“Birdemic : Shock And Terror” Might Just Be The Last Film You Ever Need To See

Posted: April 5, 2011 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I suppose I should start by clarifying that headline just a tad —I don’t mean to imply that writer-director James Nguyen’s 2008 cinematic opus (and the latest big-time midnight cult sensation) Birdemic : Shock And Terror is literally the last film you should see out of the millions that are out there. Truth is, you should see it right away and watch and re-watch it often. What I mean is that after seeing it, you may just feel like you never need to see another movie. After all, whatever you watch next is only gonna disappoint you. It’s only gonna let you down. It’s only gonna leave you with a hollow, empty, unsatisfied feeling inside. Because it’s not Birdemic.

Yes, friends, I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the promised land. I have found the Holy Grail of all bad films. And its’ name is Birdemic : Shock And Terror.

Since my first viewing, I’ve been hooked, and a strange sort of inner peace and serenity has settled over me. Inner turmoil and doubt and restlessness have disappeared from my life, replaced by a feeling of sublime satisfaction. A life-long quest is over. I feel — dare I say it — complete. My life is now divided into two distinct time periods — B.B. and A. B . Because surely this film can never be topped — and frankly it doesn’t even need to be.

But first a little background. Folks, the world is fucking ending. Oh, sure, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, and maybe not even next year. Nope, nothiing so exciting. But the meter on our continued survival as a species is running. The hourglass is almost totally out of sand. And while you’ve been drinking beer, eating pizza, flipping channels, and occasionally trying to get laid, James Nguyen has been worrying. He’s been worrying enough for all of us. And he’s decided to get up off his ass and take action!

Ya see, there’s a little thing going on called global warming. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Al Gore made a movie about it called An Inconvenient Truth. It won an Oscar. James Nguyen saw it and it changed his fucking life! Up until that point, he’d just been a guy who loved Alfred Hitchcock and wanted to rip off his Master’s style with his HD video camera and no money. He even got Tippi Hedren herself to play a cameo role in one of his backyard “romantic thrillers” (and she pops up for a split-second here, too).  But the epiphany our guy James had watching the former VP warn us of our impending doom left him a changed man. Now, he was gonna do a dime-store Hitchcock knock-off with a message, goddamnit, and even if he had to stand on top of a chair and scream at the top of his lungs, he was gonna make sure he got noticed !

And I’ll be fucked if he didn’t do just that.

It has to be said, what Nguyen (obviously) lacks in talent and (even more obviously) lacks in funds, he more than makes up for in sheer bloody-minded earnestness and determination. Birdemic : Shock And Terror is hardly the most accomplished, professional, or even competent piece of filmmaking you’ll ever see, but it’s probably the absolute most sincere. And as for the determination I just referred to — well, when Sundance rejected James’ film for inclusion, he spent the entire week of the festival driving around Park City, Uta —, up and down the same couple of blocks over and over, in fact — in a minivan with plastic dead birds stuck to it and “BIRDEMIC” written all over it. Really. Say what you will for the man, but he damn sure believes in his work.

And you know what? So do I. Honestly, how can you not? It’s like the kid you went to school with who was so convinced of his own coolness in spit of the fact that he was as uncool as anyone could possibly be that after awhile you start to respect him and think that he really is cool because his belief in his awesomeness continues, unabated, in spit of all the evidence to the contrary staring him in the face. Nguyen is so utterly unflappable in his conviction that he’s made something of genuine, earth-shattering importance here that he doesn’t let the pesky fact that his leading man (Alan Bagh) is quite possibly the worst, most wooden “actor” (and believe me I use that term fucking loosely) to ever appear in front of camera, or that his CGI team has created the most incompetently-realized effects in cinematic history, or that the sound drops in and out during his movie at all times, detract from his essential belief in the rightness of his message. he doesn’t even let digressions into other topics like sermonizing against the Iraq war distract him for too long. He’s on a mission to save the world from global warming, and nothing’s gonna get in his way.

