Who Flung Bird Poo? - Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

The overall awfulness of this fabulous disaster oozes from every misguided cinematic orifice like yellow matter custard from a dead dog's eye.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Director: James Nguyen
Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osbourne, Adam Sessa
Rated: R
Studio: Severin Films
Year: 2008
US date: 2008-10-01
UK date: 2008-10-01

According to writer/director/concerned citizen-conspiracy theory crackpot James Nguyen, global warming, the continuing devastation of our natural resources, the unchecked rape of the world around us, and the lackadaisical reaction to our unfettered passion for fossil fuels, tagged to a continuing quest for material gain and capitalist control will lead to one horrific conclusion - deadly acidic bird shit. That's right, as part of his prophetic warning to the people of planet Earth - Birdemic: Shock and Terror - our ecological ennui will result in avian adversaries who release a fatal stream of blinding bird feces, that is, when they're not kamikaze dive bombing into gas stations and SUVs, or tearing out the throats of less than innocent bystanders. Apparently when eagles and vultures get pissed, they will target humanity for their terrifying twist on a "turkey" shoot.

Labeled a 'romantic thriller' by its creator, Birdemic begins by introducing us to upwardly mobile software salesman Rod (the robotic Alan Bagh). Closing million dollar deals with ease, he takes time off from his rise to the top to stop at a local diner. There, he meets suspect supermodel Nathalie (Whitney Moore) whose just landed a big gig with Victoria's Secret. Soon, the two are dating, making cow eyes at each other and discussing - endlessly - what they want in the perfect mate. Rod continues to succeed at his job, so much so that when the company is bought for $1 billion (with a "B"), he takes his stock options and starts up his own solar panel concern. As things get more serious with Nathalie, the future is considered - again, endlessly.

Then, without warning, our lovers find themselves smack dab in the middle of a full blown crow-tastrophy. The birds are attacking, kicking ass and chewing seed - and they're all out of seed. With the help of an ex-Marine and his irregular girlfriend, they must struggle to survive while all around them, poorly photoshopped creatures prepare to exact their revenge. Why? Well, you see, mankind just hasn't played fair with the environment, taking advantage of its heavy abundance for its own selfish aims. As the various crimes committed against Mother N and her brood are detailed - yes, endlessly - we soon realize that, after this particular Birdemic, there might be an Insectdemic, Perchdemic, Three-Toed Slothdemic, or even a microscopic Amebademic. We've simply screwed things up that badly.

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch is Birdemic: Shock and Terror ever bad. Not just lame in an excusable "James Nguyen has no formal training as a filmmaker" ideal. Not in a "Alan Bagh has the personality of a turnip - and the acting prowess of same" concept. Not in a "Whitney Moore couldn't keep Victoria's Secret, let alone pose for them" conceit or "damn, these fake screeching fowls are irritating" perspective. No, the overall awfulness of this fabulous disaster oozes from every misguided cinematic orifice like yellow matter custard from a dead dog's eye. It's the minor things that add up at first - the lack of coherent and consistent sound design, meaning that every time someone speaks, Nguyen opens the mic and captures as much ambient noise as possible, making eventual editing and matching impossible. Even during a celebratory board meeting, applause die down and pick up like parents praising their first graders Thanksgiving pageant.

Such aural inconsistency and awkwardness is one thing, but Nguyen goes one step further by failing to deliver a single medium shot. Whenever people talk - and the first 45 minutes of this movie is nothing but individuals gabbing on and on about the god-awful state of Mama Earth - it's almost always in close-up, the camera cutting back and forth between the actors (if you can legally call them that) while the voice track careens to keep up. The result is like watching Sergei Eisenstein with epilepsy, the poorly lit images bouncing onto the back of your brain like a full on artistic assault on your aesthetics. From the crappy rap song dance set in an Irish pub (you read that right) to a bugnuts moment when one ancillary character dies because she had to cop a squat - in a field - in plain view of the sky scraping terror from above, nothing is normal...or rational...or competent.

But it's the good intentions that ultimately sink Birdemic into the mire of memorable cinematic slop. You can tell that Nguyen is gung ho about the environment. All throughout the first half of the film, he overloads his dialogue with discusses about emissions, greenhouse gases, global temperature increases, alternatives to gas and oil, and just about any other "inconvenient truth" he can wrap his diatribes around (he even tosses in a double date to the aforementioned Al Gore doc just to seal the deal). While his motives are more than noble, his execution is like running your Hummer on whale blubber and tire fire exhaust. If the planet could perceive what Nguyen was doing in his honor, it would quickly concoct its own Day After Tomorrow and eliminate all bipeds as a precautionary measure.

With its uniformly pathetic performances (a special shout out goes to the family of victims on a double-decker bus who whimper defiance as they physically acquiesce to the demands of a determined character) and a directing style that would make Ed Wood feel vindicated, Birdemic: Shock and Terror burns a pathway toward your pleasure centers and pours poison hawk poop in the wounds. Actually two films in one, the he/she half is so dull, so dreary in its uninvolving execution and lack of resonance that we hope the finch fear factor will live up to the hype. It does - and then some.

As Rod and his rampaging ragtag companions point plastic guns at the swarming flocks, as sporadic cartoon CG fires burn in the background, as unnecessarily saved children brat about being hungry and/or tired, and a self-professed tree hugging hermit discusses his literal love of the forest, Nguyen fires up his hackneyed hot pot to a rolling boil . He then serves us up a steaming bowl of balderdash and hopes we like the fetid flavor. Sadly, like our love for all things petroleum and perilous to the planet, we do. We really, really do.

Rating: 5 WTFs

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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