Four words: Giant. Antimatter. Space. Buzzard.note
Test-pilot/electronics engineer/physicist Mitchell "Mitch" Macafee (Jeff Morrow) is piloting a jet over Canada when he spots a UFO ("As big as a battleship!!"). His girlfriend on the ground Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday), however, sees nothing on the radar. Jets are scrambled to investigate his claim, but one goes missing. Mitch's commanding officer isn't pleased with him — and is even less so when another plane disappears in the same area.
En route back to the United States, Mitch and Sally's plane is attacked. Screeching is heard. They crash-land on a farm but survive unscathed and are taken in by a redneck named Pierre. More screeching is heard. Mitch and Sal go outside and find Pierre lying on the ground in terror near his spooked livestock. He claims to have seen the mythical witch La Cargagne, an omen of his impending death.
Finally arriving back in General Buskirk's office, Mitch is surprised to discover that his story about a battleship-sized UFO is no longer dismissed as pure fallacy. Another aircraft, this time carrying a bunch of investigators, was lost shortly after the pilot radioed a distress call that a bird the size of... wait for it... a battleship, was attacking the plane. Not to mention some googly-eyed pictures snapped by a high-altitude balloon's camera.
Thus we finally get our first glimpses of the beast that would put the combined worst of the bestiaries from every Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual to shame: a mighty battleship-sized phoenix from outer space, that flies faster than the speed of sound, that emanates a force-field of antimatter protecting it from all that the military can throw at it... as embodied by a puppet that looks like Buzz Buzzard's evil twin.
It's time for women to gaze at the sky and pretend to scream in terror, for model cars and trains to be awkwardly plucked off papier-mâché sets, and for a scheme "so crazy, it just might work!" to be contrived to defeat the bird.
This movie is simply priceless. It's got everything that a comedy movie disguised as a B science-fiction/horror movie from the 50s should have; a completely ridiculous monster, laughable dialogue delivered with total sincerity, copious use of mismatched stock footage, gobs and gobs of pseudo-scientific Techno Babble... you name it. All that's missing is the Fauxlosophic Narration. Although the actors' ruminations on their careers upon seeing the monster for the first time might've been entertaining.
Because... perhaps most priceless of all is the fact that all scenes with the actors were filmed first — and then the scenes with the puppet were spliced in. None of the cast actually saw what they were supposed to be terrified of until they attended the film's premiere. Reportedly, Morrow, upon hearing the audience's reaction, left the theater early with a red face hidden beneath a turned-up collar, afraid that someone might recognize him, then went home and got drunk.
By the way, it was released by Columbia Pictures — also responsible for Lawrence of Arabia and Jason and the Argonauts. This is the one that tends not to be mentioned in the studio-anniversary clip shows.
This film provides examples of:
- Antimatter: Well, Hollywood antimatter, anyway, which makes the gigantic space buzzard Nigh-Invulnerable and invisible to radar. It's also proof that the buzzard comes from space. When someone points out that a being completely made of antimatter would explode if it ever hit something, a Hand Wave is provided that it's just a being that has the natural capacity to somehow create an antimatter "barrier" that it can drop at will to manipulate (or attack) stuff.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Our monster for this tale is repeatedly compared in size to a battleship, and anything the U.S. government tosses at it is automatically playing David Versus Goliath... until the antimatter is dissipated, at least.
- Attack of the Killer Whatever: Repeat after us: Giant. Antimatter. Space. Buzzard.
- B-Movie: The acting is overblown, the lines are stilted and the monster is laughable. The worst part is that even the actors didn't know how bad the bird was going to look.
- Big Applesauce: The climax takes place in New York.
- Big Bad: The antimatter bird terrorizing the skies.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: The climax involves the giant buzzard being faced off with the plane into which the anti-anti-matter weapon has been installed: an old B-25.
- Carload of Cool Kids: A group of these driving past the protagonists, flouting the warnings to stay off the road at night (since the whole world has become aware of the eponymous monster by this point). Predictably, they're attacked.
- Cassandra Truth: Mitchell "Mitch" Macafee is not believed when he swears he saw "something as big as a battleship" fly past him in Alaska, and continues to not be believed until it's pretty clear that something is out there wrecking planes willy-nilly.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Sally gets two scenes of ruminating on tragic deaths, almost one right after the other.
