Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH (1989)

So I am feeling a little better and a little more in the mood to attend my blog business. Thanks(?) to Netflix, I have seen lots of newish horror and genre stuff lately, none of it good, so the best course of action was obviously immersing myself in the work of Claudio Fragasso. It's the right time, since TROLL 2 fever is rocking the world thanks(!) to Michael Paul Stevenson's doc BEST WORST MOVIE. But Fragasso is more than Utah goblins in burlap sacks and it's time you learned.

I'm starting with ZOMBIE 4 because I feel like it. Fragasso worked with the ailing Lucio Fulci on ZOMBIE 3, which was such a financial success that his producer demanded another zombie outing. Fulci, of course, made ZOMBI 2, which was an unofficial sequel to ZOMBI, which is what Italians call George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD. ZOMBI 2 has since been retitled ZOMBIE. It is a complicated world. ZOMBIE 4 was originally called AFTER DEATH, but the ZOMBIE series was a money-printing machine at this time, kind of like the Fed now, so the title was appropriated for this essentially unrelated thing. Like 3, 4 was lensed in the Philippines on a tight budget and tight shooting schedule.

Like 3, this also kind of has a plot. And, like 3, it also boasts pretty ripping synth pop. After you've danced off some excess energy, the movie unfolds with a black voodoo priest with uninspired Satanic makeup. Seems a bunch of "scientists—experts in chemistry, biology, and physics, students of alchemy and of the arcane principles that govern the very equilibrium of our universe!" have come to this island to conquer death, but failed to save voodoo priest's daughter from cancer. So he unleashes spells that cause the dead to return to life, eat the living, the usual. Claudio Fragasso movies live or die by nutty dialogue and ridiculous situations and this prologue is promising. The scientists skulk down into this grotto wielding absurd-looking automatic weapons and very highly-placed pants. There are lines like "You wanted to defy hell...and now hell has accepted the challenge!" and "Come back to life now if you can, BASTARD!" But this is a zombie movie, so the good-guy gun-freak scientists are mostly mutilated, although one couple sends their toddler daughter away and she runs more awkwardly than Matt Damon to safety.

The next scene is 20 YEARS LATER, although the movie doesn't indicate this in any way because it is not going to hold your hand and walk you through life. Two chicks and a guy in mall clothes and a bunch of bizarre-looking gun freaks with meth teeth zip down a river. There's a black guy, too, and he smokes pot while one of the gun freaks cheers, "Way to go!" Fun fact: the blonde lady (Candice Daly) is the toddler from 5 minutes/20 years ago and has a charm necklace that can close the door to hell. If the boat kept working, there wouldn't be a movie and so the gang decamps onto the "typical deserted island". LOTS of walking ensues, only broken by mall clothes guy's unprovoked pursuit and attack of a zombie that attempts to run away! This has to be a first.

At this point, there is a ton of walking because we are introduced to another group who are seeking evidence of the science colony that vanished 20 years/10 minutes ago. So ZOMBIE 4 becomes, at this point, walking porn of sorts, with gun/blonde group and mystery-solving group all walking through well-lit jungles. One of the mystery solvers is gay porn's own Jeff Stryker, billed here as Chuck Peyton. He is the one who refuses to button his shirt all the way and exposes his boy cleavage throughout the film.

You have certain expectations for a film called ZOMBIE 4 and they are somewhat met. The zombies here are lucha zombies/fast zombies, giving the lie to the fib that such things are of recent origin (see ZOMBIE 3 for additional proof). The fight scenes are actually pretty swell, making me wish that Fragasso did more straight action, but they and the wacky dialogue aren't present enough to balance out the long stretches of inaction.

I haven't seen ZOMBIE 5: KILLING BIRDS (I love the Voivod-ish subtitle, though), but ZOMBIE 4 is my least-favorite of the ZOMBIEs to date and one of my least-loved Fragasso films. I wouldn't say it's excruciating and there are bright spots, but it's not outrageous enough to sport the Fragasso magic as found in TROLL 2, MONSTER DOG, or ZOMBIE 3.

Jeff Stryker went back to gay porn after this and is, according to IMDB, a frequent subject of Margaret Cho's comedy routines. Fragasso followed this with HOUSE 5 and then, of course, TROLL 2. Makeup vet Franco di Girolamo, who worked on ZOMBIE 4 after a long stretch on stuff like NIGHTMARE CITY and NEW YORK RIPPER, had a fairly busy decade in the nineties with work on SHOCKING DARK/TERMINATOR II/ALIENS II (lol Italy). And Candice Daly later starred in one of my favorite Skinemax entries LIQUID DREAMS before meeting a very unfortunate end.