Saturday, May 28, 2016

#232: Beaks: The Movie (Rene Cardona, Jr., 1987)

Helpfully titled Beaks: The Movie to let you know you're not watching a television show or a plate of spaghetti or a shoe or something, Rene Cardona, Jr.'s tale of avian terror answers the unasked question, "What if Hitchcock's The Birds took place in the 1980s and was a pile of garbage?" Beaks: The Movie is a hard movie to find these days and is only available in this country on used VHS. Normally, that's the kind of thing that breaks my heart, but in this case, we're all very lucky.  
Beaks has it all -- terrible dialogue, a ridiculous story, bad acting, bizarre contradictions in plot that prompted my wife to say, "This movie is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book where we see every choice," long stretches of boredom, and flat, visually uninteresting shot composition. Surprisingly, the special effects are pretty good. These people really look like they're being attacked by birds. Probably because the filmmakers are hurling actual birds at the cast.
Beaks stars Blame It on Rio's Michelle Johnson and The Blue Lagoon's Christopher Atkins as Vanessa and Peter, a young couple working for the world's most insane television news network. She's a reporter, he's a cameraman. (My wife again: "They're the poor man's Brooke Shields and Mark Hamill.") This network is an American station run by a sexually harassing sleazebag that operates globally and appears to have an unlimited travel budget. It focuses on bizarre human interest stories in international locations that seem to be populated entirely by Americans.
Over the course of the film, our leads hop from city to city in Spain before going to Rome and finally Puerto Rico on the trail of the murderous birds. Despite Vanessa's repeated claims that she is a serious journalist with a journalism degree who is also a grown woman and therefore should not have to cover this tabloid trash, her mix of stilted, ridiculous interviewing and flowery editorializing proves she deserves to be covering stories like a group of turkeys who attacked their owner. Initially skeptical of these tales of bird murder, Vanessa and Peter become believers when even a tiny canary becomes consumed by bloodlust. Pretty soon, eyeballs are getting pecked out all over the damn place. Speculation points to humankind's disregard of the environment, with the birds attempting to restore balance by pecking the shit out of us.
Besides our intrepid journalists, Beaks introduces us to an old man on a Spanish country estate who lost an eye to a falcon and will not let that happen again. We also meet his daughter and granddaughter and get to see the latter's ill-timed outdoor birthday party that descends into bird attack madness. In addition, we get a couple living in Rome who survived a similar bird attack 30 years previously, a beer-swilling bikini babe and her ill-fated boyfriend, a pair of unlucky hang-gliders, and a New York family on vacation in Puerto Rico in the wrong place at the wrong time. All these people are pretty boring, though I did enjoy the Puerto Rican mayor with crazy eyebrows who decides to deal with the bird epidemic by resignedly heading to the bar for some brandy.
We get a few nods to Hitchcock's chimney scene in the better bird attack movie, but like I said to Cardona in our 1988 vice presidential debate, "Rene, I watched a lot of Hitchcock. I enjoyed Hitchcock. Hitchcock was a favorite of mine. Rene, you're no Alfred Hitchcock (audience goes bananas)." Beaks picks up a little when our heroes convince the Puerto Ricans to evacuate everyone and put them on a train the hell out of there. For some reason, the train seems to be populated entirely by punk rockers who don't give a shit about your bird-avoiding rules and whiny old people who don't want to be told what to do by a young woman who looks kind of like Brooke Shields. The birds eventually simmer down, for reasons as mysterious as their motivation for simmering up, but a baffling ending in a lake means the fish are probably going to go crazy next.
Beaks is only 86 minutes but feels much longer. The best moment happens early, when the journalists are covering a story about a man who can shoot pigeons while blindfolded. Peter asks him his reasons for killing the birds and the man says for pleasure. Peter: "For pleasure? Faaaaaaack!" I also enjoyed the bizarre contradictions and unexplained plot developments. A couple has a flat tire and no jack, but are driving away on a fully inflated tire in the next scene. The same couple is stranded under a dock, but are shown riding away in a boat in the next scene. Characters appear in different locations in consecutive scenes before magically reappearing where they once where. A nude scene with an obvious body double is reused twice, even though its first use makes no sense because Vanessa is covered in soap bubbles but hasn't even stepped in the bubble bath yet. This continuity clusterfudge is highly enjoyable to me.
Director Rene Cardona, Jr., was a Mexican filmmaker who mostly worked on Spanish-language films, but he also had many English-language B-movies on his CV, including The Bermuda Triangle, Tintorero: Killer Shark, and the Jonestown biopic Guyana: Cult of the Damned. He died in 2003. I'm sorry to speak ill of the dead, but Beaks: The Movie is not good.


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