Zombie Holocaust
Italy / 1980
Directed by Marino Girolami
Ian McCulloch
Alexandra Delli Colli
Donal O'Brien
Color / 90 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Shriek Show
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Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack edition
June 2011
Review by
Brian Lindsey
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
It's no coincidence that Lucio Fulci's Zombie and Marino Girolami's Zombie Holocaust, released within a year of each other, feature extraordinarily similar plots. Each gore-splattered story starts off in New York City, then follows an expedition to a remote, zombie-infested island where a mad doctor is encountered. Ian McCulloch (a sort of second-string Roger Moore) headlines both casts, playing a guy named Peter in both films; Alejandro "Dakar" Barrera, who appears as a Matoul native in Zombie, also shows up in this one. Was some kind of cinematic conspiracy afoot? No, merely a case of Italian exploitation filmmakers ripping themselves off as readily as they did everyone else. In fact, Zombie Holocaust (padded with footage from an American student film and re-dubbed Dr. Butcher, M.D. for stateside release) ups the plagiarism ante by blending two popular grindhouse genres of the day cannibals and zombies into a single sleazy mishmash. Guaranteed to delight gorehounds with its profusion of exposed innards, the movie will leave a bad taste in the mouth of just about anyone else. Or maybe even an upset stomach.
    At a teaching hospital in New York, various body parts of corpses slated for anatomy class start going missing. A hand, a heart... Someone is entering the morgue late at night and stealing them. At first attributed to med school initiation pranks, the horrible truth comes to light when one of the hospital orderlies is (literally) caught red-handed slicing open a cadaver's chest and chowing down on its heart. The orderly, a dark-skinned Asian man, leaps to his death from a window rather than face the police. One of the doctors, the glamorous, model-gorgeous Lori Ridgway (Alexandra Delli Colli) who's also a student of anthropology recognizes a strange tattoo on the dead man's chest. It is the sign of Keto, the cannibal god of a primitive Southeast Asian tribe who dwell on a jungle island of the same name. Following up on the bizarre incident, Lori hooks up with Dr. Peter Chandler (McCulloch), a scientific investigator for the U.S. Government (even though he's a Brit, and the agency for which he works is never really identified). There's been a rash of mysterious organ thefts across the country, all tied to Keto's cannibal cult. Chandler organizes an expedition to the island to get to the bottom of things. Accompanying him are Lori, Chandler's assistant George (Peter O'Neal), and Susan (Sherry Buchanan), a pushy reporter keen for a big scoop.
    On the main island of the archipelago to which Keto belongs, the foursome meets up with Dr. Obrero (Run, Man, Run's Donal O'Brien), a seedy but supposedly philanthropic medical researcher who's been living among the natives for some time. He provides the expedition with a boat, a trio of native bearers and Moloto (Barrera), a knowledgeable guide. But engine trouble strands the group short of their goal on another island... Or is this truly the case? Chandler begins to suspect that Moloto isn't on the up-and-up. This becomes the least of his worries once a band of savage cannibals starts attacking the expedition. Appearing out of the forest like wraiths, the primitives first pick off the bearers and quickly make snacks of the poor souls. Dr. Obrero, contacted by radio, directs the survivors to make for an abandoned church on the island. A rescue party is being organized to save them.
    So where the heck are the damn zombies, then? The living dead finally show up during the next cannibal attack, in which George is horribly slaughtered (his eyeballs plucked out for handy finger food) and the screaming Susan is carried off into the jungle. Lori, Chandler, and Moloto are saved from a similar fate when a number of moaning zombies shuffle into view, scaring the cannibals into panicked flight. Shaken, the three arrive at the rendezvous point to find Obrero waiting for them. He writes Susan off as a lost cause, urging Lori and Chandler to leave the island as quickly as possible. But Chandler smells something rotten about the entire affair... and the foul odor is not just limited to zombies and cannibal scraps.
