BR: Zombie 4: After Death / After Death / Oltra la morte (1989)

July 9, 2018 | By

Film: Weak

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Severin

Region: A, B, C

Released:  May 29, 2018

Genre:  Horror / Zombies

Synopsis: A young woman and her friends return to the island where her parents became zombie fodder.

Special Features:  3 Interviews featuring “Run, Zombie, Run!” with director Claudio Fragasso and writer Rossella Drudi (31:49) + actor “Jeff Stryker in Manila” (9:31)  + “Blonde vs. Zombies” with actress Candice Daley from 2002 (2:18) / Archival behind-the-scenes footage (3:44) / Theatrical trailer / Bonus soundtrack CD with first 3000 copies.

 


 

Review:

Not unlike the Demons / Demoni series, the Zombie franchise consists of an original and a true sequel, and several unrelated films, rebranded by producers for extra recognition and push on video rental shelves. Zombie 4 (formerly known as After Dark) repeats several scenes from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), the latter released in Italy as Zombie, so thematically Z4 fits within the franchise in which the walking dead lay siege to a group in an isolated environs, taunting & teasing until barely anyone is left alive.

Production of the first of three franchise entries was anything but smooth for the filmmakers. Whereby Bruno Mattei and Fragasso shot new material to expand Lucio Fulci’s first cut of Zombie 3, for Z4 Fragasso did double duty, shooting at night and co-directing Strike Commando 2 during the day; such a grueling schedule might explain the hastiness that radiates from the finish product.

Like Z3, the film’s first cut proved too short, so Fragasso directed a nonsensical sort-of prologue involving a priest and a demon in a cavernous confrontation that looks and feels disconnected from the film proper, but the extra material merely adds to the wonkiness of Z4’s structure where two story threads converge.

The first stream has a trio of ‘archeological hikers’ finding the cave of a cannibal cult and encounter fast-moving flesh eaters; the second stream has a group of tourists with the maturity of teens stranded on the very island where one member, pretty Jenny (Candice Daley), lost her parents a decade earlier to zombies. The survivors of the two groups eventually barricade themselves in a cabin while zombies converge outside, but when an infected mate reawakens as a flesh eater, several members are picked off within their shabby sanctuary.

Among their substantive group of genre films produced during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Fragasso and Mattei made solid use of Philippine locations, but what ultimately makes Z4 such a mess is Drudi’s incoherent script and her tin ear for dialogue that’s almost Ed Woodian. Experienced actors would’ve had trouble inserting beats of gravitas, but the variety of overacting and novice performances create a special kind of ridiculousness which at times is hilarious, and hints at the fromage Fragasso & Drudi created in 1990 with Troll 2, often billed as one of the worst films ever made.

To Drudi, the film makes sense as an attempt to establish an evolutionary narrative of the zombie with the heroine becoming the latest hybrid, but the integration of the supernatural, which encompasses an evil book, candles, and an amulet Jenny has kept around her neck since mumsy placed it there, negates Drudi’s Darwinian theorem.

Instead of the rapid-moving zombies in Z3, Drudi’s latest incarnations vary in speed and motor skills, and are more sentient and better problem-solvers, some of whom can speak. In more contemporary genre entries – 28 Days Later (2002), Dawn of the Dead  (2004), Dead Set (2008), The Dead (2010) – sudden reanimation is viral-based, making Drudi’s spiritual elements a bit confusing: we’re accustomed to salvation coming from a scientific cure instead of appeasing spirits, but in Drudi’s vision, it’s an unsuccessful fusion of science and demonic elements that remain at odds through the finale.

Romero would take a crack at evolution in Day of the Dead (1985) with Bub, a creature who possessed not only vestiges of his pre-zombie life, but had residual areas of the brain’s speech centre which enabled him to utter tones, but there were no religious & supernatural elements influencing the developing mob of zombies that tear apart a miniature military junta.

SPOILER ALERT

 

 

Unlike the sudden leap at the end of Z3, Drudi scaled back her evolutionary trajectory in Z4, but overcomplicated the progression, making the finale rather incoherent: as a self-aware Jenny becomes a zombie, she tearfully rips out an eye to punctuate the transition in a moment that could be read as a echo to ‘the new flesh’ in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), if not Brundlefly pulling off dead and now redundant facial appendages in The Fly (1986).

