Zombie 4: After Death
Italy / 1988
Directed by Claudio Fragasso
Candice Daly
Jeff Stryker
Massimo Vanni
Color / 85 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Shriek Show
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
The last Italian zombie movie of the cycle begun by Lucio Fulci in 1979 also has the distinction of being one of the absolute worst. It seems impossible, but yes — even Hell of the Living Dead is better. Dumb story, dumb characters, dumb dialog... dumb zombies, too. A nonexistent budget is partly to blame but the main credit for this abomination lies with director Claudio Fragasso (a protιgι of exploitation hack Bruno Mattei) and his screenwriter wife, Rosella Drudi.
    The film actually starts out rather promising in a cheesy sort of way; it certainly doesn't waste time getting straight to the mayhem. On a remote Caribbean island, a voodoo priest is conducting some kind of ritual in a dungeon-like cave to bring his deceased daughter back from the dead. He blames a group of altruistic white scientists who operate a cancer research center on the island for her death. They failed to heal her sickness, so Voodoo Man wants vengeance. He's reciting some mumbo jumbo from the Book of the Dead (though the cover reads "Book of Death") when the scientists burst into the grotto carrying automatic weapons. Through expository dialog we're told that terrible things have been happening on the island of late; the dead are coming back to life and killing everyone. The chief scientist tries to reason with Voodoo Man while others in the group threaten to shoot him. The witchdoctor tells them that if they kill him he'll only come back to life and eat their intestines! As it is, they're all doomed to die and become zombie chow no matter what they do. By invoking spells from the book he's opened a doorway to Hell on the island that will engulf them all. One of the scientists decides to forego negotiation at this point and drills the priest full of .45 caliber holes. The group is then attacked by Voodoo Man's possessed wife, who bursts up from the ground
— looking exactly like a creature from Lamberto Bava's Demons — and rips the shooter's face off. The survivors wisely haul ass but more are killed during the escape from the tunnels. (This extensive cave system, by the way, looks like the catacombs one might see in a gothic horror tale. No doubt a common enough structure on primitive Caribbean islands...) Cut to two of the scientists, a married couple, fleeing through the jungle while carrying their young daughter. Zombies are in pursuit. They adults are killed and eaten by the ghouls but the little girl — told to run really fast by her mommy — somehow survives and escapes.
    So far, so good... Silly and derivative to be sure but still entertaining. But immediately after this opening sequence the film shoots itself in the head on full auto, pausing to reload with fresh magazines at regular intervals. The story picks up 20 years later — though at first pass this won't be obvious to the viewer. (For one thing there's no '20 YEARS LATER' caption. Secondly, the scientists shown in the prologue were wearing 1980s clothing and sporting Reagan Era hairstyles.) Anyway, a boat carrying a group of vacationing mercenaries (!) and two women winds up stranded on the zombie-infested island. One of the gals is Jenny (the Linda Hamilton-ish Candice Daly), lone survivor of the previous massacre who's all grown up now. She starts getting bad vibes about the place as the boat skirts the coast, telling the others that something's not right. Then the boat's engine dies and the steering wheel jams. (Though moments later we see the motor put-putting along just fine, the driver steering the craft easily enough up to a dock.) The group decides to move inland and look for some vestige of civilization. Meanwhile a trio of researchers has also landed on the island, seeking answers to the mysterious disappearance of all those scientists decades earlier. They stumble upon the cave containing the witchdoctor's voodoo temple. One of them insists on reading aloud a few passages from the Book of the Dead. Within moments the three are attacked by flesh-hungry zombies. Despite putting up a pretty good fight only one of the researchers, pretty boy college kid Chuck (gay porn star Jeff Stryker, in a rare 'straight' role), makes it out the cavern alive.
    Our other 'tourists' are beginning to realize they're up the proverbial creek when one of their number is attacked and bitten by a zombie. They locate the scientists' long-abandoned compound, where they treat the wounded man with medical supplies they find there. By the time night falls the island's zombies begin to congregate around the building. Jenny's prophecy of doom is coming true...
    Prophecy certainly isn't required to divine that the remainder of this movie will suck as badly as the first half does. The dialog is retarded; characters do incredibly stupid things that guarantee their demise. The gore effects start out rather good and then degrade rapidly in quality, becoming laughably cheap. The signature scene of any Italo-Zombie flick worth its salt — the good ol' fashioned intestinal pull — never comes to pass. (Some ocular damage at film's climax is supposed to be horrifying but just looks pitifully fake.) As for the ghouls themselves, I was surprised to see so many comments about this movie refer to its "ninja" zombies. This is simply not the case. Yes, many of them are costumed in black pajama-like outfights with face-obscuring scarves but, per director Fragasso in his interview for the disc (see below), this motif was derived from the garb and funerary practices of the Filipino natives on the island where the movie was shot. Apparently folks became confused by some of the rather energetic zombies on display, who do leap around like ninjas at times. (There is no 'zombie fu' in this flick, however.) Herein lies another big problem... There are times when the zombies run, jump, fight, etc. with the speed of a normal human, only to be shown shuffling lethargically along Romero-style the next. There isn't really any elaborate zombie makeup on display either. A few facial sores and copious amounts of drool — periodically changing colors from red to black to green — is deemed sufficient. The wretched, oh-so-'80s pop metal theme song is perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the entire film. Or maybe that one mercenary's teeth...

The Shriek Show DVD looks and sounds pretty darn good considering the film's thrift shop origins. There's some heavy grain but blacks and colors are well rendered. (The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs.) Audio quality is fine. As for extras, the disc provides a nice slate of goodies. Three separate video interviews are included, of director Fragasso and stars Candice Daly and Jeff Stryker. The brief chats with the actors, while amusing, are more or less fluff while the 17-minute conversation with Fragasso is more in-depth. He discusses the Italian zombie genre in general and After Death in particular, relating the difficulties of shooting on location in the rural Philippines on a shoestring budget. (To his credit Fragasso dismisses the film as the piece of junk that it is, on-the-job training for his better funded works to follow.) Though not listed on the packaging the DVD also includes 4 trailers, for After Death as well as recent Shriek Show releases Eaten Alive, House on the Edge of the Park, and Zombie 3. A fifth trailer, for Lucio Fulci's Zombie, is featured as a hidden (though easy to find) easter egg. Brief onscreen liner notes are provided by Ian Jane and Ed Samuelson of DVD Maniacs. 2/19/03