Zombie 4: After Death Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
Researchers studying cancer (?) on a remote island are overwhelmed by the living dead when a native witch doctor’s daughter dies and he opens a gateway to Hell. Years later, the surviving daughter of two scientists, now an adult, returns to the island with her mercenary friends (?), where they and an unrelated group of geologists (?) are attacked by zombies.
Note: This review was originally written alongside my review of Zombi 3, so there is some overlap.
In 1979, a hard-working Italian industry regular named Lucio Fulci finally achieved an international breakthrough with Zombi 2 – released as Zombie stateside and Zombie Flesh Eaters in the UK). The film was marketed as a bogus sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), which was called Zombi in the region and, when Fulci’s outrageously gory jungle romp managed to outsell the movie it was ripping off (though, in reality, the two films have little in common beyond their Italian titles), the trend-driven Italian film industry jumped on a new zombie bandwagon. Among these increasingly ridiculous and cheaply-made flesh-eating opuses were a number of movies that were either titled or retitled to imply that they were part of the same faux-franchise as Romero and Fulci’s films.
By and large, these movies are remembered by other names – for instance, very few fans remember Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (Italian: Le notti del terrore; aka: The Nights of Terror, 1981) as Zombie 3 – but there is a small canon of movies that are generally considered Zombi 2 sequels, in part due to their shared production credits, but also due to the way they were shared and compiled on home video. These are: Fulci & Bruno Mattei’s Zombie 3 (1988), which was actually planned as a direct follow-up; Claudio Fragasso’s After Death (Italian: (Italian: Oltre la Morte, 1988), which was initially retitled Zombie 4 for Japanese home video; and Claudio Lattanzi’s zombie-free Killing Birds (Italian: Uccelli assassini, 1988), which was renamed Zombie 5: Killing Birds by DVD American distributor Shriek Show.
Fragasso’s film was not designed to be part of any greater franchise. After Death has the strange distinction of being almost the same movie as Zombie 3, though it’s arguably a more thematically compatible sequel to Zombie and even has a little in common with Fulci’s own follow-ups, City of the Living Dead (Italian: Paura nella città dei morti viventi; aka: The Gates of Hell, 1980) and The Beyond (Italian: ...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà; aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981), since all three involve characters opening literal gates to Hell. The specific similarities between Zombi 3 and After Death tie back to the fact that Fragasso worked on both scripts and was disappointed in what Fulci had done with his ideas. It also helps that the two movies were shot on the same Filipino locations.
First things first, Fragasso’s reputation as an infamously bad filmmaker is well-earned. This notoriety extends beyond Italian horror fanbases thanks to Michael Stephenson’s Best Worst Movie (2009), which chronicles the making-of and cult reaction to Troll 2 (1990) – a particularly awful family film Fragasso wrote & directed a couple of years after After Death. Fortunately, as that ‘best/worst’ reputation suggests, Fragasso’s work isn’t entirely without its charms and, when he actually applies himself, his ambition sets him apart from the rest of the rabble. Compared to Troll 2, After Death is arguably the superior sampling of his inept, yet fully dedicated technique, though its graphic violence makes it a slightly less inviting viewing experience.
One of After Death’s biggest strengths is the way it tosses the audiences directly into the middle of a budding zombie holocaust. The intended effect is to create a sense of chaotic momentum, but the actual consequence of this choice is a muddled backstory that requires extensive exposition from every single character. Fragasso and returning co-writer (and partner) Drudi continue to complicate the issue by introducing more characters with completely different motivations and vaguely implying a substantial time skip that reframes the entire plot. This sounds bad, but it’s actually quite funny and a good way to pass the time between action and gore scenes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of dull filler, perhaps even more than seen in Zombie 3, but it still makes for a good party movie experience, assuming your guests have the stomach for the gross-out effects. Fragasso’s gore is far less imaginative than Fulci’s (even on a bad day, ol’ Lucio could crank out a mind-bending set-piece), but there’s definitely not a lack of blood & guts.
After Death was completely unavailable on (legal) North American home video until Shriek Show’s DVD hit the market. Severin’s 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray debut is a huge upgrade, not only because it features a new 2K remaster, but because it is a complete international cut of the film, adding something like seven minutes of footage that was otherwise only available as a non-anamorphic extra on X-Rated Kult’s OOP PAL DVD. The results are similar to the other transfer, though Luigi Ciccarese’s cinematography is even smokier, grimier, and grainier than Riccardo Grassetti’s work on Zombie 3. The chunky grain and soft textures lead to occasional clumping and posterization effects (some of the church-set scenes toward the end of the movie are particularly snowy), but I’m not sure if we can blame this on compression. The colors aren’t quite as vibrant, either, but Fragasso and Ciccarese do still manage to squeeze in some vivid green, orange, and purple gels during key scenes. It is very likely that this is the best this particular movie will ever look on video.
Again, Severin has only included the English mono dub in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The mix is relatively enthusiastic and doesn’t scrimp on the sound effects work during its wackiest moments. The dialogue exhibits minimal hiss and high end distortion is not a problem, unless you count the zombie ‘growls,’ almost all of which are always mixed way too loudly. Again, the music is a big highlight. Composer Al Festa approaches the score from a pop-friendly angle, similar to Mainetti, but also incorporates spooky synth motifs that would fit alongside Fabio Frizzi’s original Zombie score.
Run Zombie Run! (31:50, HD) – Another new interview Fragasso and Drudi, guest-starring their giant orange cat. Despite more behind-the-scenes issues, they had more creative control over this particular production, so even their difficult memories are reflected upon in a brighter light than those of Zombie 3. They also dig into their opinions on zombie fiction, from Night of the Living Dead to The Walking Dead, while including some, we’ll say, ‘problematic’ political opinions.
Jeff Stryker in Manila (9:32, HD) – Actor Chuck Peyton talks about his prolific career as a gay/straight porn icon Jeff Stryker and his brief bout in Italian genre cinema.
Blonde vs Zombies (2:18, HD) – A final and short interview with actress Candice Daly, who has some amusing anecdotes about the awful working conditions. Quite tragically, she was found dead under suspicious circumstances in 2004.
Behind-the-scenes video footage (3:43, HD)
CD soundtrack (limited edition exclusive)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.