By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Giant bird eats humans
In celebration of cult writer/director Larry Cohen turning 72 on July 15th all this month on Mondays I will review five of his films that he did during the 80’s. Now Cohen will probably never win an Academy Award and may never be mentioned in the same context as Spielberg, Kubrik, or Hitchcock, but the man has had one hell of a career nonetheless. He has been writing for either television or movies since the late 50’s and continues to churn out creative, innovative stories and scripts. Not all of them are completely successful and some of them do misfire, but his ability to survive in the difficult, competitive Hollywood landscape and make his movies on his terms with virtually no studio interference is an amazing achievement in itself and therefore deserves recognition.
This film like most of his others has a completely outlandish plot this time involving a giant lizard-like bird that is actually the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl brought back to life and nesting inside the top crown of the Crysler Building in downtown Manhattan. The bird lays a giant egg and feeds itself on unsuspecting people. Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is an out-of-work lounge singer who comes upon the bird’s nest accidently while running from the cops after a botched jewelry store robbery. He decides to use his knowledge of the whereabouts of the bird to his advantage and demands that the city pay him a million dollars before he leads them to it.
Despite the crazy plot the execution is rather conventional. There are long periods of seemingly unending dialogue that is not interesting and does not propel the movie along. The bird attacks are too brief and needed to be strung out more. The movie would have worked much better and had it had a consistent tongue-in-cheek approach and editing that was more kinetic and lucid-like.
Moriarty saves the film with entertaining, edgy performance. This is a man who is known for his erratic behavior off-screen, which pretty much killed his career. In 1971 while performing on stage in a play in Houston he suddenly broke from character and told the audience as well as his fellow cast members that he felt tired and didn’t want to continue and then promptly walked off stage and went home. He was also fired from his most famous role as Ben Stone in the hit series ‘Law and Order’ for similar types of odd incidents and yet that is exactly why he is so perfect here. He gives the thing a much needed boost of weird energy and I especially liked the part when he leads two of his partners in crime up to the bird’s nest and when the bird starts feeding on them he climbs down the ladder shouting:
“Eat them! Eat them! Crunch! Crunch! Eat them! Eat Them!”
I also enjoyed when he is sitting at the bargaining table with the city and police officials demanding a million dollars before he tells them the whereabouts of the bird and insisting that it all must be tax free because:
“I’ve never paid taxes before in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”
His character is lazy, conniving, cowardly, bombastic, self-centered, egotistical, talentless, and deluded and yet strangely endearing and I even felt a bit sorry for him at the end. Candy Clark as Joan his more grounded and conscientious girlfriend makes for a good contrast.
I wasn’t as crazy about David Carradine as the tough New York cop who deals with Jimmy during his investigation. Carradine seems too aloof and detached and this doesn’t help to create any tension. Richard Roundtree as his partner is much better and I would have had him the sole investigator and cut Carradine out completely.
The special effects are a little bit better than what I had initially feared for a low budget 80’s flick, but they are not real great either. The bird when shown flying through the air just doesn’t seem gigantic or frightening enough and ends up looking like a poor man’s Ray Harryhausen creation. The final shootout with the bird was clearly done on a matted screen and looks very tacky. I actually thought the baby bird that comes out of the egg was the only halfway scary and effective moment in the whole film.
What Cohen does get right is reflecting the ambience and culture of the New York neighborhoods and crowded street culture. The aerial footage of New York’s skyline is also spectacular.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 29, 1982
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Director: Larry Cohen
Studio: Larco Productions
Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray