• Killing Birds (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: September 29th, 2020.
    Director: Claudio Lattanzi, Joe D’Amato
    Cast: Lara Wendel, Robert Vaughn, James Villemaire, Leslie Cumming, Lin Gaithright
    Year: 1987
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    Killing Birds – Movie Review:

    Shot on location in Louisiana in 1987, when this film (also known as Zombie 5: Killing Birds and Raptors) begins, a military man hitches a ride to a remote house out in the swamp. Here he slits the throat of a man as he sleeps in bed next to his wife. She’s next, and then he kills another, older couples and kidnaps their baby before having his eyes gouged out by a bird and winding up in the hospital. It’s a pretty great way to start the film, and honestly, it’s the best part of the picture.

    From here we meet Steve Porter (Timothy W. Watts) and his pal Paul (James Villemaire), two college students who have just received an approval on their grant request. They couldn’t be more stoked to now be able to head into the muck with friends Rob (James Sutterfield), Jennifer (Lin Gathright) and Mary (Leslie Cummuning, credited as Leslie Cummings) to study the elusive ivory billed woodpecker. Mary, who is involved with Steve romantically, isn’t particularly pleased that his former flame, Anne (Lara Wendel), is going to be accompanying them on the trip. She’s a reporter writing a story on their work, but so too is the one with the connections – she’s been in touch the last few people to have seen the rare bird.

    They meet up with a harmonica-playing park ranger named Brian (Sal Maggiore), climb into a van and head off to bayou country. Their first stop is the ornate home of Dr. Fred Brown (Robert Vaughn), a researcher now blind who has some paperwork for them that proves helpful. He’s also got a terrible secret, but our crew doesn’t really know that yet. From there, they poke around the swamp looking for birds until they come to a familiar looking home in the middle of the swamp. After exploring a bit, nightfall comes and they decide to get the generator in the basement (which hasn’t been used for centuries, we’re told) up and running so that they can spend the night only to find themselves the targets of zombies and birds alike!

    Produced by Joe D’Amato’s company Filmirage, Killing Birds is a confusing mess of a film from a narrative stand point, but like a lot of the pictures that D’Amato had a hand in shooting (he not only served as an uncredited co-director but also as cinematographer) it’s frequently beautiful to look at in its own way. The camerawork is very atmospheric, taking full advantage of the eerie, desolate swamp house where the last half of the film plays out, making sure we see all the cobwebs in the basement and playing up its shadowy look quite effectively.

    Even if the film isn’t always making sense, it’s got some cool effects work on display. Not every one of the practical effects set pieces is completely convincing, but each and every one of them does offer some old school charm, and there are quite a few of them on display in the picture. The movie always features a pretty neat score, though parts of that score are a little repetitive. Still, for a late eighties Italian horror picture made with the direct to video market in mind, the production values here aren’t bad at all.

    The cast is interesting. It’s amusing to see Robert Vaughn, best known as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., slumming it here. He isn’t in the film for more than five or ten minutes but he makes quite the impression with his bizarre makeup appliances. Lara Wendel, who Argento fans will recognize from her role in Tenebrae, is interesting here, we don’t really know quite what to think of her at first. Watts is fine in what is essentially the male lead role. Lin Gathright would work with D’Amato again on 11 Days, 11 Nights Part 2 and play Sylvia in the 2014 edition of American Horror Story, while Leslie Cumming would appear in Witchery the next year.

    Killing Birds – Blu-ray Review:

    Killing Birds arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen transfer taking up 29.43GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Presented “newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original negative,” there’s a bit of print damage early on but after the first few minutes the image looks quite clean. Parts of this were definitely shot soft on purpose and for that reason, detail isn’t always mind blowing but this is quite a strong upgrade over the previous DVD release from Media Blasters. Colors are well-defined, black levels look quite good, and there’s pretty nice depth and texture to the picture, all things considered. There are no problems with any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction to gripe about.

    Audio is handled by a 24-bit English and Italian language options in DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Optional subtitles (that appear to translate the English dialogue) are provided in English only and an English language Dolby Digital Mono option is also included. Unlike most Italian films, this one was shot with live sound and the actors are all clearly speaking English, they’re not dubbed. For this reason, this track works better than the Italian one. The end credits note that the film was shot in ‘ultra-stereo’ but you won’t hear any noticeable channel separation here. Regardless, the audio is fine, save for a bit of noticeable sibilance towards the end. The track is balanced, the score sounds nice, no major problems at all.

    Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary with film historian and author Samm Deighan who gets right down to business by talking up D’Amato’s involvement in the film and putting down the details on his career and how it lead up to this picture. Lots of information about Filmirage in here as well as some biographical info on the man himself. She also covers the Claudio Lattanzi factor, the film’s distribution history, some of the locations that were used in the picture, details on the cast and crew, how the story changed from the time it was originally written to the time that it was filmed, the score, what works and what doesn’t in the movie and quite a bit more.

    Talons is a forty-nine-minute extended video interview with director Claudio Lattanzi that goes into quite a bit of detail about his career, including how he got into the business to start with, some of the people that he collaborated with in his early days, joining forces with D’Amato and Filmirage, working on this picture and others with him, his work behind the camera and as a writer and other details.

    Birds Of A Feather is a fifteen-minute video interview with sound man Larry Revene who talks about how he came to work as the sound man on the film, despite being mostly known as a cinematographer. He talks about what it was like on the set, working with some of the cast members, his own experiences working with D’Amato (who he seems quite found of), the joys of working on films good and bad, his dedication to just going in and doing the job required of him and quite a bit more.

    Rounding out the extra on the disc are both English and Italian language trailers, menus and chapter selection.

    We also get some sweet reversible cover sleeve art (with the Killing Birds art on one side and the Raptors are on the reverse). The first 3,000 units purchased directly from Vinegar Syndrome get a very nice limited edition, matte finish slip cover (designed by Earl Kessler Jr.) with some cool spot varnish embossment on, which is a nice touch.

    Killing Birds – The Final Word:

    Killing Birds is as atmospheric as it is baffling, but despites its many and obvious issues, there’s entertainment value to be had here, and that’s the most important thing. Not the best horror movie ever made, but intriguing in its own strange way. Vinegar Syndrome has done their typically excellent job bringing the film to Blu-ray in great shape and with a nice array of extra features as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Killing Birds Blu-ray screen caps!