Zombie Holocaust

doctor-butcher-rev Zombie Holocaust  (1980)    Aquarius Releasing/Horror    RT: 89 minutes    No MPAA rating (strong graphic violence and gore, some language, nudity)    Director: Marino Girolami (as Frank Martin)    Screenplay: Romano Scandariato    Music: Nico Fidenco    Cinematography: Fausto Zuccoli    Release date: May 7, 1980 (US)    Cast: Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Donald O’Brien, Peter O’Neal, Sherry Buchanan, Dakar, Walter Patriarca, Linda Fumis.    Box Office: N/A

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 You may have already seen Zombie Holocaust and not even realize it. It’s also known as Doctor Butcher M.D.; it was retitled and recut for its American release back in the early 80s. That’s the version I saw. I like both titles but Doctor Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviant) sounds cooler even if it is a little misleading. Yes, there’s a mad doctor in the movie but he doesn’t go on a murderous rampage in a city hospital as implied by the poster art. Like the title Zombie Holocaust indicates, it’s a zombie movie. The storyline is similar to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979) in all but one respect. The zombies are NOT the ones who feed on human flesh. The cannibals are members of a primitive tribe on a remote Moluccan island. Let’s recap; Zombie Holocaust has zombies, cannibals and a mad doctor performing human experiments. So far, so good!

 Zombie Holocaust is one those Italian-made horror flicks with generous amounts of gore and gross scenes. It’s the kind of movie where the ushers should hand out barf bags to audience members. It’s gained a reputation over the years as a grindhouse classic. Sure, I can see it playing on triple bills at some crappy theater on 42nd Street back in the day. Directed by Marino Girolami (father of director Enzo G. Castellari), it’s great cheesy fun! It has all the essential components: terrible acting, bad English dubbing, ridiculous dialogue, choppy narrative and cheap effects. It’s freaking great!

 doctor-butcherZombie Holocaust opens as a thriller in which Dr. Peter Chandler (McCulloch, Zombie) and anthropology expert Lori (Colli, The New York Ripper) investigate a series of bizarre corpse mutilations in the hospital morgue. It turns out to be an attendant who’s originally from the Moluccan islands. Yes, he’s a cannibal. He’s about to eat some guy’s heart when he’s caught red-handed (blood red, that is). He jumps to his death from a window but before dying, he utters a single word, “Keto” (one of the Moluccan islands). There have been similar incidents in other hospitals around the country so Peter and Lori go the islands to investigate. They are joined by his assistant George (O’Neal) and his journalist girlfriend Susan (Buchanan, Tentacles).

 They’re greeted by Dr. Obrero (O’Brien, Hands of Steel), an accommodating host who sets them up with a boatsman, Molotto (Dakar, Ator), to take them to Keto. It takes a while to get there so they set up camp on another island where they encounter cannibals who start killing off members of the party starting with the three guides. They are also being hunted by zombies. They radio Obrero for help which turns out to be a colossal mistake. You see, he’s the one creating the zombies. He set up his lab on that island in order to use the cannibal tribe as protection. After all, who’s going to snoop around on an island occupied by cannibals? Oh, that’s right. EVERYBODY!

 It goes without saying that I love Zombie Holocaust. It’s not great filmmaking, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s good then that nobody looks to movies like Zombie Holocaust for that kind of thing. I’ll never understand the mentality of people who automatically dismiss any movie that isn’t on the level of Fellini or Bergman. It always drove me nuts as a kid when critics routinely gave negative reviews to slasher flicks and horny teenager movies. They didn’t seem to get that the normal rules of cinema don’t apply to grindhouse movies. Forget all that, the important thing here is the splatter! Is there a lot? YES! Is it gross? YES! In Zombie Holocaust, besides the usual consumption of human flesh and organs, we get some cool kill scenes: a zombie’s face is torn apart by an outboard motor, a man’s throat is cut, a woman is scalped in preparation for surgery and a man is impaled on bamboo spikes. There’s plenty of blood flow as well. Gorehounds will definitely be pleased.

 Dubbing is such a key component of Italian-made horror films that I’d be put off by subtitles. I can’t imagine watching a Fulci flick without the voices that don’t even match the characters. Besides, the audiences for movies like Zombie Holocaust don’t go the movies to read. The dialogue, which is a real hoot, is better heard than seen. Obrero drops some real howlers; my favorite is “I could easily kill you now but I’m determined to have your brain.” There are a few plot holes like the tribal knife stolen from Lori’s apartment in the early scenes. It’s never explained how it ends up in the hands of the tribe on Keto. Somebody broke into her place and brought it to Keto but who? As for the gore effects, they look more convincing than today’s CGI. Truly gross-out!

 One of the things I admire most about Zombie Holocaust is Girolami’s vision of zombies. Whereas George A. Romero redefined zombies by turning them into flesh-eating ghouls, the zombies in Zombie Holocaust are more like ones from Haitian folklore. They’re pre-Romero zombies. They’re pretty scary looking too. I really like this movie a lot. It’s a lot of fun for the strong of stomach. Think Zombie meets Cannibal Holocaust. It has a shabby, dirty quality and a strong sense of doom. I wish they still made horror movies like this.

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