If you have even a passing acquaintance with Italian horror, the odds are pretty good that you’ve come across the work of Claudio Fragasso. Like many Italian auteurs, he’s gone by many names; perhaps you know him as Clyde Anderson, director of the Alice Cooper werewolf tale Monster Dog (1984), or Drake Floyd, helmer of the legendary Troll 2 (1990). There’s also his work as a writer on fellow Italian Bruno Mattei’s The Other Hell (’81) and Rats: Night of Terror (’84). But if you’ve been following Severin Films as of late (and for shame if you haven’t), Fragasso has his hands all over their latest trio of Blu-ray releases: Shocking Dark (’89), Zombi 3 (’88), and the one where he slips into the director’s chair again, Zombie 4: After Death (’89), a film light on imagination yet heavy on high octane zombie mowdowns.
Which isn’t to say that After Death is as enjoyable as either of those (the first being helmed by Mattei and the second by Fulci, Mattei and Fragasso himself), but for a Fragasso solo joint – sorry, back to Clyde Anderson here – it’s pretty good, which is no mean feat. To embrace Fragasso’s words and ideas within the context of the sub-genre itself is a twisted joy; his frequent mixture and “borrowing” of elements from better material is nothing short of smile inducing, and his dialogue is always earnest to a fault. But as a director, he isn’t particularly inspired; his attempts at surrealism usually fall flat (although this has a few moments), and he doesn’t attain much empathy with his actors. However he can film action, and After Death hits the Filipino ground running and never stops until its nonsensical conclusion.
We open with voice over telling us of an island where scientists have gathered to work on curing diseases, and since the local voodoo priest is convinced said scientists are responsible for his wife and kid’s death, he goes about resurrecting her, much to their chagrin. In short order the scientists and their families are all disposed of by the newly undead, except for a little blonde girl who, somehow, makes it off the island.
Cut to twenty years later, and our little blonde girl is grown up and travelling with a group of mercenaries when they come across the very same island. Naturally their boat breaks down, and they head ashore. Meanwhile a trio of researchers are on the island and when one of them reads from The Book of the Dead, the shit starts to fly. The sole remaining researcher joins up with adult blonde and her cohorts to stave off assault after assault (after assault). That’s pretty much it.
Fragasso filmed After Death on the super cheap in the Phillipines; Mattei was making Strike Commander 2 in the daytime, and he would then use the equipment at night for this one. (Once they were both done, they batted cleanup on Zombi 3 for the same very budget conscious producers.) It certainly doesn’t look any cheaper than Zombi 3; but realized or not, that film has ambitions and a certain amount of scope. After Death is more than content to race through its runtime like a Ritalin-addled adolescent playing a first person shooter game. Which is perfectly fine; at least Fragasso more or less accomplished what he set out to do – create a fast paced (with even faster zombies) actionpalooza that zooms by before you have a chance to question the need for its existence. This may not be his most entertaining film (I’ll always bow before Troll 2), but it’s his most competent, and I for one am glad it’s around. And even if you don’t like the moving pictures, your ears will bear witness to the greatest fist pumping Eye of the Tiger homage ever created. Play it LOUD.
Once again Severin Films rounds out this late ‘80s trifecta (for real though, grab the bundle if you’re able) with as many special features as you could possibly want (or need), starting with a solid 2K scan and the first time uncut in America, natch:
Run Zombie Run! – Interview with Director Claudio Fragasso and Screenwriter Rossella Drudi
Jeff Stryker in Manila – Interview with Actor Chuck Peyton
Blonde vs Zombies – Interview with Actress Candice Daly
As with Shocking Dark and Zombi 3, the through lines on all the features are Fragasso and Drudi, who always spin a great yarn about the foibles of low budget filmmaking, Italian division. Probably the most fascinating piece however, is leading man Chuck Peyton, AKA adult superstar Jeff Stryker, on his opportunity to slip into the mainstream, and the tribulations of dealing with an almost all Italian speaking cast and crew. The behind the scenes footage is a total gas as well for those who dream of being a fly on the wall of a crazy Italian production. Here’s your chance.
Zombie 4: After Death can’t, nor should be, compared to Fulci’s Zombi 2. Nor should it be compared to 3 for that matter; other than the connective tissue behind the scenes, they’re all different creatures of different calibers. Speaking of caliber, this is the one you put on when you’ve had a hard day and just need to watch people machine gun their way through some tree jumping hooded undead. Sometimes it’s the simple things.
Movie Score: 3/5, Disc Score: 4/5