'Birds II' flies in to terrorize townspeople


Sometime after the 1963 premiere of the Hitchcock horror masterpiece, "The Birds," Mad magazine did one of its spoofs, picking on the film's advertising campaign.

" 'The Birds' is coming -- and good grammar in advertising has went," read one of the magazine headlines, if memory serves.

Well, "The Birds" is back, but suspense has went.

Once you know our feathered friends are flocking for violence again -- as viewers learn in the first three minutes of Showtime's "The Birds II: Land's End" (airing at 9 tonight) -- the only suspense left is to wonder how Tippi Hedren looks 30 years later, and how she fits into this story.

The answers: Pretty good, and only as a cameo afterthought.

Film students study "The Birds." Its special effects are highlighted in movie history exhibits, such as the "Hollywood: Myth and Reality" show that played the Smithsonian Institution a few years ago. This Showtime original will not gain the same status.

Despite Ms. Hedren's presence, this is not a sequel. She is a minor player, a storekeeper on an Atlantic coastal island -- in contrast to the cool beauty of the original, who seemed to be at the mysterious center of the avian action.

Hitchcock's film drew its power from a slow buildup, a lush backdrop and the way it turned the monster movie convention around. Instead of some creature from the deep or irradiated insects grown to gargantuan proportions, the movie presented birds -- sea gulls, crows, the commonplace birds we see every day and take for granted.

Why were they attacking? We never learned, but boy did we believe!

The pecked-out eye sockets of schoolteacher Suzanne Pleshette, a whirlwind of birds attacking Ms. Hedren in an attic and a creepy, indecisive ending as Rod Taylor drives his family through a horde of malevolent birds remain among the more powerful images of Hitchcock films.

"The Birds II" gives us hollow eye sockets before the credits, leaving little power in later injuries.

In the new film, we discover the birds apparently are retaliating for oil slicks that trap shore species.

"You know, Mother Nature can take only so much before she strikes back," intones a solitary lighthouse keeper played by Jan Rubes.

But the threat of the birds gives way to a hackneyed subplot.

Brad Johnson and Chelsea Fields play a couple who have come to Gull Island with their two daughters to find solace from the death of a son, five years earlier. She's OK, but he is deep in depression -- and suffering writer's block, too.

Will she, a newspaper writer, fallfor her editor (James Naughton)? Will her husband regain his potency, protect his family like a real man and finish that thesis? Will the movie-makers shamelessly put two little girls in jeopardy yet fall abysmally short of matching the scariness of the original?

Will we believe any of it? Or care?

But look out. The film ends with an ominous threat of a third edition.

(Showtime will follow its premiere with a screening of the original "The Birds," at 10:30 p.m., and after that, a half-hour special with Ms. Hedren discussing both films.)

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