on the Alfred Hitchcock classic of the same name. But unlike the film version, where the cause of the birds’ behaviour is never explained, the cause is made evident when we see the ruins of the chemical factory in the opening panel of the first episode. Jinty is making yet another of her environmental statements that she was known for in her SF stories. Here she is commenting on the dangers of pollution to the environment, a statement that would be returned to with even fiercer emphasis in The Forbidden Garden in 1979.

The story sure is frightening and disturbing with its depictions of the waves of birds who grow progressively vicious in their attacks, right up to trying to break through the windows of the farmhouse. The moments where they just wait quietly on the sidelines before they attack send shudders of suspense right through the panel. We get some very horrifying moments, such as when the birds attack the mouse and Ginger is revolted by what they do next. Later, the birds try to do the same to a helpless kitten, but Pete and Ginger save its life by beating off the birds. And the climax of the story, where the birds kill the parents by causing their car to fall into a quarry, is a shocker.

Seldom did Jinty delve into horror, but this would be one of her best horror moments if not for one thing – like The Changeling in the same year, it only has three episodes and is therefore nowhere near as developed as it should have been. The resolution of the story is given far too much short shrift and too many things are left unexplained. Once the parents die, how do the kids get help? What stops the attacks of the birds? Do the attacks grow worse and spread across the district, before help finally gets called in? Dad suspected the factory was to blame, but how is the connection made officially and what role does this play in stopping the bird attacks? And what happens to the man in charge of the chemical factory? All we are shown are the ruins of his creation and we are left to fill in the blanks. As with “The Changeling”, another example of an underdeveloped story that could have been great if it had been expanded into a standard length serial.

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