Zombi 4 (1988) (aka After Death)

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After the slog through the six different “Zombi 3”s, we’re in for what counts as a treat in Italian zombie cinema. Not this one, you understand, because it’s rubbish, but one of the other “Zombi 4”s, one of my favourite horror movies ever, Jess Franco’s “Virgin Among The Living Dead”. But we’ve got the “official” part 4 to go yet, and we’re back in that most magical of places, some ugly jungle in the Philippines, this time substituting for a voodoo island in the Caribbean.

 

Although it’s been a while since we mentioned them, this is the work of one half of our favourite Italian double act, Claudio Fragasso. He wrote “Troll 2” and all the most bizarre films of Bruno Mattei, and this is an early-ish example of his directing work (he’s done all sorts, and is still working today, with a recent movie being a wacky comedy from 2012 where a couple of mob witnesses have to get jobs at a summer camp). It’s also a rare sole writing credit for his wife Rossella Drudi, who’d go uncredited on many of her co-writing jobs with Claudio because, well, women can’t write horror? We perhaps ought to have mentioned her before now, but then again, she didn’t write “Troll 2” so it’s not as much fun mocking her.

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This is yet another “scientists go to the jungle to set up their research lab” story, when it seems like the worst idea possible. You’re surrounded by angry locals all the time, if you break something it’s a nightmare getting replacement parts, refrigerating all your samples would be a pain, and the humidity would cause all your stuff to rust. Why don’t scientists go to, I don’t know, rural Canada or something?

 

We’re right into things, with a voodoo priest who I thought was a rare black Satanist for a bit (he has an inverted cross on his forehead, a symbol I don’t think that voodoo messes with? Not sure and not going to check) about to do some weird ritual with his wife, which results in her being sucked down into Hell…then popping back up a few minutes later in full demon-form, ready to slaughter the white scientists. They were trying to save the guy’s daughter who had leukaemia and failed, so he decided to open the gates of Hell and slaughter them all. You know, the sort of reasonable reaction any of us would have. The suddenly resurrected dead start popping up all over the place, and the only survivor of the entire base is a young girl, who’s given a magic amulet by her mother. I said at this point “20 years later!” and was proved right a few minutes later, as we see that same girl as an adult on a boat.

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And it’s right here, maybe ten minutes in, where we leave such outdated notions as common sense far behind. She’s on a boat with another woman and four guys, and it turns out the four guys are mercenaries. There is zero evidence these people met beforehand, the two women don’t seem to be friends and the four guys explain their line of work to the ladies like they’re meeting for the first time. But according to the movie, she hired them to go back to the island and find out what happened? What? Wouldn’t some authorities somewhere have been interested in the deaths of everyone on this research base? Wouldn’t they have prepared, taken provisions, anything at all? They only end up on the island they’re on due to a fault with the boat. So which island were they going for?

 

Sorry, dear reader. I haven’t got the foggiest about any of this, and when we meet a group of three hikers, one of whom is just wearing a mostly unbuttoned shirt, no backpack or anything like that, I just threw my hands up and stopped caring. That man, by the way, is Jeff Stryker, who’s far better known as a porno actor (he’s done two non-porn roles, as far as I can tell), so clearly he was hired for his body, not so much his acting  – although he’s fine in this. They find the book the voodoo guy had at the beginning, helpfully with “THE BOOK OF DEATH” professionally printed on the front, and then just straight up read the words to open the portal to Hell.

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What? There’s a problem or two here as well, and we’re only half an hour into this damn movie. We already saw a zombie attack one of the mercenaries, so isn’t the portal already open? And who closed it before, from 20 years ago? You will enjoy several scenes of dead people emerging from the earth throughout “Zombi 4”, though, including some which take a couple of days to show up – perhaps they were asleep when the portal was opened, or were buried more than 6 feet under.

 

Wow, is this stupid. So, these people die, but luckily they’re armed with information that’s important – like what the amulet does (stops the zombies, if placed in a circle of candles) and how best to finish off a zombie (shot to the head, natch). From then to the end, it’s a completely standard zombie movie – in other words, lots of stupid decisions, lots of people refusing to defend themselves despite having a gun right next to them, and of course, our favourite, women being absolutely 100% useless at every single moment. I feel like if you were trying to deprogram a feminist, showing them the “Zombi” movies would have them be a raging misogynist inside a week.

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As well as the laugh riot that is sexism, this is racist, even by the standards of the genre. Not only is it the common-or-garden racism of all the “natives” being voodoo priests or zombies, there’s also how, when some of the white folk get turned into the undead, they can sort of talk, think and use weapons, tricks the locals never managed. I think someone realised how awful this was, so the lone black main cast member (who’s a massive pothead, stereotypically enough) gets a heroic sacrifice near the end, but it’s way too little, way too late.

 

According to the director, this was the “last gasp” of the gore-drenched Italian zombie movie, and judging by the evidence, it ought to have died a few years previously. It’s not just poorly made and a bit boring (although it’s definitely both those things), it doesn’t really make any sense either – I feel I might have worn out the question mark button on my keyboard with all the incredulity a few paragraphs up. Jungle-voodoo-zombie movies belong in an earlier, less enlightened era, and I’m tired of reading people making excuses for them.

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Rating: thumbs down

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