 

 

END OF SPOILER

Fragasso & Mattei’s work has a greater disposable feel than Z-grade productions produced / realized by Empire Pictures, Vestron, New Concord, and other entities whose specialties shifted from drive-in to home video markets, but the interviews archived in Severin’s Z3 and Z4 discs have the filmmakers being both candid, and showing some subtle vulnerabilities.

In the archival interview on Z3, Mattei admits he doesn’t like his movies, whereas on the Z4 disc Fragasso expresses genuine hurt when he’s referred by critics as a Grade Z filmmaker, a moment that causes Drudi to place her hand on her husband’s; it’s a striking contrast between self-acknowledge hack Mattei, and filmmaker Fragasso who aspired to attain greater creative & critical standing but couldn’t see the flaws in the work in which he’s the exclusive director.

If there are shared elements within the Mattei-Fragasso-Drudi films, it’s the reliance on montages where characters wander through jungles, isolated or abandoned locales; and interruptions of gunplay and explosions. Nudity seems a lesser element in their action-heavy work, and gore is either offered with gusto (as in the trio’s two Zombie films) or perfunctorily; perhaps the need for a close-up or exploding bloodpack is directly related to budget, and how much time is left on the production clock.

For fans of Troll 2, Z4 is a sampler of greater nonsense to come, but the film’s cult status also lies in the casting of porn Jeff Stryker as hero Chuck. As he states in his resonant voice in Severin’s new interview, Stryker had wanted to make the leap to Hollywood productions, and although he seemed to enjoy the experience (and is quite fine in the film), Z4 didn’t provide the legit film career launch or attract agents, hence his continuation as a bisexual adult film star.

Fragasso had no idea of Stryker’s fame – he was cast based on an agent’s suave pitch – and yet it is strange how the director never felt the need to exploit both the physicality of his male and female cast. Neither Stryker nor buffed stuntman (and Mattei-Fragasso stock company regular) Massimo Vanni appears shirtless, and there are no exploitive angles for actresses Adrianne Joseph and Candice Daly (who wears a bathing suit in early boat scenes, but spends the rest of the film in pants).

Like Severin’s Z3 disc, the label gathers select extras from the prior Media Blasters special edition released around 2002, and later repackaged in a 2009 Zombie Pack gathering films 3 thru 5. Retained is behind-the-scenes footage of Fragasso shouting in Italian directions in the prologue to slightly confused actors; and a brief interview with Daly. (Daly had small roles in a few feature films and TV series up to 1998, plus a rare leading role in the 1991 eroto-thriller Liquid Dreams, but died in 2005, reportedly from a drug overdose or under suspicious circumstances.)

A new interview with Stryker replaces the prior 2002 Q&A, and the actor reflects on his career in the adult world. Stryker’s rare forays outside of hardcore include Joe D’Amato’s Dirty Love (1988), and a small role in the German TV movie Der schwarze Fluch – Tödliche Leidenschaften (1995), starring James Brolin and Deborah Shelton (Body Double, TV’s Dallas).

Lastly, like Severin’s Z3 release, the first 3000 copies include a soundtrack CD, this time featuring Al Festa’s previously unreleased score, which is a real mixed bag of rudimentary synth tracks and alternates. Festa’s title synth-rock vocal (“Living After Death”) features ludicrous lyrics, but a few instrumental derivations offer some interesting touches, such as tapping backbeats and circular electro-beeps, or steady pulses and electric guitar.

One track runs an epic 15 mins. and was undoubtedly designed to be edited or tracked over montages of jungle trekking and preparing the cabin for the inevitable zombie assault. It’s also a blatant soundalike of John Carpenter’s “The Duke Arrives” theme from Escape from New York (1981), with a similar bass ostinato, synth claps, and the odd synth mechanical whirring effect.

The bonus CD also includes assorted alternates (some more threadbare versions of suspense tracks) and while maniacally repetitive in spots, the previously unreleased material should please connoisseurs of vintage 80s synth horror scores.

Fragasso and Drudi’s collaborative careers remained steady well into the 1990s, and includes feature and TV productions. The Joe D’Amato-Claudio Lattanzi films Killing Birds (1987) was later rebranded as Zombie 5 for international and home video release.

Zombie 4: After Death is part of Severin’s three-film Bruno Mattei wave that also includes Zombie 3 (1988) and Shocking Dark (1989).

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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