My notes on the wretched film.The oddest thing about this homemade horror film – which was picked up and pushed as a camp midnight movie item – is that it follows its obvious model (Hitchcock’s The Birds) so faithfully it spends its whole first half on awkwardly-written, awkwardly-played personal drama. Software salesman Rod (Alan Bagh) and fashion model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) meet outside a diner, start dating, follow separate careers, talk with their friends, go on at length about stock options and solar power (in a manner which suggests personal interests on the part of writer-director James Nguyen), double-date with another couple to see An Inconvenient Truth (which prompts Rod’s dickhead stud best friend to think about buying a hybrid car), listen to a MOR band and have lengthy meals. Nathalie even takes Rod home to meet her fussy but loving mother (Patsy van Ettinger), whose performance is early John Waters level terrible. Missing from the mix are the tensions and neuroses which Hitch takes care to establish, suggesting the horrors to come. Here, the couple nearly trip over a pasted-in still photograph of a dead bird on the beach and mutter about infection as the sole major omen of the outbreak the film is supposedly all about. In theory, it’s admirable Nguyen should take the time to build up his characters – but they’re stiffs, if not quite as hilarious as they need to be for real cult potential (the writing is flat rather than Edwoodian, and performances are simply amateurish). Nevertheless, for half its running time, this could pass as a terrible relationships drama – afflicted technically by jarring a soundtrack where the background noise levels drop and raise depending on whether anyone is speaking.
Then, just after Rod and Nat, celebrating his stock options and green energy start-up and her Victoria’s Secret modelling contract, have gone to bed together for the first time, we get an ominous montage of the empty streets of a small, coastal town (Half Moon Bay) and the screeching eagles – cut-out animated images, often repeated – show up to attack, causing CGI explosions which look like the sort of effects that might be used on South Park. After a night of persecution, the couple hook up with another duo and make polite introductions, wave away some killer birds with coat-hangers (which they soon swap for guns) and go on the road, where they adopt some kids (Janae Caster, Colton Osborne) whose parents have been clawed to death (though they whine more about being hungry than bereft). Sound effects remain weirdly out of whack (very loud gunshots and squawks) but the oddest thing is that the post-apocalypse rescue of the kids takes place while heavy traffic can be heard and seen passing by because no one has blocked off the road to reinforce the end of the world effect, unintentionally suggesting the birds are only after the principles (perhaps only the lead characters can see the birds?). A convenience store owner is found with his eye sockets full of what looks like jam as the heroes are looting some sandwiches, but the birds only swoop on the place after the good guys have got there – the budget is so low, Nguyen can’t even break some windows or strew feathers around to suggest a prior attack. Dr Jones (Rick Camp), an old guy on a bridge, explains that ‘these birds are contaminated … they have birdflu virus’ and vaguely blames environmental change (‘what are you saying … that global warming is causing these birds to atttack?’) and muses that ‘it’s the human species which is the dangerous animal’ as heroic music swells.
Editorial over, we’re on the road again. One of our new friends, a Marine (Adam Sessa), explains he quit because ‘I just got tired of all the fucking killing in Iraq … why can’t we just give peace a chance?’ and his girlfriend (Catherine Batcha) gets poignantly killed by birds while ‘taking a shit’. Cars are still driving by heedless as Rod and the Marine fire their guns (CGI muzzle-flashes) into the sky, but then our heroes in their van come across a bus (looks like a repurposed London routemaster) being attacked by birds and fire away – without breaking any windows, shooting passengers or riddling the side of the vehicle with bullet-holes. Yellow bird discharge rains from the sky on the passengers and the Marine, and birds peck them to death while they just stand there with those eagles superimposed. A gas station manager with a thick accent charges one hundred dollars a gallon for petrol – which even Rod thinks is a ripoff. In a truncated bit echoing Hitchcock, it seems a bird farts a tiny fireball at spilled gas and causes an explosion. A guy with a gun and a cowboy hat (Joe Teixeira) tries to take gas from them, but a passing eagle cuts his throat – and serves him right. Nguyen keeps coming back to gas-guzzling as a symptom of all the ills of modern America: the next guest star encountered on the trip is the Tree Hugger (Stephen Gustavson), who has noticed that the eagles only go after people in cars and editorialises a lot about climate change and the environment (‘take a look at that dead redwood over there … that was killed by a bark beetle’).
