The Birds II: Land’s End – Review
Platinum Dunes, the production company that gave us the recent versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror and Friday the 13th, is having trouble in its attempt to remake Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds. Producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form are understandably nervous about following in the footsteps of the Master, especially when the original film’s titular villains have such a limited arsenal; as Fuller points out, “What do they do? They peck and poke… There’s not a lot of variety as to what can happen.” Good point. How is a horror movie supposed to be scary when nobody’s intestines get splattered onto the ground?
While Fuller and Form ponder that mystery, us moviegoers might gain some perspective by examining another attempt to cash in on The Birds‘ success: the 1994 made-for-TV sequel, The Birds II: Land’s End. I acquired a used VHS copy of the film (which isn’t currently available on DVD) a few years ago at an awesomely grungy Boston record store, but even my deep-seated love of low-budget horror movies couldn’t motivate me to watch the tape… Until now.
As you might expect, my hesitation was justified. Land’s End is bad–poorly written, far from scary and (with a few exceptions) not quite silly enough to work as unintentional comedy. That’s all to be expected from a film credited to “Alan Smithee,” the pseudonym directors use when they believe their work has been so compromised that they no longer want their names attached to it. In this case, the name is standing in for Rick Rosenthal, a director familiar to me from his work on the Halloween franchise. That’s right, The Birds II is so bad that the director of Halloween: Resurrection didn’t want to be associated with it.
“Land’s End,” by the way, refers not to the clothing catalogue but to a fictional island vacation destination off the coast of New England. Our protagonists, a married couple named Ted and May Hocken, arrive there with their two young daughters at the outset of the film. They’re looking forward to a summer of fun, relaxation and other things that don’t involved getting murdered by birds. That last part will prove problematic, though not for a while, as this sequel spends almost an hour introducing its characters while only hinting at a possible killer-bird issue. The original did basically the same thing, but it boasted unconventional characters that were interesting to watch. The sequel’s main players, on the other hand, are cartoonish clichés.
For example, Ted (Brad Johnson) is a brooding alpha male who’s still too fixated on the death of his young son (an event which is replayed in a dream/flashback) to focus on writing his thesis. His wife May (Chelsea Field) is a computer consultant who feels so neglected by Ted that she is tempted by the borderline-harrassment advances of her current client, Frank (James Naughton), a photographer living in Land’s End. Ted and May’s young daughters are your standard disaster-movie children, cute as buttons and dumb as rocks. Kid, there’s a hawk swooping down at your face; you think you might want to move?
Besides the obvious bird attacks, Land’s End has only two connections to the original film. One is the presence of Tippi Hedren, who played the original’s protagonist but appears only briefly in this movie, and as a different character. The other link is a monologue delivered by the sequel’s standard Crazy Old Man, who notes that a few decades ago birds went homicidal in a West Coast town called Bodega Bay. Ted’s never heard of the incident. Apparently the audience is supposed to accept not only that the situation depicted in the original simply worked itself out (remember that creepy, ambiguous ending?), but also that an abrupt outbreak of hysteria within an entire class of animals, witnessed by hundreds and causing several deaths, never got any major media coverage. Perhaps the old man read about it in a “News of the Weird” column.
Anyway, birds start sporadically attacking the Hockens, so Ted and the geezer go to the mayor for help. Unfortunately the mayor seems to have learned all his lessons in municipal government from the movie Jaws, and refuses to do anything that would jeopardize the town’s tourist industry. The birds, which are smart enough to take down power lines and strong enough to peck through wood and glass, escalate their operations (though, as Fuller said, they can’t do much more than scratch faces and poke eyes).
This all leads to a climactic bird attack on a crowd of Land’s Enders. Remember how I said most of this movie isn’t silly enough to be funny? The last scene is the exception, featuring so many poor blue-screen effects and awkward close-ups that it might as well be a Monty Python sketch. I’ve posted part of the scene below, but be forewarned that this clip includes lots of fake blood and was filmed off of a TV screen. Watch at your own risk.
Awesome. Anyway, after that the movie trails off into a non-ending even less satisfying than that of its predecessor, and my brain began the task of forgetting the whole thing. Alan Smithee wasn’t able to recapture a single bit of the original film’s magic, and I doubt that the guys at Platinum Dunes can either. On the other hand, they can probably do better than this.