Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 15.
My first exposure to “visionary writer / director” James Nguyen’s Birdemic: Shock And Terror was when its world promotional tour brought it to Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema in 2010. The film’s co-distributor, Dave Gregory, had bravely and generously paired it with his own Plague Town. “Bravely and generously” because, although Plague Town is a nifty little horror flick in its own right, there was only ever going to be one film that the crowd were talking about that night as they filed out of the venue, clutching their souvenir coat hangers with their white knuckles. Shit, if it had been up against Vertigo, Citizen Kane and 2001, Nguyen’s 2010 remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds (with an added eco angle, though any evidence of film-making competence has been comprehensively subtracted) would have still have monopolised the chatter of its astonished audience.
How then, does this noted turkey translate from playing publicly to partisan, participatory (but most pissed) punters into the home viewing milieu? In an attempt to answer that crucial question, I recently screened B:S&T here at The House for the assembled Freudsteins. Yep, just “hanging out with with family… havin’ ourselves a party”, to quote the lyrics of Just Hangin’ Out, as delivered by the immortal Damien Carter in the film’s big set piece musical number (below.) So how did the early 21st Century’s answer to Plan 9 From Outer Space go down with the gang?
Well, to invoke a footballing cliche, it was very much a game of two halves. For the first 45 minutes we get interminable shots of people walking around (awkwardly) and driving cars up and down the freeway as computer software telesalesman Rod (Alan Bagh) attempts to woo cheesecake for hire turned Victora’s Secret model Nathalie (Whitney Moore)… when he manages to take time out from buying solar panels, that is. No wonder Nathalie holds out on him for so long when his idea of a hot date is taking her to see An Inconvenient Truth (though the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin and Arts Festival seems like a pretty racy affair.) When she does finally put out, it just happens to coincide with the news that Rod has become the beneficiary of a million dollar stock option. Up to this point, the Broadway audience had been vocal in their appreciation of Nguyen’s visual and aural (surely no film has ever suffered worse sound mixing than this one) shortcomings. But over at The House Of Freudstein, Mrs F was falling asleep and the fruit of my loins felt moved to ask: “Dad… is this a real film?” (well… define “real”!)
All was forgiven, though, for the second half. Rod and Nathalie awake from their conjugal bliss (still wearing most of their clothes and with Tippi Hedren on the telly… which earns her third billing in this film!) to find their cheap motel under attack from (atrociously) computer generated birds. Indeed, the scenic town of Half Moon bay is in (atrociously) computer generated flames. Hooking up with another couple of star cross’d lovers, they fight their way out of the motel with coat hangers, which are swiftly ditched in favour of semi-automatic weaponry that they just happen to find lying around (this is America, after all.) The balance of the picture concerns their odyssey across the bird devastated Bay area, interrupted by larcenous cowboy dudes, non-sequitur John and Yoko tributes and pop-up tree huggers who helpfully explain that the birds’ anti-social turn can be chalked down to “that damn global warming!”
Everybody has their own favourite moment in B:S&T, but mine is probably the bit where our heroes find the passengers of a London bus (your guess is as good as mine) under avian assault and unload their Uzis at it, blissfully oblivious to the safety implications for those overacting inside it (including public access TV film critic Bonnie Steiger). Then they insist on evacuating the passengers, only for the latter to be sprayed with the poop of dive-bombing birds, which apparently burns and kills them, but not before the big girl’s blouse in the rap T-shirt has succumbed to one of the most OTT fits of hysterical overacting in screen history. I totally respect the view of others who particularly cherish the scene in which Becky (Catherine Batcha) “goes for a shit” (this is the second time I’ve watched B:S&T and I still had to rewind to check I’d heard that correctly)… does she meet with a sticky end? Do bears shit in the woods? Well, they probably won’t after watching B:S&T… and of course whereas Hitchcock’s The Birds ended on a note of suspenseful ambiguity, B:S&T just peters out incompetently. But by now, you really wouldn’t have it any other way.
As if all that were’t enough, Severin’s release is crammed with bonus goodies… metaphorical sausages stuffed up the arse of this juicy turkey. There’s an EPK in which we witness Nguyen signing on the dotted line for the justifiably proud looking Severin triumvirate of Gregory, Daft and Cregan. There are two deleted scenes (if you can call the spectacle of child actors self-consciously swearing a scene.) The aforementioned Bonnie Steiger interviews the visionary director and screens clips from his earlier, er, works on her aforementioned public access TV show (Movie Close-Up). You get various full theatrical and teaser trailers, including for the Birdemic Experience Tour, and a marvellous featurette cutting together the transcontinental comedy highlights from that (a thoughtlessly wielded coat hanger obscures my manly features in the Nottingham audience… sorry, fans.) Bagh and Moore come across much more attractively and personably here than they do in the actual film, ironically considering that Nguyen regards himself primarily as a director of romantic thrillers (go figure…) Their amusing audio commentary displays no mutual misapprehension that B:S&T will serve as a springboard to the Hollywood heights. Nguyen’s own commentary betrays no such reticence about his prospects, which will be further amplified in the upcoming documentary Moviehead: The James Nguyen Story. Can’t wait for that, nor the UK release of the inevitable Birdemic 2: The Resurrection. These are the films that the Sharknado franchise dreams it could be…