When Alex Turner tells you he toiled in the world of advertising before making the leap to feature films with his shockingly good Civil War-era horror film Dead Birds, it's tough to get your mind around the transition. From "very conservative stuff like Quaker State, GE, and McDonald's" to one of the most original cinematic nightmares in years starring Henry Thomas, no less is a creative leap of surreal proportions.
Following the success of his short "Chuck" in 2000, Turner received a stack of scripts, including Simon Barrett's Dead Birds, which describes the slow but steady demise of a band of Confederate deserters carrying a fortune in stolen gold who unwisely decide to decamp for a night in an abandoned Southern manse. Horror ensues, to be sure, but Turner's film bolstered by fine performances from all and a deliciously creepy score courtesy of Peter Lopez is not your average haunted house flick, owing as it does more than a little to the otherworldly atmospherics of the current Asian horror boom. "I really sparked to it," says Turner of his initial encounter with the script. "I loved the idea of taking the familiar setting of the haunted house and setting in a time that was unusual. It's not like it demands something so radical from any actor, but someone like Henry Thomas has never really played a sort of badass character like this before, and I thought that would be really fun to explore."
Featuring some genuinely memorable creature effects from L.A.-based outfit Almost Human, augmented by South Korean CGI work, Dead Birds' look belies its low-budget origins and looks for all the world like a major studio production with style to spare (some sets were reutilized from Tim Burton's Big Fish). "Hopefully this won't come off as pretentious," Turner adds, "but if this is a film that you respond to, repeat viewings really pay off, because there's a lot of stuff in there that is frankly kind of hidden, things you might not pick up on the first time."
Dead Birds screens at midnight on Tuesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 17, and at 9:30pm on Saturday, March 19, at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown.