(A.k.a. ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH; AFTER DEATH; OLTRE LA MORTE [original title])
"There was once a group of men who believed they could solve the mystery of mysteries. They were scientists, experts in chemistry, biology and physics, students of alchemy, and of the arcane principles which govern the very equilibrium of our universe. These men established a small research centre on a remote tropical island where they proceeded with their humanitarian mission. A task linked to the fundamental principles of our very existence. Their aim was to conquer mankind's first, oldest and greatest enemy: death itself".
So opens Claudio Fragasso's 1989 zombie splatter-fest. Though the carefully worded intro and its earnest male narration may lull the viewer into expecting something a little, dare I say it, cerebral, the true tone of this film is swiftly established when Al Festa's cheesy rock tune "Living After Death" kicks in over the opening credits. Yeah, this is gonna be dumb fun.
The action begins proper with a voodoo ritual which takes place in a cave of sorts. The practice is about to be interrupted by gun-toting missionaries when the native priest (James Sampson) summons an evil entity which enters his wife, prompting her to spew some unsightly bile and the cave to crumble. The priest looks either elated or terrified by this turn of events - it's difficult to say which. He tells the unwelcome visitors that he blames them for his daughter's death (on the contrary, they merely tried to save her from dying of cancer) and has conjured a demon from Hell to exact his revenge. Alas, said demon has possessed his hapless wife.
As the wife returns from the grave as a drooling, fanged creature, the missionaries flee the cave and make to the remote jungle awaiting them outside. They hatch a plan to leave the island sharpish, but are soon accosted by flesh-hungry zombies in black robes. The only group member to escape the ensuing bloodbath is little girl Jenny ... you have to question what the fuck a girl of her age was doing on this expedition in the first place.
Anyhow, we then fast-forward several years and reunite with Jenny (Candice Daly) who's now a young adult. She's hitched a boat ride with a group of self-proclaimed mercenaries who're headed to the aforementioned remote island on some dodgy mission. Jenny's keen to return to the place and uncover the truth about what happened to her parents, as her memory of the fateful day is lacking.
Jenny makes mention of a hospital located at the heart of the island and her mercenary escorts, consisting of Dan (Jim Gaines), Tommy (Don Wilson), Rod (Nick Nicholson) and Rod's partner Louise (Adrianne Josephs), help her locate it. Which is a good job really seeing as they're attacked by natives along the way.
Luckily help is at hand when this group bump into a random trio of hikers, led by the ill-tempered Chuck (Jeff Stryker).
Of course, all is not well at the hospital and Jenny starts to realise what's happening on this island. With a voodoo curse still looming over the pace and fresh blood having just landed on shore, the zombies are sure to come calling soon ...
I'm going to have to refer this film as AFTER DEATH. ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS 3 is a bogus alternate title created by former UK distributor Vipco in a bid to sell this little-known film to zombie fans. Still, it's stuck both as an alternate title and a marketing ploy, and both sides of the pond nowadays acknowledge ZFE3 as a legit optional title for this movie.
But, for me, AFTER DEATH it is. So ... AFTER DEATH is something of an afterthought in the annals of the Italian zombie cycle, arriving some years after key titles such as ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH, THE BEYOND etc. The only film of any note which followed it was 1994's CEMETERY MAN.
Here, all the trademark elements of the sub-genre's lesser entries are correct and present: unconvincing zombie make-up and gore FX; a pulsing electro synth score; laughably macho protagonists (including the obligatory character who chomps on a cigar); risible dialogue; performances that register either as listless or theatrical, but never anywhere in-between; cliche after cliche as Rossella Drudi's by-the-numbers screenplay stick pathologically to convention.
And yet, beyond the film's cheap look and inherent silliness, it has to be said that AFTER DEATH is unexpectedly entertaining. It doesn't deserve to be directly associated with Lucio Fulci's masterful ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, of course, but on its own terms, there's a great deal of fun to be had here.
For one, Al Festa's score is catchy and ambient in equal measures. The action rarely flags, ensuring an agreeable pace is maintained throughout. Any lapses in logic (there are many) don't unduly concern the audience as this is such unabashed pulp. And the bloodshed, while crude, is not only frequent but delivered with considerable gusto by Franco Di Girolamo (NIGHTMARE CITY; CONTRABAND etc).
The cast are all likeable despite their limited thespian capabilities. Former porn star Stryker comes across well in his first non-adult role, getting by on hard-nosed charisma. The rest of the cast are less imposing but agreeable in their caricature facial expressions. It has to be said that there are a few unexpectedly atmospheric shots later in the film too, with smog-filled zombie encounters in the night benefitting from effective lighting and uncharacteristically well-thought-out camerawork.
88 Films bring the film to UK blu-ray for the first time. It represents number 47 in their ongoing "Italian Collection".
Their transfer is uncut - 87 minutes and 52 seconds in length - and presented in the original 1.85:1 ratio. Housed on this region-free disc as an MPEG4-AVC file, AFTER DEATH benefits from 1080p HD resolution. The print used is a pleasingly clean one, with scratches kept to a minimum while natural grain suggests the urge to digitally fuck about with the picture has been largely resisted.
The onscreen title is AFTER DEATH, and the English opening titles credit the film's director as being Clyde Anderson. Colours are strong and true, blacks remain stable throughout. Any softness in the occasional shot appears to be reflective of the film's intended look.
English dubbed audio (most of the cast speak in English, and yet their voices were still overdubbed in post-production) is brought to us in an evenly balanced, clean and clear stereo 2.0 mix. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times. They even cover the lyrics to the awful Scorpions-esque song which opens the film ...
The disc opens to a static main menu, which plays a segment of THAT theme tune on loop. So hurry up and select a function! There is no scene selection menu, but the film does contain 8 chapter stops.
Extras begin with an entertaining 19-minute featurette which finds Darkside editor Allan Bryce looking back at legendary UK video distributor Vipco's legacy, starting in the early days when their iconic covers for films such as THE DRILLER KILLER and ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS earned such titles places on the notorious "video nasties" list. Bryce is honest enough to berate the company for its shoddy treatment of cult titles during its later DVD days, and skims over the dubious of retitling of movies to lure fans in along the way. Peppered with clips from AFTER DEATH, this is an interesting and well-paced proposition.
"Run Zombie Run!" is a Severin Films-produced featurette boasting enthusiastic memories from Fragasso and Drudi. The informal setting - the pair look relaxed as they chill on a settee while a ginger cat snuggles into them - sets the tone nicely, as Fragasso explains that he was motivated by the desire to make a zombie film in his own way, despite being somewhat hampered by the fact that fellow filmmaker Bruno Mattei was busy making STRIKE COMMANDO 2 during the day ... which meant Fragasso only had access to filming equipment on the evenings! Despite this, the pair insist the atmosphere on the shoot was a pleasant one and generally consider their film a success. In Italian with bold yellow English subtitles, this enjoyable bonus feature runs for a well-edited 32 minutes.
The film's original trailer is also present, looking somewhat ropy but still extremely welcome here. The onscreen title for this entertainingly trashy 3-minute prospect is AFTER DEATH.
A reversible cover is, by now, a given from 88 Films. Sure enough, all is present and correct on this front. The reverse cover offers the same poster artwork but with the alternate title AFTER DEATH.
The first run of this release also comes with an attractive, glossy slipcase (O-card, whatever you call them this week) and a collectors' booklet.
At times surprisingly stylish, AFTER DEATH is otherwise a cheap, tawdry and brainless entry into the Italian zombie cycle. It's also a great deal more entertaining than it has any right to be, and gorehounds should find plenty to love here. 88 Films have given the film a solid release.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|