Contains mild spoilers.
High temp rock / latin synth score complete with fast crescendo digital pan pipes, crazed chanting voodoo priest, a writhing dancing sacrificial victim cum savage zombie-demon exploding from the fiery pits of hell; oh yeah! I knew two things after the opening ten minutes; one, from the sound track and copious amount of denim on show this film is a total child of the eighties and two, I was frickin' loving every minute of it.
Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 was a rambling incoherent mess if we admit it. A mishmash of styles and genres brought about by combining the directing ideas of multiple directors. Yet, somehow, and maybe because of such a crazy mix it came together to be utterly compelling and easily forgivable; the perfect carnival of all things b-movie, 80s and zombie. The film they produced still retained the indistinguishable Fulci atmosphere, but it was also layered with a livelier action focus and a contemporary style added by Bruno Mattei and his associate Claudio Fragasso who had a vision of their own but not enough time to combine it all in any cohesive way.
Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is Claudio Fragasso's baby, albeit under the pseudonym Clyde Anderson and while he does continue at a pace with the particular action/horror vision he brought to the second he doesn't by any stretch abandon the essence and ambiguous Fulci style of its predecessors. If anything I felt this third film felt more authentic to the tone of the first than the second, perfectly pitching the absurd, the shocking and the surreal back in a far more coherent way. Ok, we're not back with Fulci's original slow shambling macabre flesh eaters and the pacing had definitely upped the ante with new and improved zombie flesh eater (MII)'s jumping and throwing themselves about but Fragasso is allowed his own take, and at least there's general unity to the zombies' identity and behaviour (for the most part anyway).
White men came to a remote Pacific island to look for answers to all the incurable modern malaise, including an investigation into cancer and how it could hold the secret of eternal life. Looking at local tribal witch doctors' methods they combined their understandings and attempted to cure the local priest's daughter of leukaemia only for her to die and infect the rest of the tribe with some strange reanimating disease. Seeking revenge and to rid their world of the invaders, the priest opened the third gate to hell by reading from the book of the dead and sacrificing his wife. He wrought a curse on all the scientists by commanding the dead back to life and to hunger for flesh, which they did, all other than a three year old girl who managed to escape with a protective amulet. Honestly, it's utterly balmy, b-movie insanity, a strange heady mix of science and voodoo but not, if we think about it, that dissimilar from Zombie Flesh Eaters which too was deliberately ambiguous as to the exact origin. It's daft, it's presented in 80s b-movie amateur splendour with false fangs and cheesy effects, but, if you're inclined like I am for this kind of thing it's bafflingly brilliant.
The bulk of the film is set twenty years later. The girl who fled, Jenny (Candice Daly) has for some utterly unknown reason, gone for a little boat jaunt with friend Louise (Adrianne Joseph) and her boyfriend Rod (Nick Nicholson) and his three mercenary for hire buddies and arrived by remarkable coincidence, back to the island. The boat is possessed, lands and the group set off to look for help. Meanwhile, three intrepid explorers looking to discover, for reasons I either missed or weren't overly explained, the answer to why the colony was wiped out by following clues from an old diary, find themselves in the ritual chamber with the book of the dead and decide it's a good idea to read from it. That's the build up, it doesn't take that long and the rest of the film is action, survival and lots of death, slaughter, screaming, and you know, normal stuff.
You're either going to love Fragasso's high octane vision, where zombies literally throw themselves at the ever depleting survivors en masse wave after wave, and agree to disregard the obvious impact having a severely depleted budget had on make-up, effects and costumes, or like many reviewers I've read, you're not. With funding drastically reduced because of the poor reception of the second film, other than the main front of house zombies, they had to make do with rags and bandages to cover the many extras faces. Personally I didn't think the effect was that bad and it all reminded me if anything of the undead from the hospital in Fulci's The Beyond; and that's no bad thing. By the front of house zombies I'm referring to the many actors that are bitten, die and come back horrifically and authentically unpleasant. In some respects the juxtaposition between these recently deceased visitors to the island who are very much undead parodies of their former selves and the reanimated indigenous horde works. They're two distinct zombie tropes and it kind of lets Fragasso off all questions of consistency, as we watch the new guys alone retain the ability to still fire guns and even mutter a few words.
I really was quite smitten with Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 despite going in with low expectations. The pacing is fantastic, the narrative flows cohesively from scene to scene, and for a crazy-stupid story it's actually convincing and beieve it or not never felt derivative. It's the action and the many copious zombie fights that makes the film and it's refreshing when those in possession of guns and the understanding that a zombie needs shooting in the head, to do so with such convincing efficiency. They limit their use of ammo, they choose when to take their shots and they're intelligent in all aspect of their survival; and other than when Rod loses his girlfriend and subsequent mind and goes all Rambo I was thinking these would be just the guys I'd like to find myself with come the end of the world. There's also a rationale, ok a pure fucking insane one, to the speed and aggression with which the zombies siege the clinic, and it makes for some good, entertaining action. Fragasso is also obviously a disciple of the shocking trademark gore and staged brutality. There's a return to the first and homage to Fulci's own gates of hell trilogy with some quite gruesome and gratuitous mutilations which all look convincingly gut churning and feel as totally overplayed as they should.
This was everything I would want from a cheesy 80s low budget zombie video nasty. Fun, high intensity, an unrelenting and unashamedly 80s sound track by Al Festa and no holding back. How does it compare to the other two? They're all good and all bring something different to the table but I'd argue After Death is certainly the most fun, and what an ending, oh yeah! 8/10.
The transfer on Vipco DVD I watched while being better all round than that of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 was still quite grainy and murky on occasion (though never all the time) but I was having too much fun for it to ruin it for me. It's probably the best uncut version out, though there have been rumours of a HD Blu-ray release, though nothing substantiated at this time.