Revolt Of Nature / Horror flicks for pigeon-phobes
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Birds of Prey (1987)
16th Feb 09
The birds is coming! But Hitchcock is dead so the quality is going!
“Nature has been pushed to the wall, and if it fights back, perhaps a little balance can be restored…”. So says a thoughtful (read: doomed) character during one typically sermonising, misanthropic moment in this marvellously useless 80’s Spanish rip-off of The Birds . All that you need to know about the quality and intelligence level of this film is summed up by the fact that it was also known as Beaks The Movie . We are assuming this unnecessarily specific title was designed to avoid confusion with Beaks: The Barry Manilow Story or Beaks : The Miracle Cure For Cancerous Nose Lesions . Too bad they went for the comparatively bland Birds Of Prey for its budget priced UK DVD release.
The film begins as it means to go on. The only way the film could open in a more entertaining fashion would be if it roped in Rod Hull and Emu (who, considering the subject matter, are suspiciously absent from the proceedings…are there deleted scenes somewhere of Parkinson having his eyeballs pecked out and scrotum ripped to buggery?). Images of environmental destruction assault the viewer before said viewer erupts into unintended guffaws at a dialogue scene involving an ageing hunter who is shooting callously (and blindfolded) at pigeons. A bystander asks, in abject horror, “Why did you do that?”. The hunter replies, with total disregard for pigeon rights, “For pleasure!” The bystander laments, in disbelief, “For pleasure?! Fuuuuuccckkkk!”. It is one of the great dialogue scenes in modern European cinema. Involving pigeon shooting.
The rest of the movie fulfils this initial promise by constantly producing show-stopping lines delivered by a likeably untalented, deadpan cast. At a dramatic highpoint, a key character, reflecting on the imminent avian apocalypse, notes “If I hadn’t seen that canary, I’d never have believed it!”. Sometimes, the movie opts for deliberate, groan-inducing puns of a Richard Whiteley calibre (“We’re sitting ducks here!”), though its funnier when it’s being unwittingly stupid or when it strives to sincerely instill the recurring themes of the revenge-of-nature sub-genre by lambasting the human race for its treatment of God’s creatures.
Set and shot in and around Spain, Rome, Mexico, etc. in English, Birds Of Prey focuses on a sudden, escalating series of bird attacks on humans occurring all around the world. Hitchcock avoided the potential absurdity of the same premise when he made his 1963 classic by employing only the kind of birds who could conceivably appear threatening in a cleverly constructed series of suspense scenes. The immortal Rene Cordona Jr decides to amp up the action by depicting chickens, turkey, doves, pigeons and ducks (ducks!) savaging men, women and children. Presumably, a director’s cut exists somewhere and includes a sequence in which Big Bird disembowels a screaming Ethiopian kid while taking a big messy dump on the face of a homeless pregnant woman.
Fussy reporter Michelle Johnson is our heroine. She is deployed by her lecherous boss (“Great stuff, fantastic shot of that bird blowing up…it’ll be great copy : Attack Of The Killer Chickens!”) to cover the attacks, accompanied by an obnoxious, immature boyfriend / cameraman (Christopher Atkins). Atkins, who once got it on with Brooke Shields in The Creature from The Blue Lagoon , is sympathetic to the birds’ revolt and pauses at one point to observe a chicken in a shop window, noting touchingly “If they were my buddies, roasting with a skewer up my ass, I’d be a little upset too…”. Too bad the actor’s heart isn’t in it: you can tell from his eyes that he’d rather be shagging a teenage Brooke Shields on some desert island.
Meanwhile, old-timers rant about the birds intentionally instigating a war against mankind - much like the old-timers did in the Hitchcock flick - while references are made to an attack on a town 30 years ago, cueing some cheesy flashbacks to a previous pigeon-onslaught. A bird fancier gets all angry about man’s destruction of the birds’ natural habitats. A dopey teenage couple in a camper van, an annoying holidaying family and some parachutists add to the death count and, in one of many direct echoes of The Birds , there’s a climactic scene involving an attack on a kids’ party.
Here’s a fact : any movie that tries to build a bona fide suspense sequence from a scenario involving a single, evil canary should be commended. Sadly, this movie isn’t able to turn the humble canary into a figure of monumental fear. Instead it descends cheerfully into goofy slo-mo attack scenes in which panicking characters flair their arms around helplessly while feathers fly through the air and the birds either look bored or superimposed. If you listen carefully, you can hear one duck sacking his agent on a gigantic 80’s-style cell phone.
In his defence, director Cordona Jr beats Hitchcock in the gore stakes, with a surplus of close-up shots in which faces are shredded and eyeballs gruesomely pecked at with the enthusiasm of early-80’s Fulci, all to the strains of a typically 80’s cheapo electronic score. Adding to the fun are a bunch of welcome, gratuitous (and, of course, slo-mo) shots of bikini-clad girls running along the beach, plus obvious body-doubled nudity. Best of all are the hilarious close-ups of the birds valiantly attempting to open doors (!), and an amusingly dumb coda suggesting an insect revolt will be next ( Ladybirds : The Movie ??).
As in the Hitchcock movie, no explanation - beyond the obvious strike-back-at-mankind-one - is given for the sudden revolt or their equally sudden cessation. There is, however, an ominous climactic speech suggesting this has all been a mere rehearsal for a “master plan” too frightening to behold. Too bad, then, that Rene Cardona Jr - director of arguably the finest killer bird movie of 1987 - never got to come up with an equally hilarious sequel.