- Contrived Coincidence: Really, does that monster has a thing for Mitch or something?
- Crazy Enough to Work: The device to disrupt the buzzard's antimatter field is purely in the realm of the theoretical and a Failure Montage ensues before Mitch finally gets the idea to do a Reverse Polarity modification... which still goes off in his face. The first thing he's told when he wakes up is some reassuring that it was a pretty long shot anyway, which he has to interrupt to say that he made it work.Mitch: It's one of those cock-eyed concepts that you pull down out of Cloud Eight somewhere in sheer desperation!
- Deadpan Snarker: Sally drops a pretty good snarking line about how dumb the idea of "La Cargagne" (and thus Mitch's "bird as big as a battleship") is while they are flying back after crashing, to the point Mitch has to ask her to cut it off and some poor passenger has to tell them that he's trying to sleep.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Sally Caldwell is quite the ice queen towards Mitch, at first. Then his "charm" finally wins her over.
- Department of Redundancy Department: "As big as a battleship." This is apparently the only really big thing the scriptwriters had ever seen in their entire lives
- Dirty Coward: Pierre gets a massive panic attack when he, Mitch and Sally finally find the buzzard's giant nest in the third act, refusing to shoot and running away from La Cargagne. The buzzard finds him and eats him
- Doomed Hurt Guy: The poor pilot Mitch saves from the wreckage.
- Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Mitch sneaks a full-blown kiss on Sally while she's asleep on a plane (after leaving the crash site and Pierre's home).
- Feathered Fiend: You bet! A buzzard as big as a battleship, eating anything unlucky enough to be in the air, or moving on the ground.
- Foreshadowing: Poor Pierre constantly compares the buzzard to La Cargagne, a supposed legend of a Giant Flyer that is a harbinger of doom for anybody who watches it, from the moment he does (because the thing landed near his home). Guess who's the only fella to get killed when the heroes go hunting for the buzzard's eggs?
- Funny Foreigner: Pierre the French-Canadian immigrant that Mitch and Sally befriend.
- Giant Flyer: A gigantic space buzzard is the Monster of the Week.
- Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: The titular creature is frequently stated to be the size of a battleship.
- I Have Brothers: Sally's Hand Wave for why all of a sudden she can pick up a bolt-action high-caliber rifle and place a bullet right in the middle of a giant space buzzard egg? "I'm from Montana!"
- Kaiju: The bird.
- The Living Dead: When the plane explodes and flaming wreckage lands about a foot from the three actors' heads, they all react in a violently startle manner...including the supposedly dead pilot.
- Monster Is a Mommy: Sally eventually figures out the monster's attack pattern is meant to be to get food for its future young and they go in search of its nest, and they blow away the egg within with .378 Weatherby Magnum rifles.
- Monumental Damage: The bird arrives in New York City and attacks the United Nation headquarters, for whatever reason.
- Nigh-Invulnerable: The giant buzzard, thanks to its antimatter screen, is immune to bombs, rockets, bullets and (used off-screen but lamented by General Buskirk in a radio message soon after) nuclear weapons.
- Phrase Catcher: The monster is compared to a battleship. Repeatedly. At least a few times jokingly it's actually called a battleship.
- Reverse Polarity: The machine meant to disrupt the antimatter forcefield is completely in the realm of the theorethical and works like an Epic Fail... until Mitch figures out that reversing the polarity works.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Nor do they have any other measurement than "as big as a battleship", apparently.
- Stock Footage:
- One shot of a building losing its top in New York has been recycled from a building in Los Angeles being shot by a Martian War Machine.
- Several shots of collapsing buildings crushing hapless civilians beneath them were taken from two other 50s atomic horror movies, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
- Techno Babble: The long explanation of how antimatter supposedly works, why it makes the giant bird Nigh-Invulnerable, and how the gadget that will be used to destroy it supposedly works.
- Time Abyss: If the movie poster is to be believed, the bird has existed since the year 17,000,000 B.C..
- Writers Cannot Do Math: Mitch discovers that the bird's attacks can be connected by a spiral pattern. No one mentions that any series of points can be connected by a spiral.
- Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: The final on-screen casualties of the alien vulture are a bunch of teens that, in defiance to government orders to not go out and night and do anything to attract the monster's attention, joyride down the same road and Mitch and Sally are driving after destroying the vulture's egg and mock them for having their headlights off.