Starring Candice Daly, Chuck Peyton, Massimo Vanni, Don Wilson
Directed by Claudio Fragasso
Distributed by Severin Films
After scooping up my brain off the floor following the mind-melting insanity that is Zombie 3 (1988), I dove right into Zombie 4: After Death (1989) with excitement, hoping to have my grey matter splattered once more. But director Claudio Fragasso’s film, coming once again from a script by Rosella Drudi, lacks the agency of the previous installment with most of the action coming as the climax ramps up. There is also a decent opening sequence that shows some promise, due to a thick Gothic atmosphere and a literal portal to Hell opening up to release a few flesh-hungry zombies, but past that point Fragasso’s picture is hopelessly pedestrian and stripped of all the chutzpah and madness that was so pervasive the last go-round.
A voodoo priest (James Sampson) performs a black magic ritual, deep underground within a labyrinthine maze of tunnels, forcing an evil spirit into an unwilling woman. Just as the ritual concludes, he is met by a team of researchers who intend to stop the spread of evil cast of the small island community. When the priest is gunned down, it seals the island’s fate as a home for the living dead. One scientist couple tries to escape with their child, Jenny, but the parents are eaten, leaving young Jenny alive… but how did she survive?
Turns out the necklace mom gave Jenny possesses the power to protect her via an unknown enchantment. Jenny (Candice Daly) returns to the island years later with a ragtag bunch of mercenaries, hoping to learn what happened to her parents. I guess news travels extremely slowly in this world… Anyway, their boat breaks down (wouldn’t you know it?) and soon the group finds themselves scouring the island, looking for any signs of life. Concurrently, a trio of hikers, who apparently also don’t read world news, head down into the catacombs and open the clearly labeled “Book of the Dead”, which has the immediate effect of reactivating that darn curse. Only Chuck (legendarily hung switch hitter pornstar Jeff Stryker, in his feature debut) survives. Soon, cloaked zombies, some of whom double as ninjas, besiege the island and eat a few of the mercs very easily. People just love to stand still and scream during an attack versus, you know, running. Finally, after a long wait mayhem is underway and most of the cast is consumed.
Using the prior film as preface, and considering the semi-consistency with the writer/director, fans of Zombi 3 were likely hoping for more of the same madness that film produced, but Fragasso’s film runs out of gas-o after the auspicious opening. Even the soundtrack, which sets a high bar after the main theme song “Living After Death”, meanders through the horror motions past that rousing number. Al Festa’s score mostly consists of tribal percussion, with a bit of organ thrown in during the second act, but it fails to harness the energy delivered by Stefano Mainetti in Zombi 3. But that theme, sung by Maurizio Cerantola, is a scorcher of ‘80s power.
It probably isn’t fair to compare this film to the others in the series since: this isn’t really much a series, and this movie was shot as After Death, only acquiring the Zombi 4 title due to a Japanese distributor. Either way, it’s in the “family” now and it’s likely this film would’ve been forgotten more easily had it remained on its own.
The film gets a bit of notoriety for starring Jeff Stryker, best known for hits such as Powertool: Tenth Anniversary Edition (1998) and Circle Jerkers. Stryker’s infamous other film career isn’t played up or even played with, though, and his role here is basically that of another pretty face getting bloodied up amongst the undead locals. At the very least, he does prove to have better acting chops than most of the cast, so there’s that.
Despite some clear drawbacks, I can’t deny having had another raucous romp through the jungle. Fragasso’s filmography is filled with turkeys that usually, at the least, entertain by force. The worst sin a film can commit is being boring, and even if the story is subpar Fragasso ensures his films are visually resplendent – intentionally, ironically, or otherwise. Zombie 4: After Death isn’t the best of the worst when it comes to zombie films but it does offer a few things differently enough to win some minor acclaim.
While Zombie 3 practically looked like a revelation, Zombie 4 isn’t quite so polished. New mention is made of where the source of this 1.85:1 1080p image comes from, though it could likely be more than once source given the inconsistencies that pop up. For one thing, the picture is frequently soft and lacking in refined detail. Worse, once again the image is smokier than Snoop Dogg’s dressing room, filtering out whatever details may have been present thanks to a constant haze. Colors don’t look so terrible with primary hues enjoying a fine bit of pop. A few shots look abnormally poor like they were sourced from a dupe of a dupe or the D.P. just smeared Vaseline on the lens. The first half looks better than the second, where film grain spikes considerably and contrast gets sketchy.
An English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track once again capably carries the audio. Al Festa’s score isn’t in your face or lively enough to get much notice, but the frequent tribal sounds and occasional organ use do set a fitting mood. The real star here is the main theme, “Living After Death”, which is as good as it gets in terms of high fidelity. Otherwise, dialogue is easy to understand and sound effects, while often weak, do their job. There are no subtitles.
Run Zombie Run! – An Interview with Director Claudio Fragasso and Screenwriter Rossella Drudi – As with their joint interview for Zombie 3, this duo has plenty to say about shooting yet another picture in the Philippines.
Jeff Stryker in Manila – An Interview with Actor Chuck Peyton – Hear from the actor who was billed under a different name, as he recounts working on this picture as well as briefly discussing his other film career.
Blonde vs. Zombies – An Interview with Actress Candice Daly – This is an archival interview with the late actress, who passed in 2004 under still-unconfirmed circumstances.
A reel of behind-the-scenes footage is included, as well as a trailer.
Once again, the big bonus here is a CD soundtrack, featuring composer Al Festa’s complete score – with “Living After Death” – for the first time ever. Major kudos to Severin Films for this stellar supplement.
- BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM
- 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
- Behind-The-Scenes Footage
- Bonus Disc: CD Soundtrack
I’ll admit to having less fun with this “final nail in the zombie coffin”, as Fragasso put it, than the previous entry but any way you slice it Italian zombie films are typically a gory gonzo watch and this is no exception. Severin Films presents the film with a/v quality that is improved over past releases, and by adding in a handful of interesting bonus features and the CD soundtrack this mediocre movie becomes part of a great release.