NOVEMBER 29, 2012
To be fair, as is often the case with Italian horror films, Zombie 5: Killing Birds is not an actual entry in the series its listed under, having been retitled later to cash in on a brand that caters to an audience that isn't very discerning anyway. But Killing Birds IS its actual title, and that doesn't fit either unless you put a comma in between the two words. This movie offers killing, and birds (and zombies, to be fair), but no one kills birds, nor do the birds kill anyone until (possibly) the final second of the movie. They pluck a guy's eyes out, but that's about it for on-screen action; the out of nowhere zombies and random stupidity are the causes of death for everyone else.
The (kind of awesome) eye-gouging occurs in the lengthy prologue, where a guy whose face we don't see murders four people before he is blinded. He survives his attack and brings an unharmed baby to a hospital that I guess doesn't ask questions, and then we flash forward 20 years later, where we meet a group of students (could one of them be the now grown up baby? Yes.) who are off on a trip to find a rare bird. To do so, they need the help of Robert Vaughn, the older version of the now-blind murderer who is also an ornithologist, I guess. We never saw his face during the opening, which made me think this was part Giallo, but I guess they were just avoiding showing his face so they could have someone who looked nothing like Robert Vaughn play the role. Anyway, he gives them a case file full of information on the bird like it was a suspect in a cold case ("Here's everything I was ever able to find on Johnson!") and then pretty much disappears until the end of the movie, where he explains some of the batshit nonsense we just saw.
The zombies look pretty cool; it's probably a happy coincidence that this became a Zombie sequel because they actually share the original Fulci zombie look - tattered clothes, covered in dirt, no distinguishing facial features left, etc. And like that film, they mostly appear at the end, except instead of a "warm up" bit where a zombie fights a goddamn shark, this movie's halftime show is a bizarre, extended sequence where the movie tries another genre: the haunted house film. Our hero is running around and seeing weird shit like one of his pals crucified on a wall, doors are opening by themselves, etc.
Now, normally I love this sort of kitchen sink approach in Italian horror movies, where they will throw any random thing at us to keep us entertained (or because there were like 3 directors behind it and they all had different scripts to work from, as was the case in at least one previous Zombie film), but in this case it's all rather dull. Half of the kids seemingly get themselves killed, Tucker and Dale style (but without the humor), and none of the kills are particularly interesting. The story is rubbish and makes no sense even by the standards of these films, I had trouble telling the characters apart, and it takes far too long to get going.
To be fair, I can appreciate that they were going for a bit of a moody, atmospheric movie a la Fulci's The Beyond (indeed, the same house pops up, according to the IMDb trivia - both films were shot in Louisiana), but Claudio Lattanzi is no Lucio Fulci. The maestro might have made this script work, but Lattanzi doesn't bring a lot of style or flair to the proceedings. There's a pretty good sequence where a zombie chases one girl around for a bit before trapping her in a room with another zombie (who bashes her head in), but otherwise it lacks anything memorable, which is probably why he more or less stopped making movies after this. This being the end of the 80s, the Italian horror production scene was dying, and even guys like Fulci or Lamberto Bava found it hard to get productions going - what chance did this guy have when THIS is his claim to fame?
Then again maybe Joe D'Amato is to blame, as he's also apparently behind this thing (the movie itself, as always, has a pseudonym - the back of the DVD informed me about Lattanzi and D'Amato). I was hoping the disc's only real extra, an interview with Vaughn, would shed some light on the subject, but alas apart from a story about his troublesome contact lenses and a summary of his character, he doesn't talk about the movie at all. The rest of the ten minute interview is mostly spent talking about his work on Roger Corman's Teenage Caveman, though the guy editing the thing didn't seem to care, so he keeps using clips from Zombie 5 to "illustrate" Vaughn's thoughts on a different film entirely. So it's basically just as sloppy as the movie, though I'd rather listen to Vaughn talk about his his 200+ productions (not counting stage productions) all day than watch Zombie 5, so I didn't mind. A few trailers, including one for this that spoils the movie's best kill, are also included.
As far as I know, there's no Zombie 6, legit or otherwise, so I guess this one killed off the "series" for good. It's interesting - all these Asian horror flicks get remade, but for the most part the Italians have been left alone. In some ways I kind of like the idea of an anthology zombie series with a generic title, not unlike what Halloween could have been if y'all hadn't turned your backs on Halloween III, but this franchise is just too much of a mess to judge whether or not it could work. I move for a new series; start with a remake of Fulci's and move on from there!
What say you?