Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1987)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:


Zombi 3

Zombie 4: After Death

Zombie High

Zombie Lake

Zombie 5: Killing Birds

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Oh no ya don't – you're not
getting out of this movie that easy.
It seems like the higher the numbers get in the Zombie series, the fewer actual zombies you're going to see. Zombie 5: Killing Birds (a retitling of the Italian film Killing Birds for U.S. DVD by Media Blaster/Shriek Show) has a remarkable dearth of zombies, but plenty of 30-something foreigners pretending to be American college students. Of course the retitling as part of the “Zombie” series is not the fault of the Italian filmmakers, but then there's not much in the way of “killing birds” either. Whether you expect to see people killing birds or birds killing people, Zombi 3 (1988) had more of both than this.

"I tried to shape my eyebrows with Nads."
In a flashback circa 1970 we see a Vietnam veteran arriving at his home in Louisiana unexpectedly. He catches his wife in bed with another man, and he kills them both by slitting their throats. When his wife's parents arrive home with his infant son, and the vet kills both of them for no apparent reason. As our murderer-protagonist cleans up the mess he made, a pair of hawks from the household aviary gouge out his eyes. We assume this was supposed to have Profound Meaning, but thanks to curiously incompetent editing, the result plays out more like feeding time at the zoo than as divine retribution for murdering your in-laws. As the flashback ends the impromptu murderer is led into a hospital as his child is taken away.

If for some reason you want to watch this movie we will give you some information that should have been communicated in this sequence but was left out. The vet managed to completely hide the fact that he killed four people, but for some reason he gave his son up for adoption. Got that? Time to skip forward 18 years.

On your next contracting job, insist
on zombie-proof drywall for your home.
Paul (James Villemaire) is a college student studying ornithology in Louisiana. He is elated that the funding has just come through for an expedition into protected Louisiana swamp land to search for the presumed-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. We know you're trembling with excitement already, but wait -- it gets better. Not only is the speech-impaired Paul allowed to take Steve Porter (Timothy Watts), his mush-mouthed photographer buddy, but an array of heavily-accented "college students" are set to come along as well. Unfortunately they're also saddled with Anne (Lara Wendel), cub reporter for the school paper and an ex-girlfriend of Paul's. Anne can't complete an English sentence either -- we must have missed the dialogue explaining that every student must minor in dentistry, and they're constantly administering shots of Novacaine to one another. That explains why they usually say they're looking for the "avril bull." Another one of Paul's friends is Rob, a computer genius. We know he's a genius because he's programming computers to display pornography, which puts him at the forefront of the online smut boom. That porn comprises a couple of crudely rendered stick figures humping, but hey, Caligula wasn't shot in a day.

We always knew we'd lower ourselves
to showing porn on this site eventually.
In a quick scene at the newspaper office, Anne's mentor explains that "a journalist's job is done with patience and quiet determination," which only serves to date the film in that quaint period of time before "journalism" was a synonym for "sensationalist blather." Nowadays we know that a journalist's job is done with opportunistic invective and a general loathing of humankind. With these words of false wisdom to take with her (and ignore), Anne attaches herself to Paul's expedition in the hopes that she might find a real story hidden in the tale of bird watchers on an ivory-billed woodpecker chase.

First stop on the ornithologists' creepy journey is the house of Dr. Fred Brown (Robert Vaughn!), a man so blandly named we were surprised to find out his address wasn't 123 Oak Street. The blind and facially mutilated ornithologist (guessed his secret identity yet?) holds court with the spooked-out Paul and Anne for a few minutes (flubbing lines along the way) before gifting them with a map of the swamp where he last saw -- er, heard -- the ivory-billed woodpecker. That, of course, lands them right in the lap of Zombietown.

Or it would if we weren't doomed to another ten minutes of pointless expedition footage, including an impossibly goofy montage of whatever it is that ornithologists do. Frolic in the wild and take photos, from the looks of it. Even the crew must have tired of this at some point because finally the group's van breaks down and they find a long dead body in a truck. Scared and desperate, they do what any reasonable people in their position would do -- they find a remote abandoned house and vow to stay the night. Finally! We've made it to Zombietown.

"Can you tell me where the
Captain America auditions are?"
The house is the same one where the opening rampage took place, and the fact that a dead body was stashed in a truck within easy walking distance brings the competence of the local police into serious question. Our heroes settle in, and a couple of the guys find a generator in the basement. Steve looks at the machine and says "It hasn't been used for centuries," which is Steve's way of reminding us that he's a photographer, dammit -- not a historian. Still, he's enough of a mechanic to get the generator running, thus assuring that when the zombie attacks begin, at least there will be some light by which to see the gore.

Exactly who attacks these characters and why is not always clear. Brian (Sal Maggiore), the park ranger who was required to drive the van for some reason, spontaneously catches fire and runs off into the woods. At other times a lone zombie will appear and bludgeon someone to death. The only theme we could make out is that this film is the story of a bloodthirsty throat wound. Not multiple throat wounds -- just the one long goopy slit which hops from jugular to jugular in search of satisfaction. The makeup artist really seems to have honed his craft on the creation of a signature neck gash. They say that in low-budget pictures you have to use what you have, but when the exact same wound appears on four different victims, maybe you should use what you have a little less often.

As the film winds down, someone on the crew remembers that they have Robert Vaughn under contract, so he shows up at the end to surrender himself to the revenge-hungry zombies. There's a throwaway line that tries to establish a father-son relationship between Vaughn's character and Paul, but by this time we simply resented the extra running time represented by a last-minute half-hearted plot twist. The survivors flee, Vaughn sticks around, cawing birds flock to the house, and the audience throws up its hands in disgust. Lacking even the good-natured wackiness of Zombi 3 or Zombie 4: After Death, this is bottom of the barrel Italian horror. The real zombies were behind the camera.

Own it!

Review date: 11/16/2004

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