Zombi 5 (1988) (aka Killing Birds)


After starting this not-really-a-series with two of the greatest zombie movies of all time (“Dawn Of The Dead” and “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, they’ve very kindly saved the worst for last. It features maybe the biggest star to have sullied his name as part of the franchise – Robert Vaughn, and a very early example of computer porn; but sadly these two things aren’t enough to stop you wanting a bird to pluck your eyes out so you never have to see it again.


We start off with a flashback, to Vietnam days (although they don’t make an effort to change any clothes or hairstyles or anything like that). A guy who has quite the collection of birds comes home from the war and finds his wife in bed with another man. By the way, if this happened to me, I like to think I’d have the nous to just pick a shirt out of the closet, give some small talk about the weather and just walk out again (before phoning a solicitor, of course). But our unseen gent doesn’t have the desire for really dumb jokes that I do, so he kills them both with the same throat-cutting effect, which the producers must have paid for a job lot of because about half the people who die in this die in an identical way. He then kills the couple who are about to visit his house, including throwing a knife at a guy and having it bury itself up to the hilt in his skull – he’s a strong guy! Or this movie is dumb! He rescues the couple’s baby, and is just finishing cleaning up all the evidence of the slaughter when a couple of birds decide, for absolutely no reason, to tear his eyes out.


Present day! After we see eyeless fella hand over the babies to the hospital authorities way back when, the only two questions are:

  1. Which central character is going to end up being that kid?


  1. What part is the blind guy going to play in proceedings?


Now, there is an answer to both these questions, but it’s so utterly irrelevant to what might kindly be called the plot that I’m genuinely surprised they even bothered. We are then obliged to sit through an interminable “meet the meat” section, where a student receives a letter saying his grant application for an expedition to find the silver-beaked woodpecker has been approved, and assembles the team that’ll be going along. Best Friend, His Girlfriend, Computer Guy, Bookish Girl, Reporter (also main guy’s ex-girlfriend), and Van Driver. Now, I thought “this is a weird bunch to send on an expedition”, but it turns out it’s just a trip to the wilds of Louisiana, and given Main Guy is weird an LSU t-shirt, it’s not that far either. Not sure I’d call that an expedition, you guys! Reporter finds out the location of the last guy to see the special bird, and it turns out to be Blind Guy, aka Robert Vaughn, aka the guy who did all the murdering at the beginning. He points them in the right direction, and off they go.


While dull and stupid up to this point, it at least makes sense, of a sort. Then, there’s a scene where, a few minutes after leaving Blind Guy’s house, they happen upon the truck and the dead body of the guy from the beginning, half-hidden in the woods. He’s looking a bit rough, but if he’d actually been left in the Louisiana wilderness, he’d have been a skeleton in months, much less…15 years? But even this pales in comparison to their decision to just press on with their bird-watching trip and not go and phone the damned authorities! They deserve to die, for all being idiots, is what I’m saying. Bonus idiocy points are awarded for them having precisely zero items of equipment with which to observe or record birds, unless you count Computer Guy and his computer, which is a 1988 laptop so about as useful as you’d expect.


A few of the characters, including Main Guy, have sort of dream sequence / flashbacks, which give them no useful information and serve no purpose whatsoever. Kudos to you if you’re noticing the theme in this review! They find a house, which is the house that Blind Guy lived in before (he evidently moved down the road after slaughtering his wife, her lover and a couple of other guys), and decide to make that a base camp, although they never really leave.

Zombie 5 Killing Birds 6

The one fun thing in this movie is the gay subtext, which is almost too blatant to be called subtext. Van Driver and Computer Guy are always doing stuff together and seeming really happy about it, there’s a shot which is composed in such a way that it looks like Computer’s Guy’s head is in Van Driver’s crotch, and when Van Driver suggests he would quite like to have sex with Bookish Girl, Computer Guy looks super hurt and says “I thought she wasn’t your type”. Sorry, Computer Guy! Although you get the last laugh, because Van Driver dies on fire a few minutes later. Thinking about it, there’s a scene where Best Friend is off exploring the house, and His Girlfriend tags along. He shoves her back, and says “you’d better go with the others”, you know, while he goes off into the dark with a few guys – this is the day after he half-heartedly attempts to have sex with her before just giving up and going to sleep.


Now, if you took part in higher education, think back to your time there. Do you think any of your tutors would have signed off on / paid for a trip out into the wilderness, where you do zero preparation, have zero equipment and absolutely no idea where you’re going? Can you imagine the insurance costs for the “just let them go wherever the hell they like” plan? This is a serious trip, too, which will apparently take the place of several of their senior classes. Damn, but this movie makes absolutely no sense.


Zombies turn up at the 55 minute mark. Not only is this worse, in a sense, than those movies where the zombies don’t turn up at all, but no explanation is given as to why the zombies are there. You can perhaps infer that they’re the corpses of the people that Blind Guy killed, but the movie doesn’t tell you that, or indeed anything else. When Blind Guy turns up at the end and says “these are my fault, sorry”, he also says they feed on fear. Now, if we accept that, which is stupid in itself, we can use the preceding hour as evidence, an hour where none of the cast appear particularly fearful – okay, the odd moment, but it’s hardly enough to cause the dead to rise from their graves. Most of the cast die off, based on being absolutely useless and incapable of defending themselves, and then two of them survive just because. That Main Guy is Blind Guy’s…son?…is brushed off with a few lines at the end, and we’re done.


