A couple of months ago, I attended the RiffTrax live screening of Manos: The Hands of Fate. The original Manos episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is consistently rated as one of the best episodes of the series, and for good reason. Manos is a terrible, terrible movie and MST3K did a great job of actually watching it. During the RiffTrax Live screening of Manos, MST3K veterans Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy had a whole new script of jokes. It was a fantastically funny time. At the end of the performance, they invited everyone back in October to see them take on Birdemic: Shock and Terror. I’d never heard of Birdemic, but of course I was going to be there.
Prior to attending last night, I discovered that Birdemic was actually available to stream on Netflix. Dare I see what kind of painful experience that someone would be in for by watching it without jokes? Yes, I dared and…..
HOLY CRAP! I couldn’t stop watching. It was a trainwreck of the above proportion and has catapulted itself to the top spot on the list of worst movies that I have ever seen. Troll 2 is almost Shakespearean by comparison. It is the most inept attempt at filmmaking I’ve personally witnessed. The acting, story, pacing, editing, audio, directing, dialogue, and special effects are tragically and uniformly awful. The entire thing must be seen to be believed. Mere words can not attempt to do Birdemic the injustice that it deserves. But I will try. If you want to experience this mess unspoiled, then you best stop reading here.
Birdemic is the brainchild of Vietnamese born “writer/director” James Nguyen. You could probably guess from watching Birdemic that filmmaking wasn’t Nguyen’s day job. Nguyen was a software salesman in Silicon Valley who grew up watching the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Part of his inspiration came from The Birds and part of it came from his interest in the dangers of global warming after seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Oh. Nguyen also had to largely self-finance his picture with the princely sum of $10,000 from his day job. You put all that in a blender and out comes Birdemic: Shock and Terror.
Birdemic begins with young Silicon Valley software salesman, Rod (played by Alan Bagh, with all the charisma of an android that doesn’t understand how human emotion works), trying to hit on his former high school classmate turned fashion model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) after running into her at a diner. They exchange very awkward pleasantries and business cards as Rod wonders if he can keep in touch. Then Rod closes a big million dollar sale at his job and Nathalie learns that she just became the cover model for Victoria’s Secret after leaving a photo shoot at a one hour photo store in a mini-mall. They go out for an awkward dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant to celebrate followed by some awkward dancing in front of a blurry green screen shot of a club. The next day Rod plays some awkward basketball with his horn dog work buddy and talks about his date with Nathalie. Then they talk about the potential for their software company to be sold off making them filthy rich. It is all very, very believable.
Despite their complete lack of chemistry, Rod and Nathalie’s relationship progesses. Rod’s company is then sold for a billion dollars! Allowing Rod to cash in his stock options which he uses to found a startup solar energy company. He is able to then get immediate funding for his company of 10 million dollars after he gives a one slide powepoint presentation to a group of venture capitalists. Despite his android-like personality, Rod just falls ass over ankles into money and success. The timeline isn’t very clear but it seems this all happened in the course of a few days. Nathalie then takes Rod for an awkward meeting with her mother. They go on another awkward date with the most awkward dance scene yet and then back to a motel for some awkward sex.
Right about here, you are probably wondering: WHERE THE HELL ARE THE BIRDS?! We are about 47 minutes into the movie without even a single solitary bird attack. Well prepare to be amazed. Because as Nathalie and Rod are still sleeping, the Birdemic is about to blow up. The peaceful town of Half Moon Bay is suddenly descended upon by a horde of angry exploding eagles and vultures. Yep. They are able to perform kamikaze style attacks a la a Japanese WWII zero where they explode upon impact. Oh. I almost forgot to mention that the bird effects are simply animated GIF’s. The birds start congregating outside of Rod and Nathalie’s room. Rod and Nathalie are unable to escape because Rod somehow lost his car keys and forgot to charge his cell phone. They have to run next door to neighbors Ramsey and Becky for help. They devise a plan to get to Ramsey’s van which involves standing back to back while swinging coat hangers at the attacking birds as they advance. Leading to this:
Fortunately once that make it inside the van, they have the firepower to fight back. For some reason, Ramsey was already packing an M16 and a couple of semi automatic handguns. The rest of the movie is pretty much them driving from place to place without any semblance of a plan looking for gas and fresh water while they wildly fire away at birds that are less realisticly rendered than the ducks on Duckhunt. I kept expecting this jerkwad to pop out of the weeds.They pick up some orphaned children, inexplicably have an OUTDOOR picnic, talk to an old man claiming to be an ornithologist who ham handedly blames the whole thing on global warming, Becky gets killed by an eagle while taking a crap, and Ramsey gets killed when the birds explode into acid in his face. Rod and Nathalie and the orphaned kids then meet the Tree Hugger who again ham handedly blames the whole mess on global warming and spruce bark beetles. They drive until they run out of gas next to a beach. They get attacked a little bit more until some doves show up and inexplicably chase the evil eagles and vultures back out to sea. FIN
As ridiculously bad as the plot of Birdemic is, the technical aspects might be the worst part of the movie. It appears that every scene was filmed in one take and that every single second of footage was actually used. The actors would frequently flub a line or the sound would completely drop out but Nguyen still put those scenes in the final cut. It appears that is the case because Nguyen realized he needed to pad the running time out to feature length. I say this because there is probably a solid 20 minutes of the picture of people doing nothing more than driving, parking, and pulling out into traffic. The movie begins with Rod slowly driving his Mustang for a solid five minutes only to accomplish the opening credit roll. A short time later you get to see him leave his house, get into his car, back out of his driveway, stop for gas, pump the gas, pull out of the gas station, drive to work, park at his work, get out of his car, and walk into his building. In near real-time. Nguyen doesn’t seem to trust his audience to fill in the blanks on how Rod was able to get from his house to his job. The rest of the movie is similarly edited. Scenes will either end too abruptly or uncomfortably drag on for ten seconds too long.
Watching Birdemic on it’s own is enough of an experience. You wonder how such a thing actually got made in the first place. Watching it while the RiffTrax crew took it apart was amazing. Two straight hours of laughing left my face sore. The next time you notice a RiffTrax Live event in your area, I can not recommend the experience highly enough.
Oh, one more thing. There will actually be a Birdemic 2. Made by all the same people that made the first one so special. You’ve been warned.