Having been surprised by Claudio Fragasso’s mafia thriller Naples-Milan One Way earlier in the week, the chance of watching After Death AKA Zombie 3 or 4 (depending upon who's counting and from where) was too good to pass up.
Was he a hack who had struck lucky on one occasion, or someone whose work I had unfairly dismissed in the past?
On this evidence here, he’s more the former than the latter. There are however occasional hints of something better trying to escape the confines of the low budget and short shooting schedule.
Fragasso’s camera is fluid, with some nice Evil Dead style tracking shots through the jungle – albeit with the difference between the two film-makers thereby further confirmed through the way Raimi invented his own camera on a plank of wood technique which Fragasso’s more conventional eye-level shots don’t imitate.
The areas where the film is lacking are those around character and plot development, although when you consider that he was apparently shooting without a script and with a cast who couldn’t speak one another’s languages, this is less surprising.
Then there’s the fact that rather than having Giancarlo Giannini as his leading man Fragasso’s here got gay porn woodsman Jeff Stryker, whilst in lieu of Pino Donoggio to score the film he has Al Festa of Fatal Frames infamy. Leading lady Candice Daly, meanwhile, apparently took the part on the prompting of her then boyfriend.
An extended 20 minute prologue sets the scene, via a patchwork of allusions to The Beyond, Zombie, The Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Demons, amongst others:
A group of scientists establish a medical research station on a remote tropical island to study various life-threatening diseases. In failing to save his daughter from cancer, they incur the wrath of the local voodoo priest. He opens the third door to hell, causing the dead to return to life.
The only survivor of the resultant zombie massacre is a young girl, Jenny. Exactly how she escaped is not clear, but this at least is in accord with much of what follows – including her subsequent return to the island with a quartet of mercenaries after the boat they are sharing mysteriously veers towards the island. They decide to head inland, in the hope of finding assistance. One of the mercenaries, Tommy, spies a zombie, chases [sic] after him, and gets bitten…
Meanwhile – again, this is a film with a lot of meanwhile, where things just tend to happen without rhyme or reason – a trio of investigators trying to discover what happened to the research team find the voodoo temple and, within it, The Book of the Dead which, true to idiot plot form – there is also lot of this, including the re-opening of the door of hell and – then gets read out aloud:
“If you want to open the door to hell today these four words you must say”
“Well, why are you stopping at that point?”
[Takes book] “Anatanou! Zombies! Maraco! Zombies!”
At least by around this time the survivors have managed to find a cache of M-16s to even the odds somewhat…
Like many films within the genre After Death plays upon the distinction between black magic and white science. The bulk of the monsters are non-white, native-types, the majority of the victims, with whose plights and in some cases zombie transformations we are supposed to sympathise.
This latter aspect, that the more fundamental distinction is between the living and the undead mitigates against the notion that the film might have been intended as a paranoid, racist fantasy, as does the presence of an African-American mercenary amongst the otherwise all-white group.
Admittedly, much like the none-too sensitively named “Chocolate” in the Fragasso scripted Rats, this is probably unlikely to appease the more politically correct viewer.
But, then again, the more politically correct viewer is unlikely to be the target audience for After Death anyways.
The real question is thus how far the film will appeal to the gore-hounds. The answer here depends somewhat on how you like your red stuff: While there are plenty of throat and face rippings and shots to the head, there is less that is particularly imaginative, convincing or extreme along the lines of, say, Zombie’s splinter in the eye or Hell of the Living Dead’s hand in the mouth and fingers up through the eyeballs gag.
One of the stars of the film, Nick Nicholson, has a blog where he discusses some of the amusing behind the scenes goings on in the film and in his career in Philippenes film-making. Check it out at http://nicknicholson.blogspot.com/