AKA OLTRE LA MORTE, AFTER DEATH, ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins/ 75 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Researchers at a remote jungle island outpost discover that natives are practicing voodoo and black magic and are killed by newly risen zombies, except for young Jenny who escapes, protected by an enchanted necklace charm given to her by her mother shortly before her death. Several years later, she returns with a group of mercenaries, but their boat’s engine dies, stranding them on the island. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the island a trio of hikers discover a cave, the same cave leading to the underground temple where the original curse was created.…
So at last I have the time to watch and bring you my thoughts on Zombie Flesh Eaters 3, which was originally entitled After Death and was therefore not intended to be part of the Zombie Flesh Eaters franchise or Zombi franchise [it depends on where you live] at all until distributors finally realised a way they could make money from it. In the special features on the Blu-ray for Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, Claudio Fragrasso [yes, the Troll 2 guy] seemed to suggest that the fact that he was finally able to make a zombie film on his own terms rather than collaborating with Bruno Mattei [on Zombie Creeping Flesh and Zombie Flesh Eaters 2] resulted in a better film. Boy is he deluded! Even allowing for the tiny budget [something that didn’t hamper George Romero in 1968 from creating a classic], Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is poorly done throughout, and it also lacks much of the insanity of its immediate predecessor and therefore comes across as even a little dull by comparison. It seems that Fragrasso and his screenwriter wire Rosella Drudi wanted viewers to take their film seriously, and actually there are a few good ideas, like the way each new zombie seems to be more intelligent than the last, but they’re mostly underdone by shoddy film making and a seeming lack of desire to actually scare, unless you count numerous zombies jumping out at characters to be what scaring is all about, while the gore is pretty limited too. But of course things like the terrible acting and stupid plotting still make for an often amusing watch, and there are numerous far worse zombie films around, this one still being superior to Romero’s last effort, for example.
Fragrasso had trouble getting the money together to make this film [I wonder why], and ended up shooting it in the Philippines where it was cheap, though he was also working on Mattei’s Strike Commando 2 at the same time. That film would be shot during the day, after which Fragrasso, who had hardly any sleep during the two week shooting schedule [you have to admire his passion if nothing else] would shoot Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 in the same place at night, and using even the same camera. The Filippino crew, some of whom had worked on Apocalypse Now and who would have no problem doing stunts that Italian stuntmen would refuse to do, didn’t like the spaghetti amatriciana that was cooked, so they invited Fragrasso to eat with them one evening where he was treated to bits of a huge, shark-sized fish that was barely cooked, and plied with a coconut liquor which turned out to be hallucinogenic. Later on the helicopter he was in got caught in a typhoon but somehow his pilot, who only had one eye and couldn’t even see properly out of that, flew him to safety. Upon returning to Italy, it was decided that the film was too short, so the opening ten or so minutes were added, and were filmed on sets in Rome from The Church, though the shorter version was the one that was released in Italy, albeit only on video like everywhere else in the world. It was only after shooting had completed that somebody told Fragrasso that actor Jeff Stryker was a gay porn star acting doing his first non-pornography role.
“There was once a group of men who believed they could solve the myth of mysteries” says an extremely portentious narrator [at least in the English version – Fragrasso did the honours in the Italian one] before the main titles, and the terrible Survivor-like theme song with lyrics like “dust in your veins, mummify insane” and a chorus of “I’m living after death”. The newly shot beginning initially takes place in some cave where a witch doctor is chanting incantations from The Book of the Dead [we know it’s the Book of the Dead because you can see it written on the front cover with what looks like black permanent marker], while a woman does some frenzied dancing and shrieking. Then some animated light goes into her mouth, a mild earthquake ensures and the woman is swallowed up by the ground before some white people turn up to argue with the witch doctor. They accuse him of bringing death to the island, but he says that they killed his wife and daughter. Suddenly the dancer jumps out of the ground into the air to kill them, though don’t get too excited, you see very little gore except for some face ripping. Meanwhile a couple and their little girl Jenny in the forest are also attacked and the mother tells the daughter to run off with an amulet before turning to face death. Already the acting has been weak but the performance of the lady playing Jenny’s mom is something else, with her exaggerated mannerisms especially when she becomes all tough. Cut to Jenny years later, now an adult returning to the island with mercenaries, and it’s not clear why she’s here. She has dreams, but only remembers that her parents got eaten later – as if she’d forget it! I guess you’re supposed to think that she mentally blocked it out, but the writing needed to be better to convey that.
