Given that "The Evil Dead" was remade, I figured I'd write about the movie that probably had more in common with it than the remake would, er, did.
Right, so there are Confederate soldiers who have deserted, and intend to rob a bank and escape with the money to an old haunted house-
Doesn't sound much like The Evil Dead, now does it?
However, its, er, kinship, comes from that it is what it is because its made by inexperienced people. Much like The Evil Dead owes its fandom to its amateurish aspects, Dead Birds has that enthusiasm that could only be found in those who really love what they're doing.
See, Dead Birds was obviously made by people who wanted to try their hand at not only a horror mystery, but the whole scale between atmospheric horror and splatter horror. They presumably didn't know where their talents lay and so tried everything.
Now for the reason it wasn't that well known - bad timing really. It came out maye a bit before independant films like Saw, Wolf Creek and The Descent - yes, the original Saw was independant - and therefore the independant horror hadn't quite overtaken Hollywood in the eyes of its future fanbase.
Fewer - much fewer - fans of independant horror and with much more good horror getting wide cinema releases at the time meant few people had to look for good movies among the direct-to-video market, and many interested in that market wanted bad films, and likely would be let down, and not mention Dead Birds to anyone.
Thus, it was too early to get much reputation word-of-mouth. I don't know when its UK release was, but over here, "from the people behind Dead Birds" or something actually was used as a positive comment, so it was presumably after the expansion of indie horror and maybe even after the Hollywood horror began to fall apart.
Many horror films have what Ken Begg would call a "Doctor Smith" (terminology right?) - and here, it makes perfect sense. See, the leader of these deserters includes amongst his group his young brother, a woman and a black guy (Civil War, remember).
The two members of the group, the ones who might not renounce Confederate values, would likely see their leader as a weak man surrounded by people who, at the time, would be considered worth less than white men, and these "Doctor Smiths" would see their leader as weak, and the others as easy to kill or let them take the fall, leaving the "Doctor Smiths" much richer, and, being seen as followers, the law might not see them as being worth the effort to bring in.
And these "Doctor Smiths" were mandatory, because to escape the Conferacy and its values, the group robbed a bank and killed many people. They're VERY morally grey, so the "Doctor Smiths" exist to make it easier to root for the morally grey guys.