I’ve spent the day trying to figure out why it ended in such a half-assed way, and the best I can come up with is that Robert Vaughn refused to film the ending they’d written for him and wanted some last-act redemption. Nothing feels like it fits together, starting with the title (no-one kills any birds, and birds don’t kill anyone). No explanation for anything is given. The film makes negative amounts of sense, and is d-u-l-l on top.


Some of these problems might be explained by the presence of uncredited director Joe D’Amato. His is a name you’ll see occasionally in exploitation / horror circles, as he produced a staggering amount of work before his death in 1999, including 111 directing credits in the last five years of his life. 111! It’s safe to say D’Amato was a quantity over quality man, and we’ll be meeting him again in…well, movies that have been released as parts 6 and 7 of this non-franchise. I genuinely have no idea how anyone could have watched this and thought it was worth releasing, or that it made the slightest bit of sense.


Rating: thumbs down


Youtube Film Club – Dark Heritage (1989)


Our Youtube Film Club reviews are a bit more spoiler-heavy than our other ones, so we recommend you watch the film before reading on. It’s worth it!

Cult film websites tend to either try and go respectable and get interviews with big stars, or go for the gutter with reviewing the worst films they can find. We’ve already gone about as far down into the gutter as we can manage (ONE MORE TIME, which is barely above the level of a poor home movie), but I don’t think this review will be propelling us into the big time either.

The opening scene caused some debate – are the couple on holiday, or is that crappy looking caravan their home? To be honest, either could be true, as although it’s supposed to be a holiday, they’re in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, with no evidence of a car nearby to move the caravan when it’s time for the holiday to end. Anyway, they get offed, along with a remarkably large number of other people (information given to us in an on-screen news report), which takes us to the meat and drink of the film, where a newspaper editor sends his best man, Clint, out to get to the bottom of all those murders.

I don’t like to rag on the technical shortcomings of low-budget films, but there’s a couple in this scene that stick out like a sore thumb. One carries on all the way through the film – please, people, spend a few quid on some lights because every scene that’s not in daylight looks murky at best; and the other is eyelines. It’s one of those things you only notice when it gets messed up, that when two people are having a conversation their eyes either need to be on the same level, or angled so they appear to be looking at each other. The editor appears to be staring over the top of Clint’s head, then when they fix it so he’s looking at the chair, Clint’s already stood up so he’s now staring at his crotch.

Clint and his two buddies, who work for the paper I suppose, go off to the site of the killings, and stay for the night at the large derelict mansion nearby. One of them gets spooked by a loud noise (seriously) so they set up a camera to record all goings-on and take shifts to guard each other. Clint wakes up in the morning to find his two friends have vanished and everyone thinks he murdered them. No evidence is found that they were ever in the house, although Clint (for some reason) chooses not to share the videotape he has, which shows the beefier of his two friends getting knocked to the ground and dragged off by persons unknown, with a comical expression of fright on his face. The film really likes his expression, because they play it over and over again, too.

This all feels odd, as the film has spent too much time on the group to then kill two of them off, off-screen no less. Anyway, after being given three weeks paid leave to recover from the stress (wow, this really was some golden age of journalism, they’d have just sacked him and replaced him with press releases nowadays), he goes off to research the mansion and makes a couple of other male friends, both of whom are also interested in the house.

The Martense family lived there, and tragedy continued to strike them until the house was apparently abandoned over a century ago. Clint and his two new friends decide to go and investigate further, and while exploring the surrounding woodland come across the caravan from the beginning of the film, which they explain to us the police just didn’t get round to towing away yet. In case this made you scratch your head a bit, in the original story this is actually a cabin, and presumably the filmmakers just couldn’t afford to build one or find one in similar-looking forest.

Unfortunately, one of Clint’s new friends gets his face chewed off, in what is by a huge distance the best special effect in the film. Rather than doing anything sensible like reporting it to the police, so the man’s family can at least know, Clint begs his remaining friend to help him bury the dead guy in the woods so no further suspicion will be raised, re: him. This triggers maybe the least convincing use ever of the following line: “What you say makes sense”. No it doesn’t! He wants you to help him bury your friend! Two of his other friends died in mysterious circumstances! You’ve known him for about ten minutes! Run!

Amazingly, they both make it back to civilization alive, and after a rather well-done “Carnival Of Souls” inspired dream sequence, Clint and Jack (I’m not sure that’s his name, but he’s second billed and I’m sick of typing out “his friend”) decide to go back again and dig up the grave of the patriarch of the Martense clan. This kind of makes sense, I suppose, and it ultimately leads them to the secret passage which ultimately leads them to the big secret of the film (that the hideous monsters living underneath the house are members of the Martense family, separated from humanity for so long that they’ve mutated). Jack dies, of course, but Clint figures out that the last surviving member of the Martenses is someone he knows quite well…okay, it’s the editor. I had to reveal that to make the questions I’m about to ask make sense.

This film is bonkers. Cheapness is a given, but through the murk that most of the film exists in, a few slight problems bubble to the surface. If the editor was so desperate to keep the real reason for the murders under wraps, why didn’t he send his dumbest reporter and tell him not to bother doing too much work? Why did he send the best guy he had?

Also, I’m not sure how deliberate it is, but the film is absolutely laden with gay subtext. The only woman in the film walks in on Clint and the editor, with their guns out, and says “this has to stop”. Men seem to sleep in the same room, or next to each other, as a matter of course. There’s a lot of focusing on mens’ behinds too…now, I may just be reading a lot into nothing, as the rest of the film is so dull that my brain needed something to focus on, but it seems if they’re going to spend the time to put that in there, why didn’t they use the time to make the film a bit better? Anyway.

It’s a gem, for sure, and when you watch it, it will give you a newfound respect for the cheap-o films you see every other day.