April 20, 2014

Movie Review: Zombie Holocaust

I am learning more and more about how a movie can change from country to country. Different titles, different cuts, different languages, even different footage shot or integrated from other sources. The latest movie to show this is Zombie Holocaust. It is another movie that has had a host of different titles and a number of different cuts over the years. I have now seen two versions of the film, the American cut and the original uncut Italian version (at least what I believe is the uncut Italian version). There is not a lot of difference between them. They are easily identifiable as the same movie, and in both cases it is pretty silly. But a good, fun silly.

I originally saw the movie (a projected 35mm print, no less) under the title Dr. Butcher, MD (the MD standing for Medical Deviate). This is the American cut. The most noticeable difference is the opening credit sequence. It seems that producer Terry Levene, who had acquired the movie for American distribution did not have the rights to the title. This led him to filmmaker and teacher Roy Frumkes (Document of the Dead, Street Trash). He purchased three minutes of footage from an unfinished project and edited that into a new credits sequence with the new title. There is also another scene that appears to be filler shot in someone's backyard, but it is my understanding this was not a unique scene to the American cut, but it does not appear in the original version.

With that out of the way, Zombie Holocaust takes the Italian art of rip-off-sploitation to a whole new level. We already know how Zombie (aka Zombi 2) was to cash in on Romero's Zombi (known in the US as Dawn of the Dead), and Alien 2: On Earth was their sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien. Zombie Holocaust was cashing in on their own films. Seeing the success of Zombie and Cannibal Holocaust (and perhaps Mountain of the Cannibal God), producer Fabrizio De Angelis looked for a way to combine zombies and cannibals. Zombie Holocaust was the fruits of that labor.

The movie was directed by Marino Girolami, a veteran director whose work did not often cross over into horror. Zombie Holocaust is not as polished or outlandish as the works of Fulci, Lenzi, or Deodato, but it still retains that specific Italian charm. It is ridiculous and makes little logical sense, but it is still so very watchable. The story is credited to producer De Angelis, with the screenplay being written by Romano Scandariato (Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals). It is not exactly great writing, but, hey, just go with it.

As the movie opens, we watch a shadowy figure enter the morgue and saw the hand off of a corpse. The next day, the missing hand is revealed during a class for hopeful doctors. The hand throws off the discussion and we begin to make some headway. The next day, an intern is caught carving the heart out of another corpse with the intention of eating it. He runs and jumps out of a window to his death (but not before revealing the mannequin used for the stunt, one of the arms pops off!).

It is soon revealed that there have been incidents like this all over the country. The one common factor is each hospital employs immigrants from the South Pacific island of Kito, one of the only remaining places to still practice cannibalism. It also happens to be where anthropologist Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli, whom we witness get undressed in completely gratuitous fashion) happens to have grown up. She teams with Dr. Pete Chandler (Zombie's Ian McCulloch) to return to the island to investigate the cannibalistic tendencies. Their contact there is Dr. Obrero (Donald O'Brien).

Well, as our intrepid heroes arrive at the island, they are attacked by cannibals. They then make their way to an abandoned building, or a presumed abandoned building. They earn that Dr. Obrero has been conducting some crazy experiments on reanimation and has essentially made his own zombie servants. Of course, he has has also been manipulating and encouraging the local cannibals, all of this leads to battle between the cannibals and the zombies. We can only hope that Lori and Peter are able to get away with their lives!

Zombie Holocaust is far from my favorite Italian zombie or cannibal flick, but there is definitely some entertainment to be had with it. The effects are ludicrous, like the previously mentioned mannequin. There is also a great scene with the top of a skull being removed and while you hear the sound of a bone saw, you see a blade that only moves as it is rolled around the already cut skull. The logic of the narrative is also in question, especially in the second half (forget about them not going to the authorities earlier on).

This certainly has entertainment value, but it is a far cry from the heights that were attained with other filmmakers. It is raised up a few notches with the goofy effects, the idea of cannibals fighting zombies, gratuitous nudity, and the presence of Ian McCulloch. It is hard to ignore the similarities Zombie, besides sharing a lead actor, it looks like some of the sets were reused as well. In any case, this is a movie to enjoy, revel in the silliness!


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Dell said...

Cannibals fighting Zombies? Yes! Also thanks for a fun little history lesson on the path some movies take as they travel around the world.

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