Directed By: Claudio Lattanzi
Starring: Lara Wendel, Robert Vaughn, Timothy W. Watts
AKA: This film was also known as Dark Eyes of the Zombie
Trivia: The house featured in the beginning of the film is the same used in Lucio Fulci's The Beyond
Directed by Claudio Lattanzi, Killing Birds was released in some areas of the world with the additional title Zombie 5, making it yet another entry in an unofficial series that began with Lucio Fulci’s 1979 gorefest, Zombie. It’s a strange designation when you think about it, seeing as this 1987 horror film doesn’t actually feature any zombies until the very end. But to be honest, this is just one of many aspects of Zombie 5: Killing Birds that will have you scratching your head.
A soldier (whose face we never see) has just finished his tour of duty in Vietnam, and is heading home to surprise his wife (Brigitte Paillet) and meet, for the first time, his infant son. Unfortunately, it’s the soldier himself who gets the shock of a lifetime when he opens the bedroom door and finds his beloved asleep in the arms of another man! In a fit of rage, the solider kills both the lover and his wife (slashing their throats), then turns his anger towards his in-laws (Ellis and Nona Paillet), who had been babysitting. Arrested for the crime, the soldier is eventually taken to a mental hospital, where he says goodbye to his young son before being led inside…
Flash forward 20 years: college student Steve Porter (Timothy W. Watts) is thrilled to learn his senior project has been green-lit by the school’s administrators. Joined by his friends Paul (James Villemaire), Mary (Leslie Cumming), Rob (James Sutterfield) and Jennifer (Lin Gathright), he heads deep into the Louisiana wilderness to track down a woodpecker that’s been put on the endangered list. Along with former flame / school reporter Anne (Lara Wendel) and local official Brian (Sal Maggiore Jr.), the group first pays a visit to Mr. Fred Brown (Robert Vaughn), a blind researcher and the only one who knows where the woodpecker hangs out. From there, Steve and his pals set up shop in an abandoned house (as fate would have it, the very same house from the opening scene). But during that first night, several of the college chums disappear without a trace, and it isn’t until much later in the evening that the others realize they’re not entirely alone.
With the exception of the always-interesting Robert Vaughn (hidden behind dark glasses and some gnarly-looking make-up), the acting in Zombie 5: Killing Birds is pretty awful, with the worst performance of them all delivered by the lead, Timothy Watts (it’s no surprise this was his only film credit). In addition, the whole “college researchers” section of the movie takes a while to get rolling, with several scenes inserted to pad out the running time (including a laughable music-fueled montage of the group relaxing by the side of a lake). Yet what annoyed me most about Zombie 5: Killing Birds were the lapses in its story. Throughout the second part of the film, hints are dropped that Steve is somehow connected to the house’s past (there’s even a decent “flashback-style” sequence, where Steve finds himself walking through the house as it was 20 years earlier). It’s no mystery what the filmmakers were getting at, but before it ties itself up, this subplot is abandoned entirely in favor of a truly bizarre finale.
Those moments when we do see some zombies aren’t terrible, and during the opening, there’s even a violent bird attack (it pulls a character’s eye out of its socket). Oh, and there’s a scene involving fire that’s fairly grisly (one of the only times the movie sent a chill up my spine). In the end, though, we’re talking 3-4 minutes of worthwhile material, and in a picture that’s an hour and a half long, that’s just plain dismal.
My recommendation: go back and watch Fulci’s Zombie, and leave Zombie 5 to the birds.