A Cult Movie Classic That's for the Birds

A scene from "Birdemic: Shock and Terror," James Nguyen's homage to Alfred Hitchcock, but a lot cheaper and with more unintended humor.
A scene from "Birdemic: Shock and Terror," James Nguyen's homage to Alfred Hitchcock, but a lot cheaper and with more unintended humor.

The sea has long inspired great poets and artists, writes CBS News correspondent Bill Geist, so why not . . . a San Jose software salesman?

James Nguyen had a vision of replacing Alfred Hitchcock's seagulls and crows in "The Birds" with modern-day toxic, flammable, exploding eagles and vultures, in what is being praised as the best worst move of all time.

"I definitely liked it more than 'Avatar,'" said one moviegoer in Portland, Ore.

Why had another woman come to the screening? "I just heard it was the worst movie ever made," she said.

"It's interesting to see what man can accomplish," said one satisfied customer.

The intention of "Birdemic: Shock and Terror" was to terrify audiences, but instead has them howling with laughter - coast to coast - at midnight screenings.

At Portland's Bagdad Theatre, the audience is laughing, yelling, throwing popcorn. But one man is not laughing. James Nguyen.

"I was surprised that they were laughing with the movie," he told Geist. "From the beginning to the end, from scene to scene, I say, 'Well, it's not supposed to be funny. I didn't make it to be funny.'"

James often attends screenings, signing autographs and taking questions.

When asked why the birds that are attacking humans explode, he said, "The reason they explode is because global warming has made them mutant, and toxic and flammable."

"It's fictional, but it's not something unrealistic," he said.

An audience favorite is the scene where lead characters Rod and Natalie go to a pumpkin festival and wind up fighting their way out of a Motel 6 armed with coat hangers.

"You know, if you were, seriously, if you were literally attacked by eagles and vultures in a hotel room, what can you use to protect yourself, you know?" James asked.

"Well, when you look at it that way, yeah," said Geist. "It almost makes sense."

"It makeas sense, yeah!" said Nguyen.

And if the hangers don't work? Luckily somebody brought an M-16 to the pumpkin festival. Bam! Bam!

Some film buffs are already calling "Birdemic" a cult classic, featuring wooden acting and some dreadful dialogue, when you can hear it ("Hey, there's dead people by the side of the road! Let's go see if there's any survivors!"); bad special effects, like the clip-art birds; clunky lectures on "damned global warming" ("It's the cause of dry climate and bark beetles and death of the trees in the forest"); and finally, the secret ingredient: James Nguyen's sincerity.

He isn't kidding.

James entered "Birdemic" in the Sundance Film Festival, was rejected, but went anyway.

Filmmakers Bobby Hacker and Evan Husney described what they encountered in Park City, Utah: "We saw this rundown Nissan Quest just crawling down Main Street plastered with posters and fake blood . . . And just blasting this indescribable avian-like, screeching, like eagle attacks."

It was James promoting "Birdemic" (although he misspelled it on the van).

Husney admits that, conventionally speaking, people would say "Birdemic" is a bad film, but he claims "It has its own style. It has its own voice. And it's completely entertaining from the beginning to the end."

They put James in touch with a film company, which for some reason bought it.

And guess what: It's not easy making a film on a $10,000 budget.

"I had this actress and I thought, 'Well, she's perfect for it,'" recalled James. "Everything was signed, the contract, and the whole thing blew up because she wouldn't stay in a Motel 6."

James found two first-time actors to play the lead roles. Whitney Moore, who is beautiful and volunteered to do the gory make-up, and Alan Bagh.

Geist asked Bagh, "Do you mind if I ask you what you got paid for the movie?"

"I didn't even get paid anything, to tell you the truth," he said.

But was he glad he did it? "Yeah. Yeah, I'm really glad, especially with all the attention it's getting."

Nguyen said he never went to film school but learned his craft at the "film school of Hitchcock cinema. Everything was self-taught."

He edited the film himself in a spare bedroom.

His memorable tour bus scene, and most of the film, was shot in the town of Half Moon Bay, California.

In the scene, a "platoon of eagles and vultures" descend down, and, as the director describes it, "basically, you know, release bird fluids that burns, toxic, that when you get it you die."

"Uh, huh,' said Geist. "What'd you actually use in the film?"

"We actually used orange juice," saud Nguyen. "And there was only three gallons, so we got one take. There was one take. That's it, 'cause I ran out of money that day."

But now, somehow, this Vietnamese immigrant is living the American Dream

"I still pinch myself every day, you know?" he said. "Like, wake up in the morning and pinch myself, like that, and, you know, say, 'Is this real?'"

. . . Still a little perplexed as to why

"It's like one giant, happy accident," he said. "Maybe I'll get lucky again on the sequel, 'Birdemic: The Resurrection."

For more info:
"Birdemic: Shock and Terror" (Official Web Site)
We shot at the Bagdad Theatre in Portland, Oregon, where the film had a midnight showing at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival.
We shot a midnight screening at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles.
Scenes from the movie were shot in Half Moon Bay, Calif., at Cameron's Restaurant and Inn