The "tobacco filter" is a common enough passenger in any camera package, but Dead Birds might be the first film to have had it welded permanently to the lens. Events unfold through a sick yellow pall; the effect is like looking at Matthew Brady photographs through a pair of snowboarding goggles. Taking into account the absurdly insistent and unremitting musique concrete score, and the occasionally dumb script, the whole movie might easily have been an unbearable mess. But Dead Birds overcomes its evidently self-imposed difficulties by cranking the creepy atmosphere and terror factor up as high as the law will allow. The story is simplicity itself: six Civil War-era bank robbers hole up in a crumbling plantation house with their pilfered money bags and are assailed by dark forces from beyond. That's pretty much it and it all takes place in a single night, distilled into 91 minutes for our viewing pleasure. Henry Thomas, best known for his role in 1984's Cloak and Dagger, is the grizzled Johnny Reb commanding the increasingly fractious group; Patrick Fugit, at a bit of a loss without Cameron Crowe close at hand to imitate, is his little brother, and Isaiah Washington plays their ex-slave friend Todd. Unwisely leaving their stolen gold spilled out across a table, they and the other under-characterised members of the group creep around the haunted antebellum house, shining their lanterns into dark corners and remaining surprisingly even-keeled as ghosts and demons pop out at them. Remarkably not descending into utter stupidity by the final reel, as so many horror movies do, Dead Birds may not always make sense, but it's clearly the work of some dedicated and talented horror fans, and is the most genuinely scary fright flick to come along in some time. (Silver Nitrate)