I ran… I ran so far away.
Beaks: The Movie (El ataque de los pájaros) (1987): 5 out of 10: I have a stated policy of scoring movies compared to other movies in the specific genre or milieu. So a soft-core lesbian superhero flick might be compared to another soft-core lesbian vampire flick rather than a regular superhero flick or Disobedience.
Beaks puts this approach to the test. As a movie, it is incompetent. It is poorly shot. Horribly dubbed. And while technically it has both nudity and giant fireballs, neither are, shall we say, quality? (Or quantity, for that matter.) Even in the very generous category of nature gone wild films, Beaks is pretty thin gruel. However, if we drop down to nature gone wild films featuring birds, it is comfortably in the middle of the pack.
A brief history of Birds Gone Wild films.
The grand pappy of birds gone wild films is, of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds based on the delightful short story by the under appreciated Daphne du Maurier. The Birds has not… how do I say this… aged well. Compare it to say Strangers on a Train or Psycho which both hold up perfectly well today. The Birds, in comparison, suffers from both pacing issues and serious special effects failures.
And yet The Birds is easily the best nature gone wild bird film ever made. What is the second best? Well, apparently Beaks the Movie. (Full disclosure I have not seen The Syfy film Kaw about killer crows with Mad Cow disease.)
The rest of the field is the terrible. The genre comprises Alan Smithee film The Birds II: Land’s End and two Birdemic films that are even worse despite having actress Whitney Moore. (Seriously, you try to act with that direction and script. Whitney Moore is one of our nation’s greatest acting treasures.)
As a result, as poorly made and incompetent as Beaks is. It is not the worst nature gone wild birds attack film ever made by a long shot. So let’s do a breakdown.
The Good: Despite everything I am about to write about it, I would rather sit through Beaks again than say Disobedience. Beaks does nothing well, but it moves around quite a bit between characters, scenes, and perhaps even continents. (The RiffTrax guys are amazed at all the countries this silly film takes place in.) As a result, the minute it threatens to become boring, it moves on to something else. It is a rare case for a movie’s ADHD working in its favor.
The Bad: With so many opportunities, let’s highlight a couple of things. Michelle Johnson and the birds themselves. Now I did not notice Michelle Johnson’s thespian skills in her most famous film 1984’s Blame it on Rio. I was sixteen when Blame it on Rio came out and it influenced me. Yes, I remember the influence quite well. The gorgeous gorgeous influences. Where was I? Oh yes. Back to what I was saying. I don’t quite recall Michelle Johnson being a terrible actress in Blame it on Rio. Hell, I don’t even recall her speaking. And I wouldn’t call her terrible in Beaks. More along the lines of not that good. Unfortunately, Michelle is out-acted by both Christopher Atkins and a dove that was thrown at the camera.
Now one of the main differences is Michelle is very very clothed in Beaks. As I comment in the photos below, she often dresses like a high school girl trying to hide her late term pregnancy. Plenty of oversized sweaters and jackets with layers like she was filming Arctic. Now while Michelle does not get naked in Beaks her character does. The movie’s body double is, shall we say, lacking in certain well know influences Michelle is famous for. (It is so obvious it almost makes me think Beaks is a secret, surrealistic masterpiece decades ahead of its time.)
The second major problem is that this is an Italian film, and there are animals. So needless to say, animals are killed and tortured on film for our amusement. It isn’t as bad as the early eighties Italian cannibal films like Eaten Alive, but it is there, and sensitive viewers and decent people should be aware. Oh course, as someone who polishes off a Costco rotisserie chicken once a week, I am aware of the hypocrisy.
The bigger problem with the animal attacks is the filmmakers, perhaps showing some restraint, use only pigeons and doves in the attacks. Much like the giant bunnies in Night of the Lepus, there is no number of doves one can throw at either the camera or the actors to make it scary.
The Ugly: Beaks? Really, you called the movie Beaks. Not just Beaks but Beaks the Movie. So it isn’t confused with Beaks the Broadway hit musical or Beaks the Shakespeare drama? Did you see Hot Dog…The Movie and say me alikie that in a criminally cliched Italian accent?
And yes, I understand Jaws was about a shark with jaws and Beaks is about a group of killer pigeons with beaks. I did manage to break the code.
In Conclusion. Is Beaks a secret work of genius? I am not fully confident in dismissing this alternative theory. There are so many things in the film that make so little sense that, as a whole, perhaps it is simply art ahead of its time. Or it could be a horrible retread of The Birds poorly dubbed and cobbled together with string. Either way, it can be interesting in its own way. Its real fault is being an exploitation film without much in the way of exploitation, a thriller with nothing thrilling and a horror film that is about as scary as a movie where doves are thrown at poorly dubbed actors can be.
RiffTrax version: 7 out of 10: Edited TV version of film. Disappointing. Mainly because one of the funniest bits is with the body double, who seems attractive mind you (we never see her face), but whom also is clearly sporting some A-cups more appropriate for a Keira Knightley body double than a woman who changed the life of an entire generation of American males.
I will continue to tilt at this edited films on RiffTrax windmill. There is no rhyme or reason either. They have no trouble with an Italian exploitation film one week (Plankton) and then go oh no a breast think of the children in the next.
All that said while RiffTrax I feel misses some of the sheer silliness on display this go around. They do a nice job making the movie a fun time to watch.