There’s a fair bit of crappy dialogue to sit through of the kind like “the magic powers of nature all depend upon the climate”, as two small groups – Jenny and the soldiers of fortune, and three scientist hikers, one of whom finds that darn book again and just has to read some of it, with predictable consequences, though this can’t have raised all the zombies as we’ve already encountered a few [but then trying to make sense of everything is pointless]. It’s a bit like Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 with its two groups of people trying to survive who eventually meet up, but even more like Zombie Flesh Eaters in structure and pacing and the voodoo element. This film does actually offer a proper explanation as to why the dead are rising unlike Lucio Fulci’s film which remains vague about the whole thing, though on the other hand the properties of a magical circle of candles which can cause the zombies to stop in their tracks aren’t entirely clear. There are two or three nice additions to zombie lore which nicely take it back to the Caribbean origins of the whole zombie thing in the first place, but it’s all a bit confused even as things wind up becoming the usual siege situation. However, Drudi does deserve some credit for attempting to show the living dead actually evolving. The really old zombies either just shuffle around or run at people which isn’t as unique as you may expect – not just Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 but Nightmare City a few years before had running zombies, making all that praise for 28 Days Later’s ones years later seem silly. However, when these white visitors die and return from the dead, they become more intelligent, even learning to talk and use guns. This isn’t particularly well done, but kudos for trying something fairly new for the time – and kudos also for letting us see not just one [as in Nights Of Terror] but several zombies climbing out of the ground in detail. It’s normal to cut away from this in what became an amusing cliche.
Most of the undead are in gowns and have strips of clothing on their heads so we can’t see the limited makeup in detail. An effort has been made to make the more foregrounded zombies look as if their condition is close to something like leprosy. I also liked how newly turned zombies are clearly in pain. Some thought has been applied here too. But the gore is largely confined to throat and face ripping, and, while you do get a few non-explicit moments of zombies devouring victims en masse, many of these undead don’t even seem to want to eat people. One bite and they’re off going somewhere else. There’s a hand through the stomach gag which initially looks quite good but is dwelt upon for too long and therefore loses its shock value as the hand goes in and out of the stomach a few times – and why does a character in the same scene suddenly sport a different haircut when zombiefied? Obviously the film was rushed and they had very little money to realise stuff, but then Fragrasso should have tried to do other things by way of compensation, like ramp up the tension, but he fails to do, while his way of attempting to bring some atmosphere is to ask the person operating the fog machine to go bananas. This might still have worked in a more traditionally Gothic setting, but here the ridiculous amount of the stuff just looks absurd. Generally the film looks pretty mediocre aside from one rather beautiful shot of people moving through the forest and the sun streaming in which probably belongs in a different film. And look out for the vest with the most ridiculous number of pockets ever!
Though this was made when most Italian films were shot with live sound, this one was done the old way with everyone out of the largely American cast mouthing English but being dubbed by others. Therefore it’s hard to totally judge the performances, but there’s a lot of silent movie-style emoting. Massimo Vanni as the gun crazy David would have probably seemed silly in some of his scenes even with his real voice, and Stryker just looks confused throughout [probably wondering where the sex was] but surprisingly Candice Daly is quite natural as Jenny. Sadly she died of mysterious circumstances [some suspect murder] in 2004. Al Festa’s music isn’t bad either, the handful of mostly beat-filled synthesiser tracks, reminiscent a bit of Fabio Frizzi’s work, certainly helping to drive the film forward. Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 isn’t at all unwatchable, but it’s still pretty lousy and tends to stay on one level and, while its badness does cause some chuckles, it rarely possesses the lunacy that could have lifted it or at least made it worthwhile. It’s the kind of film in which the downbeat ending exists just because Nights Of Terror finished in a similar manner, not because it’s an appropriate conclusion to the story. But there’s no doubt that Fragrasso is a unique filmmaker in his own shoddy way.