An offscreen growl suggests a mountain lion is nearby and a CGI forest fire breaks out, prompting the survivors to leave the Tree Hugger to his treehouse and self-righteous ranting. The film relocates to the beach for the finale, where the roar of the tide dominates, and Rod discovers some fishing gear so he can catch some dinner while the two brats, who have very quickly got over their parents’ death, play on the sand. In a rare credible moment, the children whine more about the home-cooked fish and seaweed (‘I want a Happy Meal!’) and this ingratitude seems to invite the eagles to attack (they come from the sea, not the land) again. Rod finally runs out of bullets, and everyone cowers inside the van until the birds give up and flap away (‘look, they’re leaving’) as the music (swells. The four survivors stand on the shore and look at the departing eagles in puzzlement – has mankind learned its lesson? Will the birds be back? Is all this music from Andrew Seger and Richard Band open-source or what? How come Tippi Hedren gets a credit?
Given the lack of resources, I wonder why Nguyen chose to go with a story he was obviously unequipped to tell – this may be the worst use of computer effects in film history, comparable with the gorilla suit in a space helmet physical effects of Robot Monster. At least it’s not another bloody zombie movie. Birdemic (terrible title) is spacily entertaining in a bizarro manner in the way the average SyFy or Asylum movie usually isn’t, though it’d make a good double-bill partner with Flu Bird Horror. I’d still be happier watching a good low-budget eco-horror movie.
Paul Crawford Makes you look back fondly on the film “Frogs”, doesn’t it?
Oliver Morris Tippi Hedren appears in the background on something showing on a TV, bit of a dubious way to give her a credit.
Chris Cooke She appeared in an earlier film from James Nguyen – and this clip that she appears on in Birdemic, on the tv in the background, is from that film…
David Hyman Come back Bert I. Gordon, all is forgiven!
Phelim O’Neill Spoiler: the eagles don’t just give up, a flock of doves (the birds of peace) comes over and tells them to, like, chill out. This isn’t really clear (like most things) in the film, Nguyen (sort of) explained it at the Curzon premiere. “spacily entertaining” just about nails it as the across the board ineptitude is charming and remarkably consistent.
Chris Cooke Yup – we screened this to a sold out audience in Nottingham and they willed his film with as much love as derision… theres something inspiring abut Nguyen’s have-a-go mentality… and those doves of peace are so badly animated it takes a while to distinguish them from their alarming feathered cousins…
Barry Poulton I heard about this on the Scott Mills Show a couple of months back. I’m intrigued.
Billy Houlston as mister cooke already knows… i bloody hate this film… it’s all subjective though xxxxxx
George Ruskin I’m surprised you managed to sit through the whole thing. I found an excerpt utterly unwatchable.
Chris Cooke I bloody love that Billy bloody hates this film! 🙂
Now I’m hoping for your reviews of The Room, Fateful Findings or Ben and Arthur. Strange how this cult of the possibly insanely inept has grown up in recent years.
Being already favourably inclined toward Mr Newman’s writing, the opening ‘ … my notes on the wretched film …’ is icing on the cake. Likewise i would rather see a good B-movie. But this nonsense is surely as crucial a document of our times as Plan 9 is to the fifties. Having recently debated the much-noted tendency in Gifford, Clarens et al to lionise the past and disparage the contemporary (a solitary debate, a raving madman in a basement, but a debate nonetheless), I propose a compromise – one does not wish to drift into a sedately neutered middle-to-old age but to preserve at least a little piss and vinegar (with the proportion of each shifting over time, as Abe Simpson said) – if one truly believes they made ’em better back then , if they had (scarred, mutilated) faces then, by all means say so. I fancied I was ready for any kind of ‘Bad’, however fate has a knack of delivering ‘Bad’ in new and unexpected forms. And, as we have seen, the ‘Bad’ yields plentiful – bad CGI and enviro-sancimony, pastiche so exact to the original model it doesn’t even recognise itself as a redundant dud, cobwebby stock characters, sorry ‘archetypes’ – us Horror Movie Nuts are a studious lot and see as the Scryers do when we gaze into the misty crystal display. With this in mind, I suggest a relaxed, corset-off, stepped-down from the soapbox slagging bof the youger generations pitiful efforts, with a smidge of good humour. Come on, it’s the only way they’ll ever amount to anything. We earned our stripes and took stick back in the day. I am grateful to barry norman for dismissing maniac Cop in less than ten words. Nothing can change my love for Bll Lustig’s efforts, while I appreciate that grown-ups minds should be devoted to more worthwhile matters (they aren’t, not always, but it’s still important to bear in mind). I’d still prefer Lair Of The White Worm to The Quince Tree Sun, whatever the virtues of the latter, and it does have some, because garish entertainments are life affirming – etc. – and we drink to the dregs our glorious and limited, etc. When we Horror fans get together, hoooo boy! We can put the place to rights, by golly