Described by it’s own director as the last gasp for Italian zombie gore film, 1989’s After Death doesn’t even warrant that much. Gifted more aliases than a Cold War spy, After Death (aka. Zombi 4, aka. Zombie Flesh Eaters 3) instead is more of final wheeze or even a closing wet fart for a genre of movie that coated euro-horror with a thick clingy film of exploitation for nearly ten years with it’s unrepentant gore and dubious dubbing.
Directed by Claudio Fragasso, who is already pre-ordained to enter the Valhalla of bad movie directors thanks to helming the legendary Troll 2, steered this cheap, derivative piece of undead shite as a stand alone zombie romp, but considering Italian producers at the time were as unscrupulous at trying to rake in cash as the dragon from The Hobbit, it was enlisted into a franchise that already didn’t make a single fucking lick of sense.
A bunch of scientists on a remote island who have been studying death (or something) confront a voodoo priest concerning the curse he has placed on the area. Unwisely negotiating with a machine gun, the researchers cut down the priest who dies, but are too late to stop the dead from rising as one of the three doors to hell have opened (I think). As their colleagues are being torn apart in the caverns below, the final two survivors and their utterly oblivious young daughter flee for their lives and weakly sacrifice themselves by giving her a protective necklace (no explanation given) to save her from the zombie threat. As the toddler ambles off with all the urgency of a daydreaming child lost in a supermarket you can’t help but ask why the mother just didn’t keep the necklace on and simply run with the child in her arms – but there’s no time to ponder as we suddenly cut to a group of mercenaries arriving in a boat. You obviously think that these people will end up rescuing the little girl but you’d be wrong – DEAD WRONG – because thanks to the filmmakers obviously not thinking that the audience needs something as useful as a title card, years have passed and one of their number is the little girl all grown up who is trying to unlock the mystery of what happened to her parents (seriously, the first time I watched this movie it took me twenty whole minutes to realise this…).
As this ramshackle group of mercs (and a couple of her friends, for some reason) start to investigate, a bunch of hikers on the other side of the island are trying to uncover the mystery for themselves and unwittingly restart the curse when they read a passage from a tome clearly marked The Book Of The Dead and then look surprised when zombies actually turn up – smooth moves, ex-lax… Soon the survivors converge and have to fight off the poorly organized undead while finding a way to pull a swift curse-reverse and close that pesky hell gate once and for all…
Usually 80’s Italian horror – especially when created by the greats – have a wild, anything-goes approach to their material that makes them highly inventive, utterly unpredictable and often unintentionally funny; but After Death surprises by choosing to contain none of these traits and bravely desires to forge it’s own path by being incredibly unforgettable bollocks.
Cheap and amateurish, you wouldn’t believe this movie was made in the same year as Batman or Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (if anything you’d stake cash money that it was from the late 70’s), the movie is so teeth grindingly stupid that if it was a human male it would have to strip naked to be able to count to twenty-one.
The script feels like it wasn’t so much made up during shooting but instead wasn’t made up at all as it’s just one scene after another of it’s odd looking cast (some of whom look legitimately homeless) fighting off yet another wave of zombie scum as they display completely inconsistent abilities and switch from being the standard shuffling fare to melodramatically leaping into frame from stage left like they’re in a production of zombie Swan Lake. Some go down with a bullet to the brain, some confusingly go down with a bullet in the chest and I swear one of them gets knocked out by an average, garden-variety punch from a human fist exposing these particular examples of zombie as being as dangerous as a paper mache chainsaw. Luckily for them the cast prove to be every bit as idiotic as the zombies are shit and we get to watch this astonishing battle of the lack of wits unfold with mounting frustration.
For a film where so much occurs, nothing much actually happens and when it does it ends up being about as logical as trying to sit an algebra exam with a untreated concussion and it’s impossible to focus on all the goings on when can’t help but fixate on questioning all the nonsense.
If the curse is dormant when these morons get to the island, why is there still a random zombie still running amok to bite and infect their number? Why, when someone displays the only bit of common sense in the entire movie by refusing to read the quartet of words needed to raise the dead (is it really wise to have only four words in your zombie incantation?), his buddy whines that he’s missing the “best part” and reads them anyway? And why the hell are these mercenaries so prone to being outwitted by dead people at numerous times with staggering ease; one turned woman successfully guilt trips a prospective lover for letting her die while hiding her obvious zombification with a dodgy comb over – and he fucking buys it without asking a single question! During another moment a guy tells someone “I want you to promise me that you won’t move for any reason whatsoever!” which, to give her her due, she doesn’t – even when a reanimated colleague lunges out of bed and rearranges her neckline with his incisors.
You’d think that with the scenes I’ve described (and many more besides) that After Death is a cheesy laugh riot, but it’s frequently amazing how it manages be so relentlessly boring and by the time you get to the completely confusing ending – where everyone is granted a gruesome death but you’re unsure why or how it’s happening or even what it means – you finally realise that the most tragic victim these zombies have claimed is exactly ninety three minutes of your precious free time…