Blu-ray Review - Zombie 5: Killing Birds | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 29th, 2020  

Zombie 5: Killing Birds

Studio: Vinegar Syndrome

Oct 08, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


A group of college-aged ornithologists take residence inside a spooky, old house while they search for signs of a near-extinct woodpecker. Unfortunately for them, the manor was the site of a twenty-year-old mass murder, and the angry spirits seem hell-bent on ripping off all of their heads before the night is through.

When this author first saw this 1988 Italo import, it was via the 2002 Shriek Show DVD released under the same title, Zombie 5: Killing Birds. While that seems to be the most common title—it’s also been released as Raptors and just plain Killing Birds in other territories—it’s probably the most unfair, setting up expectations in ways on which it was never meant to deliver. Anyone anticipating slews of shambling zombies in the vein of Fulci’s Zombie 2 or City of the Living Dead, or at least the more lively undead of Lamberto Bava’s Demons, is going to be sorely disappointed by the scant few minutes of screen time they’re given here. The truth is, Zombie 5: Killing Birds features few zombies and even fewer killer birds, making the title feel like a big, fat lie.

Perhaps Joe D’Amato should have let co-director Claudio Lattanzi call it “Talons,” which was a working title for the script. It doesn’t make that much more sense, but at least it’s open for interpretation. (D’Amato poo-pooed the name because he thought it sounded like they were making a documentary about cats.)

Zombie 5: Killing Birds is no masterpiece, but it’s worthy of a reassessment after those false expectations have been dialed back. This is much more a haunted house movie than anything; its handful of living dead more supernatural, vengeful spirits than brain-munching corpses. The plot concerning the rare woodpecker is just a weird excuse to get the kids into the murder mansion, and is completely forgotten once they’re being picked off in creative ways. Par for the course, the characters are mostly forgettable unless you’re thinking of them in the context of how they’re killed. (“Oh, she’s the one who had her head yanked off through the car window!”)

The stylish deaths, though—which, to be honest, are what many ‘80s Italian horror junkies are probably most interested in—are well-done and unpredictable, even when you know they’re coming. There’s a lot of head-ripping and throat violence; someone being burned alive; fingers being torn apart in gears; and even a bird pecking out a man’s eyes. Some of these arrive out of left field, and recalled some of the nonsensical kills in The Beyond, which were more about putting on a grisly show than connecting any sort of cause and effect.

Robert Vaughn—fresh off far more mainstream flicks like Superman III and The Delta Force—plays the blind murderer whose actions seem to have sparked the evil spirits’ ire. The movie was shot by the Italian crew in Louisiana, which makes it feel somewhat less foreign.   

Historian Samm Deighan has the unenviable task of explaining Italian genre film titling conventions, and how Zombie (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) became inextricably linked to Zombie 5: Killing Birds by overzealous marketers in just ten short years. Her commentary is brisk and informative, not only providing a history of the film and its participants, but a convincing defense of Joe D’Amato, who many horror fans – this reviewer included – tend to write off as a prolific pornographer once they get Buio Omega, his video nasties, and possibly the Ator films out of the way. Listeners should come away encouraged to seek out more of D’Amato’s films, which certainly feels like Deighan succeeding in one of the main goals of her commentary.

Also included are interviews with the film’s sound recordist, Larry Revene, and the movie’s co-director, Claudio Lattanzi, who gives great insight into what it was like to churn out exploitation movies in the factory-like Italian industry during the late ‘80s. He also explains that the concept was conceived as an Evil Dead knock-off, which makes a ton of sense as this movie shares more obvious DNA with that one than either of Romero’s or Fulci’s famous zombie films.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release features an all-new 2K restoration, and looks fantastic. (These sort of drastic, visual overhauls are pretty much necessary in these films’ reappraisals, as it was always hard to take them seriously when even official DVD releases didn’t look much better than bootlegs.) Viewers have their choice of the original English audio or the Italian dub, plus trailers from both sides of the Atlantic. Zombie 5: Killing Birds may be several rungs below the top-echelon Italian horror exports, but anyone looking to take a deeper dive shouldn’t overlook this one. Just don’t approach it as a zombie movie. 

(vinegarsyndrome.com/products/zombie-5-killing-birds)




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