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Zombie 5: Killing Birds Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome

zombie 5 killing birds large

Directed by Claudio Lattanzi (as Claude Milliken) and Joe D’Amato (uncredited)
Written by Daniele Stroppa (as Daniel Ross), story by Claudio Lattanzi and Sheila Goldberg
1988, 92 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 27th, 2020

Starring:
Lara Wendel as Anne
Timothy W. Watts as Steve Porter
Leslie Cummins as Mary
Robert Vaughn as Dr. Fred Brown
James Vellemaire as Paul
Sal Maggiore Jr. as Brian
James Sutterfield as Rob

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Review:

A soldier returns home from serving in the Vietnam War and is shocked to find his wife asleep in bed with her lover. He murders them both as well as another couple who stop by with a new baby. Nobody is readily identified, but the visiting couple appears to be the soldier’s parents and the baby his son. He spares the child but is soon attacked in his aviary by a large bird that tears out one of his eyes and blinds him in the other. He somehow makes his way with the baby to a hospital where the kid is taken into foster care and he is treated for his injuries. There is no mention of the police investigating his crimes.

Twenty years later, a group of Loyola University ornithology students go on an expedition to find the nearly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. The team is led by Steve Porter, who has just received a grant for the project. His ex-girlfriend Anne has been assigned to cover the trip for the school paper and Steve reluctantly agrees to her joining. Her research leads them to famed ornithologist Dr. Fred Brown, one of the last known people to see the elusive woodpecker. They arrive at his house and are shocked to discover he is blind. Brown is indeed the soldier from the opening scene and has avoided any legal setbacks for the last two decades. He won’t let his lack of vision get in the way of his profession and provides Steve with a set of his records before sending him on his way.

The group travels the Louisiana bayou, photographing and documenting birds. They make their way through a dense fog and come to an old house; the same location Dr. Brown committed his crimes. Upon arrival Steve feels a connection to the house and begins seeing images of the haunted past and visions of a bloody future. They split up and explore the property before deciding to spend the night. Taking a break from their studies, one of the young ladies steps out to the empty aviary where she is attacked by a zombie! Yes, somehow the living dead figure into this story and three shuffling corpses target the students and do all of the killing—despite what the title suggests.

Italian horror movies of the 1980s are something of a guilty pleasure—they don’t always make sense, but seldom hold back in terms of weird logic and graphic violence. Zombie 5: Killing Birds (aka Raptors aka Zombie 5) opens as a tale of a disturbed war vet going on a killing spree, then switches to a group of teen birders following a blind man’s guidance to an old dark house before lapsing into the tried and true zombie trope. Why walking corpses are hanging around this abandoned house is never made clear except to say they are drawn by fear. Ghosts would be more appropriate given the supernatural aspects of the story or even actual murderous birds as antagonists.

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Killing Birds borrows liberally from other genre hits but manages to blend the familiar elements into something entertaining if not very original. A question of who actually helmed this picture lingers, with co-writer Claudio Lattanzi (Aquarius Visionarius) receiving credit (as Claude Milliken), but by all accounts producer/cinematographer and legendary filmmaker Joe D’Amato (Emanuelle in America) was calling the shots; think Steven Spielberg on the set of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. The film takes its time getting to the action and makes the wrongheaded decision to abandon the bird motif in favor of shoehorning in a small number of zombies, but delivers some gruesome images all the same. The ghouls don’t cry for brains or eat their victims, but they do tend to assault people about the head and neck.

The cast of relative unknowns is headlined by Lara Wendel (Tenebrae), who is something of a staple in this period of Italian genre flicks. She plays Anne, the budding journalist covering the expedition for the university paper. Broadening the international appeal is the always watchable Robert Vaughn (C.H.U.D. II), who appears as Dr. Brown, the blind ornithologist with a murderous past. His character studies audio recordings of birds and oddly enough uses a compass in his work. He also gets around rather freely, turning up many miles from home just in the nick of time to spread some wisdom.

There are a lot of unanswered questions when the end credits roll and the birds are limited primarily to a small number of second unit cutaways, but with this kind of movie you just have to scratch your head and go with it. Italian horror films of the ‘80s and ‘90s were frequently squeezed into existing franchises regardless of content. For example, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie was called Zombie 2 as a proposed sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (aka Zombi) and was a huge hit. Over the next few years two more unrelated movies were lumped into the series and later this picture was released in Italy as Zombie 5: Killing Birds. None of the titles assigned really work, but it still makes for interesting viewing.

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Video and Audio:

The original camera negative has received a 2K scan and restoration and the image is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are bold and well-saturated while black levels are deep and free of any noise. Flesh tones appear natural and fine-object detail is excellent.

A pair of DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks offers the audio in either the original English or an Italian dub. Dialogue is always clear and understandable and the crazy score is prominent without becoming intrusive. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

In her audio commentary, film historian/author Samm Deighan opens with an explanation of the Italian practice of shoehorning in unrelated films into existing series. The focus of her discussion is a loving tribute to director Joe D’Amato and a study of his work. She goes on to provide a career overview of actress Lara Wendel. Her observations on the film itself are insightful and humorous and well worth a listen.

In Talons (49 minutes), writer/director Claudio Lattanzi talks about his entry into the industry working with Michele Soavi and Dario Argento. He goes into detail about the evolution of this film's screenplay and his memories of the production. He talks about his work directing the picture but does have a lot to say about Joe D’Amato’s involvement. This interview is in Italian with English subtitles.

Birds of a Feather (15 minutes) catches up with sound man Larry Revene, who recalls his time working with D’Amato and other Italian filmmakers. He shares his memories about this film’s production and location shooting in Louisiana as well as the casting of Robert Vaughn.

There are two trailers for the film, one in English the other Italian.

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Grades:

Movie: Twostars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Threestars
Overall: 3 Star Rating

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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