    An inept piece of junk, Zombie Holocaust is a sordid, slapdash, inanely scripted hodgepodge of then-current Italian exploitation themes if you've seen Fulci's Zombie and Sergio Martino's Slave of the Cannibal God then you've pretty much already seen this one, too. Even though set in the Pacific, the film's locations (aside from the New York footage it was entirely shot near Rome) are made to look just like Fulci's Caribbean guts 'n' ghouls opus. The acting and dub work is simply atrocious. Delli Colli is particularly wretched, compensating for her lack of ability by spending most of the movie's climax buck naked. (Quite a nice bod, though I'll take her over Tisa Farrow any day!) McCulloch (Contamination) deserves praise simply for not letting his embarrassment show. It's extremely gory, of course, with makeup effects ranging from the unconvincingly cheesy* to cringe-inducing shocks. Folks not accustomed to this kind of fare will be in for some extremely rough sledding. (Thankfully the viewer isn't subjected to any real animal deaths. And by the way, the zombies don't actually do any of the killing or munching that's purely the cannibals' department.)
    So how come I didn't rate the movie a "1" on the EC scale? Surprisingly enough there are some effective scenes. The sequence in which poor, ill-fated Susan (Jeez, she wasn't that much of a bitch) finds herself strapped to an operating table in the mad doctor's grimy, ramshackle lab, her scalp cut away in preparation for a diabolical experiment, is unforgettably horrifying. The spare, minimalist score is decent and the dialog provides the occasional howler. Besides, the flick is better than Hell of the Living Dead... No stock footage!
* Watch when the hospital orderly nose-dives out the window... As he hits the pavement below, one of his (or rather the dummy's) arms snaps completely off and goes flying. Moments later when Lisa examines the body, both arms are still attached.

A recent Shriek Show release, this is the uncut European version of the film (with the original score), minus the American-made opening footage/title sequence which morphed it into the notorious Dr. Butcher, M.D. (as in "medical deviate") here in the States. It's an adequate transfer with a terrific slate of Extras. These include: the German and American theatrical trailers for the film (the latter under the Dr. Butcher moniker); trailers for four either current or "coming soon" Shriek Show releases (Jungle Holocaust, Eaten Alive, Beyond the Darkness, and Burial Ground); a "Zombie Art Gallery" of stills, posters, lobby cards and photos of the gonzo promotional campaign that heralded the flick's opening in New York; a deleted scene which was cut from the original Italian print (totally inconsequential, it's not missed in the slightest); and a brief video interview with special effects artist Maurizio Trani during which he nonchalantly drinks wine and smokes a cigarette, claiming to remember virtually nothing about making the film. Even more Extras focus on the American "contribution" to the Dr. Butcher version of Zombie Holocaust. Director Roy Frumkes (writer of Street Trash) is interviewed, explaining how as a student teacher he sold three minutes of footage from an anthology project (for $300) to the film's U.S. distributor, which was then "cannibalized" for Dr. Butcher's opening sequence. Clips from this unfinished student project (Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out) are provided with voice-over narration by Frumkes; there's also a photo montage from Frumkes' scrapbook covering the shooting of this footage. As icing on the cake, look for a hidden Easter Egg on the "Special Thanks" page click on the name of Edwin Samuelson, editor emeritus of DVD Maniacs, to view the film's English-language opening/closing credits. A colorful insert booklet contains a marvelous essay by Chris Poggiali, whimsically detailing the grindhouse moviegoing experience in New York City's then-infamous 42nd Street "Deuce" section.
    While probably the best-looking version of Zombie Holocaust extant, picture is rather grainy most of the time. Audio is at best acceptable
. But this likely represents the best possible elements that Shriek Show could obtain. Personally, for this kind of movie it's not actually all that distressing... Perfectionists who demand pristine, Dolby Surround-enhanced transfers of Z-grade, dubbed Italian cannibal-zombie gutbusters might wish to re-examine their priorities in life. 5/28/02
UPDATE In June 2011 Media Blasters released a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD "Combo Pack" edition of the film, which contains the standard-def DVD reviewed here.