Following the troubled, Philippines-based production of Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE 3 (a.k.a. ZOMBI 3, 1988), on which co-directors Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso were hired to finish after Fulci was unable to deliver a complete film, Fragasso was given an opportunity to direct AFTER DEATH (1989), yet another zombie epic – and again shot in the Philippines – for producer Franco Gaudenzi. Written by his wife and frequent collaborator Rossella Drudi, the film takes its cue from Fulci’s vastly-superior ZOMBIE (a.k.a. ZOMBI 2, 1979) by incorporating mysterious islands and voodoo rites into its frenetic, often mindless blend of gore and low-rent action. Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut, this zany barrage of genres is given first-class treatment courtesy of Severin’s extras-laden new disc.
While conducting research at the forefront of a revolutionary cure for cancer, a group of scientists on a remote Asian island anger the local voodoo priest when his daughter dies after having been treated with their so-called cancer vaccine. In retaliation, the priest opens one of the doors to Hell (“You wanted to defy Hell, and now Hell has accepted the challenge!”), and his daughter, who is now a drooling zombie/demon, slaughters these well-meaning – if heavily-armed! – scientists, while the island is destined to become (quote) “The Island of the Living Dead”. Years later, a rather eccentric group of (what appear to be) tourists and mercenaries (!), are mysteriously drawn to the cursed island when the engine on their boat begins to act-up. But unbeknownst to them, Jenny (Candice Daly) is one of the lone survivors from the massacre all those years ago. Meanwhile, a small group of researchers led by David (Alex McBride) and his two students Chuck (Chuck Peyton / a.k.a. Jeff Stryker) and Valerie also get caught up in the island’s (quote) “strange plague”; at one stage in a candy-coloured, candle-lit cave, they even read some incantations from ‘The Book of the Dead’ (the cover actually reads ‘The Book of Death’), which – natch! – brings forth even more zombies to join those that are already free-ranging all over the isle.
Hilariously, endearingly inept, AFTER DEATH has very little in the way of plot or character development (why complicate matters?!). Following its lengthy prologue – which, incidentally, was shot back home in Rome on the set of Michele Soavi’s flashy occult shocker THE CHURCH (1988) – these (quote) “soldiers of fortune” and hangers-on are simply plopped onto the island by some unexplainable force, and thereafter begin battling cloth-covered zombies. They eventually make it to the island’s dilapidated hospital where, amidst a barrage of machine gun fire, they fend-off the (small) horde of oncoming walking corpses (“Shoot the motherfuckers!”), some of which just shamble aimlessly about, while others run, talk and even use weapons. Pilfering elements from a number of other films which are too numerous to mention, AFTER DEATH is perhaps closest in spirit to Andrea Bianchi’s consummately trashy BURIAL GROUND (a.k.a. THE NIGHTS OF TERROR, 1980), mixed-together with one of Flora Film’s ubiquitous ’80s action films, most of which, as with the present one, were also shot in the Philippines.
Never released on U.S. or Canadian Beta/VHS videocassette, AFTER DEATH was mostly seen via SPO’s Japanese tape, which was uncut and in English (with Japanese subtitles, of course) but was presented full-screen, an unusual anomaly for Japanese tapes back then (most of whose transfer prints were presented in their original theatrical aspect ratio, which was always a nice bonus). The film received its official North American debut via Shriek Show’s 2002 DVD, which was properly shown in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and, just like Severin’s new Blu-ray, also retitled ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH on its packaging. The disc featured a nice, colourful transfer of the slightly shorter “Uncut Original Version” as opposed to the “Export Version” included on both the Japanese tape and Severin’s new disc. This latter version doesn’t include any extra gore, but it does have a few extended scenes, including Jenny’s backstory and the island’s history (click here to see the differences). Extras on that earlier disc featured a solid interview with Claudio Fragasso, and a very short one with Candice Daly; plus another lengthier one with Jeff Stryker. The disc also featured a trailer for AD, as well as trailers for some other Shriek Show product.
Following a proposed-but-aborted Blu-ray edition from the same company a few years back, Severin have now debuted the film on Blu and, as with their other Italian releases, it’s another fine-looking disc indeed. The misty, fog-enshrouded settings and colourful action scenes look great here, and while it’s maybe not quite on a par with Severin’s ZOMBIE 3 Blu, it still looks miles better than any releases which came before it. Mostly shot at night (more on that later), Luigi Ciccarese’s photography benefits greatly from the added clarity of the crisp new 2K transfer, which exhibits nice, deep blacks and rich, stable colours. The sound likewise registers mighty fine, with the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track clear enough for us to be able to better appreciate (!) the wonky dubbing of the entire cast, as well as Al Festa’s driving, highly-’80sesque synth score, further highlighting the unforgettable title track “Living After Death”, which Severin have (for the first 3000 units) also included on a bonus CD featuring the film’s entire soundtrack (18 tracks, totalling 52m19s). What more do ya want when it ain’t even Christmas?!
In Run Zombie Run (31m50s), what is basically Part 3 of their ongoing interview with Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi from their earlier Blu’s of VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1982) and ZOMBIE 3 (1988), the always-chatty couple discuss the origins of the project, and how it represented Fragasso’s (quote) “personal revenge” on zombie movies; the discussion also covers the challenging shooting conditions of the film, as well as how it was shot concurrently with Bruno Mattei’s ‘straight’ actioner STRIKE COMMANDO 2 (1988) utilizing the same cameras, which resulted in Fragasso shooting all his scenes at night, while Mattei got to use the cameras during the daytime! Both Fragasso and Drudi go on to praise George A. Romero as the (quote) “maestro” and get into the social significance of zombie films, also discussing the current (sorry) state of the Italian film industry, and how directors of genre films are labeled as (quote) “Z-grade” in Italy. It’s another great, informative interview, which once again features their kitty-cat trying to hog even more screen-time! In Jeff Stryker in Manila (9m32s), the once-popular gay porn icon talks about his start in the business, how he was touted as the (quote) “cat’s meow” and how he landed roles in a couple of Italian films (the other one being Joe D’Amato’s DIRTY LOVE [a.k.a. 11 DAYS, 11 NIGHTS PART 3, 1988]), this due to German character actor Werner Pochath, who was a fan of his work. As for AFTER DEATH, he talks about the (quote) “handwritten” script, which resulted in a lot of improvisation, and how he would (quote) “play it by ear” as they went along. In Blonde vs Zombies (2m18s), a reedited interview from Shriek Show’s DVD, Candice Daly talks briefly talks about her experiences on the film. Also included is some behind-the-scenes footage (3m43s) of Fragasso and art director Bartolomeo Scavia shooting the film’s prologue, plus AD’s trailer, which finishes-off the extras.
While inherently silly, Fragasso’s film is nevertheless a gory, fast-paced zombie-action film, which strips away much of the fat – not to mention any intelligence – in its rudimentary storyline, but ably succeeds at mustering-up enough energy for an undemanding night’s entertainment. Severin Films are currently offering The Zombie Dark Super Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Blu-ray Bundle, the Blu-ray and the DVD for pre-order. It’s also available for pre-order from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.