Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1987)

Zombie 5 Killing Birds DVD CoverThe incredible thing about Zombie 5: Killing Birds is that it manages to disappoint both fans of zombie movies and fans of killing bird movies.

Your dismay about the zombie action in this movie may depend on what sort of zombie action you’re actually expecting. Those who understand that if a zombie movie features a guy getting his eye clawed out by a large bird on the front of the DVD, it’s likely that any army of the undead won’t be much beyond one or two guys, no doubt reanimated by the crabby spirits of some dead birds, will likely come away mindlessly satisfied.

The film’s bird action was also surprisingly minimal (okay, the action in general was surprisingly minimal – how hard is it to rent a couple of parrots and film them from various angles so they look enraged?), but you do get a guy’s eyes poked out and a rather brief graphic shot of his ruined eyeball. It happens in the first ten minutes of the movie, so don’t think that’s the beginning of a bird vs. man war for dominance because the rest of the movie involves a bunch of college kids at an old house getting killed in every manner imaginable except by bird.

Vietnam vet Fred Brown (Robert Vaughn) returns from the war, where his loving wife waits breathlessly for his homecoming as she sleeps soundly in their bed with her new lover. The vet is still armed with his knife and is the perfect commie/adultery killing machine that this country made him so he kills both of them. Just for good measure he kills her parents, too. And just for double good measure he kills his pet birds. (Why didn’t you birds at least write me a Dear John letter?)

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He spares his son’s life (he’s a homicidal veteran, not a monster!), but gets his eyes pecked out by some birds that he didn’t get around to killing yet. We last see him at the hospital with his kid and his eyes are all bandaged up.

Back in the present a young man in flamboyant peach colored dress slacks (Steve) gets some great news. He just got word that his grant request has been approved so now he’ll have the money and equipment to go do some bird research in the spooky swamp with a bunch of his annoying friends. He’s even gotten it worked out so that the article might be published in Scientific American. (Do you think their subscription renewal letters say something like “featured in such low budget Italian horror films as Zombie 5: Killing Birds” or do all their readers already know that?)

Accompanying Steve is his crack team of researchers and Anne, a reporter for the college newspaper. Other than Robert Vaughn, she’s the only familiar face as she’s played by Lara Wendel. Though you’d have to have actually seen The Red Monks or Ghosthouse or remember her from smaller roles in Tenebre or Federico Fellini’s Intervista (that can’t possibly be right, can it?) to know who the hell she is.

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Anne has tracked down an area man who was the last person to have seen the rare bird they are in search of and it turns out to be none other than Robert Vaughn! Robert is sporting some hilarious face make-up that is supposed to look like he’s been blinded in a bird attack, but ends up looking like he got to the set late and he had to put it on himself without the benefit of a mirror.

If you’re wondering how a Vietnam vet who killed four people and lots of birds managed to both become a doctor and be paroled in less than thirty years, it’s because his family was never found! Except for the body in a truck the kids find about a hundred yards from his old house! (He lives in a different place now – probably too many bad memories and too many feathers everywhere).

In an expected, yet still stupid twist, Steve turns out to be the son that Brown spared. Steve has flashbacks and announces that the house has weird vibrations, so naturally everyone decides to spend the night and go looking for their missing van in the morning. By the time morning arrives though, all they’ll need is a motorcycle.

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Other than Robert Vaughn’s brief presence, the movie isn’t notable for much. Co-directors Joe D’Amato and Claudio Lattanzi chose to shoot the entire prologue without ever showing the Vietnam vet’s face (at least until his eyes were gouged out) which only makes sense if you’re trying to keep his identity a secret. Since we know that the blind vet grows up to be a blind Robert Vaughn, what’s the point? There’s no suspense created by this trick and it’s merely distracting in this context.

After that opening salvo of creative incompetence, the film shifts into familiar low quality slasher territory. A few gory scenes wasted on people you were rooting to see die as well as a generally ugly, poorly lit and photographed movie combine with a cast that’s perpetually sweaty (I’m sure it’s really humid down in the bayou, but it’s still gross) and generally ill-suited to careers in film, make this one easy to skip.

There is an interview with Robert Vaughn on the DVD which is interesting because after saying a few things about this movie, he starts remembering his experience on the Teenage Caveman set with director Roger Corman and recounts how he was always getting injured on that movie. He also talks about what gentlemen Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff were to work with on various projects as well as mentioning working on Battle Beyond The Stars. Obviously, like those of us who watched this movie, Robert would much rather remember anything else but working on it.

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