Shot entirely on the fly without permits, with his “stars” (Bagh and Whitney Moore, who can almost, sort-of act) doubling as his crew, and with no eye for little things like shot composition, basic acoustics, lighting, or even a sensible, comprehensible plot (despite the fact that a story about two young  Bay Area lovebirds who meet, get attacked by a marauding army of eagles and vultures, fight the airborne menaces off  with coat hangers and pistols , and live to see another day at the end is so simple that it really ought to make sense, sheer absurdity and all that aside), Birdemic : Shock And Terror is nothing if not a labor of deep, passionate, unhinged, stalker-ish love. Nguyen pursues his goal with the tenacity of  an ex who won’t leave you the fuck alone. Of  a sandwich that you keep tasting long after you want to. Of a that dude you hated in high school but friended on facebook anyway who messages you every time you’re online. Of an  overbearing relative who calls at the worst possible times and drones on for hours.

And like all many of those things, somehow, some way, for some reason — he wins you over. He reels you in like a fish. And like that fish , you’re hooked. For my part I can’t tell you how many times the thought of “damn, I could be watching Birdemic right now” has gone through my head over the last few months. There’s no escaping it. I’ve had it happen at work. I’ve had it happen while I’m driving. I’ve had it happen at the theater while I’m  watching another movie. I’ve had it happen while babysitting my niece and nephew (a fact I’m none too proud of, but there you have it). Fortunately, thanks to the fine folks at Severin Films, who have obtained exclusive worldwide distribution rights to this mighty statement of cinematic art, you can now scratch that Birdemic itch anytime on DVD or Blu-Ray, in a package loaded with extras that include two commentary tracks (one from Nguyen, who still seems somehow blissfully unaware of the fact that people are laughing at him and not with him, and one from Bagh and Moore — if you rent this film rather than buying it, make sure you listen to both of these in their entirety before returning the disc or you’ll seriously be missing out), a cable-access TV interview with Nguyen, footage from various live Birdemic screenings around the world, previews of Nguyen’s other film work, deleted scenes and outtakes, a preview for the upcoming documentary feature Moviehead : The James Nguyen Story, and lots of other goodies (on the technical front, the anamorphic widescreen transfer and stereo sound are as good as they’re gonna be given the technical limitations of both the equipment and the guy who made the film). This disc has got everything and the kitchen sink, and I urge you to hunt down a copy immediately. You’ll be thanking me for the rest of your life.

Okay, in fairness, there’s lots about this flick that makes no fucking sense whatsoever and that can only be answered by listening to the director’s commentary track. Questions like “why do some of the birds explode?” (they’ve turned toxic from global warming) and “what the hell is going on at the end with those tiny birds you can barely see?” (they’re doves, who represent peace and have come on the scene to call the attacking vultures and eagles off and give humanity another chance) aren’t actually, you know, answered on screen and I guess you could fairly make the claim that’s a big strike against Nguyen in the comprehensibility department. But no matter. Birdemic : Shock And Terror weaves a kind of occult rhythm around its viewers that makes you forget about pesky little details like “what the fuck exactly is going on here?” and just surrender to its bizarre internal reality. You won’t be able to resist it. You won’t want to. And you won’t care about ever seeing another movie again.

Because you’ve entered into B-movie nirvana. You have achieved everything you’ve ever sought. Your purpose in life has been fulfilled. You can die happy now.

And with that, I’m gonna quit writing about Birdemic : Shock And Terror and go watch it again.

  1. I couldn’t sleep last night so I ended up watching Birdemic for the first time myself. And all I can say is “Oh my God.” lol. I’m going to have to rewatch it at least once before I review it but wow. 🙂

    It’s really hard not to kinda cheer on Birdemic, however, for some of the very reasons that you mentioned in your review. As bad as the film is, director James Nguyen actually did get it made and now people like us are taking the time to track it down, watch it, and review it. I’ve heard a lot of less-than-complimentary things about some of what went on while Nguyen was making this film (which I’m not going to repeat because I don’t have any proof, I don’t 100% trust the source, and “less-than-complimentary” is kind of the really polite way to describe them) but, God help us, he got it made. 🙂

