Zombie 4, Just Because

There's a whole bunch of exciting new releases coming out this summer, but it's been a little fallow in the meantime.  So how about we take a look at Claudio Fragasso's Zombie 4: After Death?  Just for fun, and also because I recently realized something about it that doesn't seem to get mentioned much in relation to this title.  And hey, it's a wacky and under-appreciated little flick.  Heck, now that I think about it, I'm surprised we haven't done this one before.
VHS cover from

, or Zombi, is one of those movie franchises that frequently don't connect, like Demons or House, where distributors would just slap the title on unrelated movies as a selling point.  Not that they're all disconnected.  I don't think anyone reading this needs me to explain that Zombie was titled Zombi 2 in Italy because it was Fulci's unofficial sequel to Dawn Of the Dead, which was titled Zombi in Italy.  Then Fulci eventually made a sequel to that, which was called Zombi 3, although they're all very loose sequels with no connecting characters or story lines.  But then again, you could say that about Romero's original trilogy, too.  So okay, they're sequels enough.  At least until you somehow get Jess Franco's Christina, Princess of Eroticism getting sold as Zombie 4, Joe D'Amato's Killing Birds as Zombie 5, Absurd as Zombie 6, and it's like okay, this is just a free-for-all of shameless marketing where any film on the planet can get a Zombie slapped on the box.  Apparently there was a whole other run in Australia, too, where different unrelated horror movies got retitled into the Zombie catalog, like Panic and Dawn Of the Mummy.
But After Death could be said to legitimately bear the Zombie 4 moniker, and is probably the most righteous heir you'd find.  Fragasso (and Bruno Mattei) finished Zombi 3 when Fulci's film, coming aboard as both co-writer and director.  And he made this the year after, filming it during the off hours at night while making Strike Commander 2, even reusing some of the same sets and props of Zombi 3.  The ensemble machine-gun toting collection of mercenaries and civilians getting thrown together as the film's protagonists feel an awful lot like the soldiers and civilians who find themselves hiding out in a similarly abandoned hotel in Zombi 3.  Macho tough guys gunning down zombies in the misty greenery of the Philippines feels very much like the last entry, except it's faster-paced without Fulci's somber atmosphere.  And the voodoo stuff harkens back to Zombi 2.  This movie was originally filmed simply as After Death with the Zombie 4 added later, but unlike Franco's Zombie 4 or any of the later subsequent films dubbed Zombie, this one really belongs.
And it's also just a better film than it gets treated as, even by horror fans.  I mean, sure it's goofy as heck, but that's more than half the fun.  The story's convoluted and the acting's cheesy, but it takes itself just seriously enough, moves at a tight clip, and delivers all the goods with heaps of zombie action, gory kills, and colorful imagery.  It's got a vibrant soundtrack, to say nothing of the rock anthem title song.  Sure, Jeff Stryker may be a porn star in practically his only "mainstream" movie, but he's not a hair out of place in the Fragasso/ Mattei oeuvre.  And honestly, this is one of the most entertaining films from either of them, right up there with their best work.  It's also one of those "fast zombie" flicks people ignore in their rush to credit Danny Boyle with inventing what came decades before him.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for a fun, first-hand account of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans during the shoot by actor Nick Nicholson, who played the meanest mercenary.
There have been plenty of DVDs of After Death around the world, going back to the Laser Paradise and Vipco days.  Shriek Show released what was probably the definitive SD edition back in 2002, which they also included in their 2005 Zombie Pack set.  But it was a whole new ball game in 2018, when Severin (quickly followed by 88 Films) released it on BD.  And this is what I never realized about this film until recently.  Severin's case describes it as "uncut for the first time ever in America."  No comments or write-ups I'd seen made much of it and so I didn't really take notice, but looking at it now, yeah, this is a longer cut.  Every previous version I've ever owned was missing stuff - who knew?  Before Severin released this complete version on blu, it had only been available on a 2009 German DVD from X-Rated.  We'd been missing out, but no longer.  There are three restored scenes.
restored scene #1.
22:50 - 24:56: After the boat docks, the Stryker trio stop and talk about the magically altered nature on the island and what happened to the people who'd been there before them. Then they go on hiking, which is where the shorter version syncs back up for a bit.

25:56 - 27:00: But only for a bit, because the longer version cuts back to the rest of the team at the dock, who argue about not wanting to venture off, but they can't fix their boat with what they've got.  Eventually they agree they have no choice and head off, which is where the short version syncs up again.

30:54 - 32:12: After mercenaries' first conflict with the zombies, the short version cuts back to the Stryker trio, but the longer version follows this other group longer through the woods.  They discover their boat has mysteriously vanished and decide they need to find a hospital, and the girl admits she's been on this island before.

So I can see why they were cut.  It's talking, not action.  And if you just have your eye on the pacing, these moments might seem like ballast.  But for all the complaints about how this film is nonsensical, restoring some of this exposition helps, well, at least a little bit.  And it really doesn't slow this film down much; it's already zipping by at rocket speed.  At the end of the day, they're nothing thrilling, but it's definitely better to have them than not.  Although they're not the only reason to upgrade.  Severin also presents us a fresh transfer from a brand new 2k scan, and just have a look.
2002 Shriek Show DVD top; 2018 Severin BD bottom.
What a difference - Severin gives us a new 2k scan, and Shriek Show gave us a washed and dupey SD transfer, so the disparity is remarkable.  Shriek Show's transfer is 1.66:1, while Severin's is 1.85:1.  And okay, you might say, Severin just matted it down to something a little more conventional, but no.  Actually Severin's scan reveals more picture along the sides, instead.  The colors are much stronger and more distinct, especially compared to the DVD - it turns out that guy's shirt was blue this whole time!  Also, like most of Shriek Show's otherwise carefully presented discs, the DVD is interlaced.  Of course the blu whisks that away, and replaces it with strong and natural film grain.  Seeing this movie look like an actual movie might help raise it in the estimation of the naysayers, too.

Both editions only include the English dub (yes, there was an Italian language version... that X-Rated DVD had it) in its original mono mix with removable English subtitles.  Severin's is in DTS-HD.
Shriek Show had some decent extras - more, in fact, than it hinted at on the back of its case.  According to the packaging that only mentioned their interview with Claudio Fragasso, which was actually rather good.  But pop in the disc, and it also had interviews with co-stars Stryker and Candice Daly, which are both must-watches despite the latter being awfully short.  It also had the theatrical trailer and, like most Shriek Show discs, a bunch of bonus trailers.
And Severin has taken the interesting choice of mostly replacing those old extras with new versions.  They dropped the Fragasso and Stryker interviews, but conducted fresh ones with both of them.  Their Fragasso interview is better, and also includes his wife and frequent co-writer screenwriter Rossella Drudi.  As for the Stryker interviews, it's kind of a tie; I kind of miss him posing with his sports car.  The Daly interview is the same one from the DVD except re-edited - tightened up with a lot more film clips mixed in.  And the trailer's still here.  Besides that, they've also uncovered a great little clip of (subtitled) behind-the-scenes footage.  And the first pressing of 3,000 copies also comes with a soundtrack CD, which yes, starts with the great "After Death" rock tune, and then follows with all the incidental score from the film.
So yeah, new 2k scan of the mostly unavailable uncut version with improved extras?  If this one's not in your collection yet, it ought to be.  And as of this writing at least, Severin still seems to have the first run with the soundtrack CDs in stock.  That's crazy to me; this title should have a much broader horror fan-base.  It's such beautiful zombie schlock.

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