ear·nest /ˈərnist/ – Resulting from or showing intense conviction
The other day I sat down and, courtesy of Netflix Instant, forced my way through the movie Birdemic: Shock and Terror. It was just as unbelievably awful as the gentlemen of Rifftrax promised it would be. Perhaps moreso. I’ve often heard it compared to a Sci-Fi Original movie, but those films are at least adequate in the technical department if nowhere else. Sure, the CGI effects of those films aren’t what one might call convincing, but compared to Birdemic they are WETA quality. Until I watched Birdemic I would have been very hard pressed to say I’d found a movie that, on just about every level, made Mega Snake look good. Birdemic can’t even get its audio right. Writer/Director/Producer James Nguyen doesn’t have the problem of the boom mike getting into the shot, because it seems he’s never heard of a boom mike. Or ADR, which is something even Harold P. Warren remembered exists.
No, the closest bit of wonderful Birdemic reminded me of among the movies we’ve watched at Yakmala! gatherings was a last-minute substitution thrown in by the unassuming title of Vampire Dentist.
To this day I don’t think we know what to make of Vampire Dentist. It honestly looked like someone just gave a camera to a group of drunken White Wolf LARPers for a weekend and they just decided to have some goofy fun with it, and while most of us would have watched the atrocious results, laughed, and shoved the tapes away where no one would see them again, these folks decided it was worthy of national; nay, international consumption.
Come to think of it, I may have just broken a taboo by writing about it, here. I can’t remember if we made rules that day and the first two were not to discuss Vampire Dentist. Suffice to say that it was so bad and so amateurish as to really make us question again where the Yakmalic lines should be drawn. Did we really want to open the floodgates to any group of fools with a video camera? Or for that matter in these modern times, a fancy smartphone?
More than that, there’s still always the raging debate that occurs on whether something is meant as an intentional parody. We just have trouble accepting that people able to function in society can make films like this and think they did something decent, much less classic. When that occurs, the only real recourse is to delve behind the curtain and look at those people, and experience the fascination of the Ed Woods and Harold P. Warrens and Claudio Fragassos and Tommy Wiseaus of the world who honestly, sincerely believed they were bringing art to the world.
For example, here’s one interview with Christine Whitlock, the woman responsible for Vampire Dentist:
You may not have watched that whole clip; believe me, I forgive you. But can I just tell you how she boasts about being in the filmmaking industry for over 20 years? Or there’s this excerpt from the Vampire Dentist IMDB page:
“Unlike bottom-grade directors like Ulli Lommel or Ed Wood, Christine Whitlock has, somehow, flown under the radar without much infamy. However, with the three films she’s now released (‘Vampire Dentist’ in addition to ‘Sharp Teeth’ and its semi-sequel ‘Marina Monster’), she more than deserves to be included alongside the likes of Lommel as one of the worst working directors out there. Her films are, without a doubt, some of the worst made by someone with multi-film experience.”
That’s right. She’s made more than one movie. Writer/Director/Producer on all three. And with that let’s swing on back by James Nguyen of Birdemic, a movie with effects so bad they just have to be a joke.
There’s that movie industry saying, “We’ll fix it in post”. Well, there was the post. And yes, the budget for the entire film was a shoestring $10,000, but…. yikes. Every action scene is about that same quality, which can be partly explained by the exact same CGI sequences being superimposed.
So it’s a got to be a parody, right? Even if it’s a badly executed parody? Well…
It was never my intention to make a B movie. I wanted to be considered an indie filmmaker who made a movie that got distribution,” Nguyen said. “If it’s a cult classic so be it. It’s something that just came to me.”
This is a man who still seems honestly confused as to why he was shut out of the Sundance film festival. But in true Ed Wood fashion, that didn’t stop him:
Nguyen didn’t get Birdemic into Sundance, but that didn’t stop him from cruising the festival’s streets “in a van covered with fake birds, frozen blood and Birdemic posters, while loudspeakers blared the sounds of eagle attacks and human screams.” The tactic worked: Severin Films acquired the rights and plans a theatrical release later this year.
Now you might claim that there is pure evidence that Nguyen is pulling our collective leg, Sacha Baron Cohen style. I counter the guy is a 40-year-old software salesman. And I counter, finally, with this, dredged from the bowels of public access in the months before Birdemic‘s release.
That quiet sincerity evident as Nguyen sits there and speaks of the virtues of his film–a film he invested his life savings into, a film he still to this day believes is a hit because of its great story and great casting–is so crucial for me. It’s why Manos will always hold a more esteemed place in my Yakmala! heart than any of the Transformers movies, horrible though they might be.
I’m trying really hard not to think about the fact the Humane Society saw the Birdemic trailer and felt the need to call Nguyen up and make sure no actual birds were harmed. Maybe that’s why even the dead birds were CGI fakes. But anyhow…
The importance of being earnest. Men and women bringing the utterly wretched to audiences around the world, and proudly standing up in the face of everything to say “This! This is my best effort!”
Whether it’s a $10,000 movie or a $100 million one, that’s some good Yakmala, right there.
(For a review of a bad film by a not-so-sincere director, please to be directing your browser to Erik’s discussion on Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Or learn how not to fail at Torgo with Justin’s “hands on” summation of Manos: The Hands of Fate.)