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Most of the less-than-complimentary stuff you hear is absolutely true and is really no secret — watch the actor’s commentary on the DVD and you’ll see what I mean! They essentially doubled as Nguyen’s crew, the car they rented for the movie was paid for on Alan Bagh’s credit card — they talk all about this stuff, it’s amazing! Plus, it’s all over the internet that the CGI guys never got paid nor did some of the other post-production folks. He basically had a lot of people tracking him down for their cash when the movie became something of a sensation (I’m hoping they’ve all been paid now). But even still, I’m with you, his sheer determination to get this sucker made is pretty admirable, even if he short-changed some people along the way. He almost reminds me of Ed Wood in that what he lacks in talent, he makes up for in sheer bloody-mindedness. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to read Rudolph Grey’s “Nightmare Of Ecstasy” biography on Wood, but the amazingly bizarre lengths he was willing to go to in order to get his pictures made go well above and beyond what Tim Burton portrayed in his film, and I don’t think everybody got paid along the way, either.
      Anyhow, needless to say I’m eagerly awaiting your review, and I know what you mean that one viewing isn’t enough to grasp the totality of this film — I’ve seen it ten times now, and only just felt like I had a firm enough grasp on it to publish my thoughts about it a couple of days ago!

  2. I was thinking Ed Wood the entire time I was watching Birdemic. 🙂 Nightmare of Ecstasy is one of my treasured posessions. 🙂

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Glad you like it so well! If I might offer a film bio suggestion, check out “The Ghastly One” sometime, it’s about Andy Milligan, and if you’ve never seen an Andy Milligan film — well, I’m not even sure where to begin. If you’re a seasoned Milligan vet, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to Milligan — I envy you for the journey of discovery that awaits. An the book’ll blow your mind.

      • I have yet to watch any of Milligan’s films (though I have one on DVD) but I have read the Ghastly One. About 2 years ago, I went on Amazon and did a search for “grindhouse filmmakers” and that book was among the results. It was one of many things that I ordered that day and, to be honest, it was the one that made the biggest impression on me. I always find characters like Milligan and Wood to be just so fascinating. 🙂

      • trashfilmguru says:

        Wow — never seen Milligan? Let me put it to you this way — you can’t form any opinion on his work by watching just one film. His body of work has to be taken into context almost entirely in relation to each other, rather than to anything else, because it’s unlike anything else. If you watch, say, “Fleshpot On 42nd Street” or “The Body Beneath,” you can come away saying “that’s a good Milligan film,” even if it’s not a good film per se. Andy’s production values were so low, and his obsessions were so singlar, that his movies just exist in a universe of their own. Watch two or three in one go, would be my advice, because you need to form a decent basis for comparison to decide for yourself which of his flicks are “good” or not — comparing them to anything else is just, frankly, pointless.

  3. That was the impression I got from the book, that Milligan — much like Jean Rollin and Jesus Franco — was a director whose obsessions were so personal that his films were more a part of just one gigantic statement as opposed to stand alone pieces on their own. 🙂

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Exactly, although unlike, say, Franco, his subject matter and even style don’t vary a lot from film to film. Franco worked in a wide vareity of genres, and Milligan just had a genre of his own — Milliganism, and there’s no mistaking his work for anyone else’s, since nobody else would frankly even want to make the kind of films he did!

  4. Robert Haynie says:

    I have seen Birdemic a couple of times– both, I admit, with the helpful buffer of a Rifftrax commentary protecting what is left of my sanity at this late date, and I have come to the conclusion that James Nguyen is not the next Ed Wood.

    He is Ed Wood, reincarnated, with the advantage of modern cheap DVD tech, video cameras, and the internet’s scattered, streaming, and word-of-data grapevine allowing him outlets that he hadn’t the first time around. There is no other explanation. This kind of film-making is not meant to occur once in a generation– it’s meant to come along once every half-millennium, and somewhere as yet unrevealed there are manuscripts of a contemporary of Shakespeare and Oxford who somehow could not get his lay The Comedick Tragedie of Boslick and Terpsie, about two lovers and their attempts to be married atop Mt. Aetna while their families fight a devastating feud over olive oil rights– in Scotland.

    One can only wonder what would happen were Nguyen to be gifted with an angora sweater. The trigger of his past life would be astonishing…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s