July 9, 2009

ZOMBIE ITALIANO: Zombie 5: Killing Birds (REVIEW)

Day Four


Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1987)

Claudio Lattanzi
Joe D'Amato (uncredited)

1 / 5 zedheads

When I decided to do ZOMBIE ITALIANO week, I forgot how grueling it is to watch all four of the so-called "Zombi(e)" franchise films in a row. Let's be honest, most Italian zombie films are shit. And for some reason, I decided to dedicate most of the week to shit. I've seen all of these movies before but over several weeks time. Not five days in a row. Like radiation, small doses over time are okay. Sustained contact leads to cumulative damage. And so we arrive at Zombie 5: Killing Birds, the most radioactive of all the Shriek Show-labeled "Zombie" films.

The film "stars" Robert Vaughn, a well-known film and TV actor who has been in numerous productions, many of them of the B to Z grade. With the way Shriek Show's DVD of Killing Birds pimps Robert Vaughn as a selling point, they might as well have retitled the movie Robert Vaughn: Robert Vaughn as a character played by Robert Vaughan in a Robert Vaughn film. That title would be far more accurate than Zombie 5: Killing Birds for a film in which neither a bird is killed nor is anyone killed by a bird. In fact, it is arguable whether this film even contains zombies.

Released in 1987, a year before After Death, Killing Birds (like After Death) is linked in name only to Fulci's Zombi 2 and Zombi 3. Without any zombie cred, what the film does have to offer is 90 minutes of pure boredom and nonsense.

The "story" begins when a soldier returns from war (we assume Vietnam). The camera never reveals his face, but we follow shots of his boots and hands as he enters his home, walks past a home-made aviary, and enters the bedroom where he hopes to surprise his wife with a gift. Instead, he is surprised to find his wife in bed with another man. Awkward.

He handles the situation, however, with tact and chivalry. He immediately slices the guy's throat and leaves the body to be found by his waking wife, who he also slices the throat of when she awakes and tries to escape. Then the hapless neighbors and their little baby come over for a visit, and he kills them too. Knife to the head. Knife to the neck.

Well, not to the baby. He decides to keep the baby. Babies don't just come along every day, you know. He also decides to open up all the aviary bird cages before he scrubs up the bloody mess he's made. Whether it was the senseless murder of his family and friends or his ineffective blood-scrubbing technique, one of his falcons is offended and tears out his eye.

Bird Justice is swift yet incomprehensible

That's about as close to a "killing bird" as you're going to get. The soldier survives and we see him being dropped off at the hospital and kissing his stolen baby. People seem to treat the baby as if it's his although anyone who knows him in the city or is checking his records would probably find out he has no children. Aren't the police suspicious about where his wife went or why there was half-scrubbed blood on the floor?

But that's the past! Don't worry about the past! The present story is where it's at. We jump ahead to the present day (i.e. 1987) at Louisiana State University. We are introduced to Steve (Timothy W. Watts) who, with a group of other lucky science students, has received a grant to seek out a rare and endangered bird. Want to know how you can tell this movie is going to bad already? No, it's not because every actor sounds like they graduated from the Hollow and Whiny academy of acting. No, it's not because of the atrociously dated clothing they wear (Steve's yellow pants really put the BANANA in Banana Republic). It's not even because the dialogue is drowned out by the music, which for the campus scenes is sax-heavy and sounds more like something you'd expect from a montage of lovers on the beach rather than the introduction to a class of douchebags. No. None of this.

It is because the majority of actors in main roles for this film never did more than one or two movies after Killing Birds. In fact, Watts (who plays the protagonist Steve), never did another film after this one. For this, we can be thankful. Too much of the film is spent on Steve in a vain attempt to set up a love triangle between his vapid stare, his girlfriend, and the student journalist Anne (Lara Wendel). I don't think I could stand to see Watts literally sweat his way through another film, delivering lines under the pressure of making them sound like they were uttered by a human being. I guess there is some justice in the world after all. But not bird justice. Bird justice still sucks.

Anyways, it turns out that one of the last people to see the bird they seek is Dr. Brown, who is none other than the blinded Vietnam vet (played by Vaughn)! Now, I'm not one to laugh at the visually impaired, but the look on Vaughn's when we first see him is pants-shittingly funny.

Was Vaughn trying to be scary or trying to see his own forehead?

Hey, remember that baby he stole? I wonder where that ended up. There's no mention made of it. Oh well, I'm sure that plot point will come up later. Probably will be a big part of the plot. I bet we'll get a very satisfying explanation that enriches the themes of the film. Mmm-hmm.

Dr. Brown sends them out with a map, and the whole movie starts to implode. Somehow the students get lost in the swamp, stumble upon a run-down old house, and are soon attacked by actors in mummy wrappings and Toxic Avenger masks. There are obvious clues that the house where they are attacked is the same house the Vet killed his wife (although that would have to mean that in two decades that passed the swamp had to completely obliterate all the houses and roads we saw in the opening of the film). So, are the zombies the returned dead of his victims? What did he ever do with their bodies? The students find a corpse in a truck, but that's never really explained. Is it one of the zombies? Why are they killing the kids? And why are there so many stock footage shots of birds?

Ask, and you shan't receive. This movie has no answers. It has students being picked off one-by-one by either the zombies or stupid accidents. The only decent kill comes right out of a high school shop class safety video. One guy gets a dangling chain/watch/compass thing stuck in the moving gears of a generator and is choked to death as his friend watches (making no attempt to turn off the machine) as the necklace chain cuts into the guy's throat. Except for one head stabbing and a head smashing, everyone else in this movie is killed with very poorly represented throat wounds. This movie seems to actually reuse the same slashed neck application. Since there is so much violence against necks and throats in this film, perhaps another more informative title for this film could have been Zombie 5: Killing Necks

Again, we must ask why are these kids being hunted and killed by zombies that burst through the walls like the Kool-Aid man. At the last second, Robert Vaugan's Dr. Brown arrives on the scene to clear up all our doubts about the film's incompetent narrative. Take it away!

Dr. Brown: “There's no need to be afraid. You are out of danger. It's me they want. They feed on fear. It animates them; it gives them strength. It was fear that killed your friends. They hold no power on me. How can you be afraid when you live in eternal darkness? The real darkness is inside of me. It is me.”

Anne: “You are Steve's father.”

Dr. Brown: “I'm here now. And they shall have their revenge.”

Steve and Anne run outside. Dr. Brown screams from off camera. Movie ends. Credits roll.

Bwhuh? That just raises further questions! I think I have a picture on my computer that sums up my feelings right about now

Let's just concede that except for some pretty kickass box art and camera work that is competently shot, Zombie 5: Killing Birds is otherwise a 90 minute waste of time. Avoid it at all costs!

Because I was unable to locate a copy of Zombie Holocaust to review for tomorrow, on Friday I will review Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) directed by Michele Soavi and starring Rupert Everett.