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From Hitchcock to Poe, there’s something about birds that inspires enduring tales of the macabre.
As this collection of low-budget boondoggles makes painfully clear, however, that’s not always the case. Inhabited by caricatures instead of characters, dragged along by plots with more holes than a sapsucker’s favorite tree trunk, and featuring performances that make Moira Rose look like Meryl Streep, these stinkers ain’t exactly The Birds.
But this time of year, there’s nothing better than popping some kernels and settling in for a night of trashy horror. For bird nerds, these ghoulishly awful creature features might be just the ticket.
Considered one of the worst movies this century, Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a cult hit that fully delivers on its “so-bad-it’s-good” promise. The robotic acting, uncomfortable dialogue, terrible sound, and strange edits offer a laugh during the belabored first half, as protagonists Rod and Nathalie embark on a maximally cringey courtship. But I became antsy waiting for the killer eagles and vultures to show up and was glad to see them finally pecking, clawing, and pooping their victims to grisly deaths more than halfway in. Not that you could tell—the attacking GIF-like birds hover in place, waiting to be shot out of the sky as if we’re watching a dystopian game of Duck Hunt. At least Birdemic gets high marks for its environmental nuance. Shoehorned into this film—thanks to appearances from an earnest ornithologist and hippie tree hugger—we get sincere explanations of how climate change is fueling wildfires, avian flu, and the spread of spruce bark beetles, among other calamities. You’d have to be as dense as Rod to miss the message: The birds are the real victims here. —Jessica Leber
Standout quote: “The eagles killed Becky!”Critics say: “It requires that audiences don special eyewear to fully enjoy it: beer goggles.” —SlateBe warned: No official rating, but beware a painfully long, semi-clothed makeout scene.Watch on: Plex; Tubi; Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, and more (Pro-tip: Consider watching this film with live commentary by the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000.)
When the mysterious appearance of bloodthirsty ravens sends a rural town into chaos, a determined sheriff fights to end their reign of terror. Welcome to Kaw, where cringeworthy CGI and death by eye-pecking take center stage. The film clearly wants to fly with The Birds—it even features that film’s lead actor, Rod Taylor—but it fails to fledge. Murderous ravens pick off the cast one by one, somehow killing a slew of characters with superficial wounds. They smash windows and bring down power lines with…their beaks? As the death toll rises, the sheriff suspects the ravens are conspiring with each other—convenient given that a group of ravens is called a conspiracy. The survivors barricade themselves in a diner, where the true cause for the birds’ behavior is revealed and about as believable as the special effects. On the plus side, this film features some of the best acting by a German shepherd you’ll ever see. As for the rest? Nevermore. —Paige Curtis
Standout quote: “My grandmother used to say ravens were the eyes of the devil.”Critics say: “If this movie sucked any worse I think the world would implode on itself.” —IMDb reviewerBe warned: Rated R for violence and gore.Watch on: AppleTV; Prime Video
Flu Birds (2008)
As a so-so birder with insecurities about my identification skills, I’ve had nightmares similar to what plays out in the opening scene of this 2008 made-for-TV trainwreck. One outdoorsman offers up a tentative ID of the bone-chilling bird sound they’ve just heard—Barn Owl—only to be met with merciless ridicule from his companion: “It’s the middle of the morning, dumbass.” Shivers down my spine. It’s no surprise that neither hunter is long for this world, or that it’s no ordinary avian they’ve just heard. (Owls don’t roar, typically.) No, that was the sound of the eponymous winged horrors, which look like grotesque pterodactyls and carry a wildly virulent strain of avian flu. Bad news for a band of juvenile delinquents fresh out of detention who find themselves on some sort of scared-straight retreat in flu bird habitat. Worse still, the head of Homeland Security will stop at nothing to contain the virus, even if it means blowing up the forest and everyone in it. “This country hasn’t seen a single case of H5N1,” he growls, “let alone a mutant bird.” The first part is no longer true, but fortunately this movie is too ham-fisted to stoke anxiety about real-world avian mutants. —Andy McGlashen
Standout quote: “This is a messed-up situation. It’s gotten all out of control.”Critics say: “I was cheering for the Flu Birds to win so the movie would be over.” —IMDb reviewerBe warned: Rated R for creature violence and grisly images.Watch on: Plex; Tubi; Prime Video
Terror Birds (2016)
In real life, terror bird is the nickname for Phorusrhacidae, an extinct Cassowary-like prehistoric species that killed prey with its huge, hooked beak. In the movie Terror Birds, however, the titular creatures look more like goofy Skeksis-dino mashups with a cartoonish run and the ability to yank a skull and spine (still connected, mind you) from a person’s body in a single gruesome pluck. Such is the fate of one of the three college friends who join Maddy Stern on a quest to find her dad, who went missing on one of his birding adventures. Unfortunately for Pops, he not only found the Crested Caracaras he was after, but also stumbled upon a mysterious ranch surrounded by an electric fence—that he scales a tree to hop. What could be on the other side? Terror birds, of course: “100 pounds of beaks and claws, and the mangiest feathers you ever laid your pretty brown eyes on,” as one character describes them in the opening scene. (The script, much like the movie’s special effects, leaves much to be desired.) The birds, the last two remaining examples from a population of Phorusrhacidae that have somehow survived, were discovered on a remote South American island and transported to the Texas ranch by the movie’s antagonist, a wannabe John Hammond determined to breed the male and female and resurrect the species. The only problem? The eggs keep failing…and the birds keep killing people. —Andrew Del-Colle
Standout quote: “Are you guys on drugs? Are you tripping on ‘shrooms?”Critics say: “I am still trying to determine if Birdemic is better than Terror Birds. ’Nuff said.” —IMDB reviewer Be warned: Unrated, but gore, mild language, dated jokes, and offensive acting are laced throughout.Watch on: Tubi, Vudi, Peacock, Apple TV, YouTube, Prime Video, Google Play
Beaks: The Movie (1987)
The pigeon budget for this film must have been off the charts. There are pigeons everywhere: pigeons terrorizing a little girl’s birthday party, pigeons bloodying an airplane cockpit, taxidermied pigeons plucking out one eyeball after another. The scariest thing about this clunker may be that birds were undoubtedly harmed during its production. Birds are seemingly thrown at the actors, leashed to the people they are “attacking,” and, yes, shot out of the sky; no CGI here. But if you can get past that, Beaks: The Movie will give you plenty to ponder, such as: Wait, what does this subplot in Puerto Rico have to do with the rest of the story, set in Spain and Italy? Why is everyone speaking English? And was that last-second plot twist…what I think it was? The film is packed with baffling choices by cast and crew alike, including a staggering number of slow-motion shots and, we should note, a few seconds of totally gratuitous nudity. (The hangliding scene, on the other hand, is cinematic perfection.) Oh, right, the plot: Umm, a pair of TV journalists are trying to figure out why birds keep attacking people. They don’t. As reporter Vanessa explains in the film’s final moments, “The nightmare ended the same way it started: suddenly and inexplicably.” You said it. —A.M.
Standout quote: “Hey, call Colonel Sanders and he’ll take care of these birds and we’ll have them prepared for lunch.”Critics say: “Basically a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but bad.” —Rotten Tomatoes reviewerBe warned: Rated R for violence, gore, some language, and brief nudity.Watch on: Freevee; Plex; Tubi; Prime Video