Friday, May 20, 2022

The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds


The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds
Bert Williams

When the word psychedelic is mentioned it comes with a notion of swirling colors, fuzzy discordant guitars, and LSD. Beyond that, the psychedelic film contains a certain mood, it’s not the colors that melt it’s time and space. In my opinion the best psychedelic films also contain air of mystery tinged with menace. The psychedelic experience values strangeness above all else. The uncanny bleeds into the world, and that is what makes psychedelia such a good match for horror. The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds is a confusing mess but it is an atmospheric and deeply psychedelic confusing mess.

Johnson (Bert Williams) is Liquor Control Agent who is discovered while investigating moonshiners. He escapes into the swamp. Exhausted he manages to swim to an island only to be stabbed by a nude person wearing a mask.  Now wounded he stumbles to the Cuckoo Bird Inn only to find even more weirdos, all of whom are plotting against him. Johnson needs to get the heck out before he ends up preserved in the Cathedral of the Dead.


"Lemme just put that back for you..."

Hold onto that plot summary tight, because the film is never terribly interested in making its plot elements very clear. The story unfolds like a confusing dream. I wasn’t even sure who the lead was for a while as several similar looking grimy men chase each other around the swamp in the beginning. Whether this somewhat dull and confusing beginning is by accident or design it is the perfect set-up for the jolting introduction of the masked killer. It’s a sudden and potent shock and an announcement that the film is changing gears.

From this point on the film becomes more unhinged with each passing moment. Johnson is besieged from all sides by weirdos, stuffed corpses, and a mysterious killer who could strike at any moment. The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds feels like a prototype for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) in the way it descends into screaming madness as it approaches the finale. There is also a certainly sweaty claustrophobia surrounding the entire film as the sweltering swamp threatens to close in on Johnson just as much as the residents of the inn.


Starring my sleep paralysis demon.

The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds in its restored format is a gorgeous looks looking film drenched in rich black shadows that give it a noir edge. The killer is shot in a series of staccato shrieking cuts that is unnerving but overused to the point where it becomes annoying rather than frightening. The taxidermied corpses are the biggest visual failing of the film looking more like paper-mâché dummies rather than preserved bodies.

The Nest of the Cuckoo is wonderful discovery. It is a strange little noir horror hybrid that feels like it may have influential in the transformation of horror into its more modern form starting around the 1970s. It's a psychedelic film devoid of many of the trappings of that kind of film. Definitely worth checking out and you can view it for free at

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