1979’s Zombie Holocaust is a film that I have a bit of history with and one that brings back some nostalgic memories for me. Sometimes known as Zombie 3, but better known by myself for its U.S. release under the title Doctor Butcher M.D. - M.D. being short for MEDICAL DEVIANT, of course. It is a movie I had seen way back in 8th grade (yikes!), when a good friend and fellow horror fiend had told me about the film and all of its gory glory. This same friend had two VCRs (which back in 90-91 was rare and badass) and would tape every horror movie he rented from the almighty video store, including one Doctor Butcher M.D. So I saw it many many years ago and my memories of it were more that it was a big gory deal for my buddy and myself, but besides that, I couldn’t tell you much more about it.
Flash-forward to about a year ago when I was scoping out the used DVD scene at FYE, when I stumbled upon a cheap copy of Zombie Holocaust. Not knowing anything about its connection to Doctor Butcher beforehand, I was very delighted to read that it was the original Italian version of the film from my youth and one that I had not thought I would probably never see again. Plus, it was like $5 bucks, so that made it all the greater.
Like I said, my found memories are not so much of the movie itself (cause I barely remember it), but of the time in my life that it reminded me of. So I had no expectations in watching Zombie Holocaust outside of some cheap gore and poor dubbing. It is a clear cash in on the zombie craze as well as the popularity of cannibal films at the time and it takes a lot from Fulci’s classic Zombie (or Zombie 2) with some of the same locations, and even some footage from Zombie is used in Zombie Holocaust.
Directed by Marino Girolami and written by Fabrizio De Angelis and Romano Scandariato, Zombie Holocaust even has a story very similar to Zombie in that it starts of in “big city” New York and eventually ends up placing the characters on an expedition in a foreign land filled with many dangers. In New York, a doctor named Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli) discovers a cult of flesh eating, organ stealing foreigners. When the cannibals are caught in the act, they go crazy and proceed to take their own life. The only clue left behind is a symbol painted on the flesh eaters body, a symbol that kind of looks like a set of butt checks to be completely honest with you.
Lori meets up with another Doctor, Peter Chandler (played by Ian McCulloch who also appeared in Zombie), who organizes a mission to find out exactly what is happening with the organ stealing, which is apparently an epidemic that has been happening in more than just New York. Joined by a reporter named Susan (Sherry Buchanan) and Peters assistant, George (Peter O'Neal) the four head out on an expedition to the primitive island of Keto, which is where the butt check symbol stems from. This island inhabits many dangers, with one being the cannibalistic natives and the other being the zombies that are a result of the work done by the mad Dr. Obrero (Donald O'Brien), better known (to me) as, Dr. Butcher…MEDICAL DEVIANT! MWAHAHAHAHAHA! *Cough-cough*
Overall, the movie is poorly made, even for a cheap Exploitation rip-off of genres and films that were being done by better directors like Umbero Lenzi with his cannibal films and of course Fulci with Zombie. Zombie Holocaust is watchable and not the worst filmed movie ever, but in general, it’s near incompetent. There are dubbing issues, but that almost comes with the territory in any film of this type, so no need to harp on it. Even if the dubbing was good, however, it wouldn’t help with dialogue that is just poor to the point of humor at times.
Our characters are standard and very typical - and trying to make anyone believe that the ever so beautiful Alexandra Delli Colli character of Lori is more than eye candy, is as mad as DOCTOR BUTCHER! She has degrees in medicine and even has one in anthropology, which is just kind of funny since at no time does any sense of brilliance leave her lips…though, her clothes more than once leave them hips - and thankfully too.
Even though it isn’t a well-made movie, Zombie Holocaust is not a terrible film by any stretch – it’s not great, just more of a middle of the road one. The biggest issue that can arise with a movie of this nature (besides craftsmanship) is pacing and it’s surprisingly a well-paced movie with very little downtime. It movies along quickly and there is something always going on to keep the viewer entertained in one way or another. I mean, the movie has cannibals, zombies, nudity, and gore, so there is no excuse not to have something interesting to see every ten to fifteen minutes and the goods are delivered.
As far as the gruesome stuff goes, Zombie Holocaust lives up to its rep and my memories as the gore count is very high and most of the FX are executed and “fuck yeah!” inducing. There is a great booby trap scene when a character gets one of those beds of sharpened sticks sprung up onto his body, trapping him while the natives proceed to slit his throat and go to town on his tasty flesh. Then there’s an eye gouging of epic proportions that put quite the smile on my face. The cannibals provide most of the good stuff, not the zombies – in fact, the zombies are strangely not very prevalent in a movie that is titled Zombie Holocaust.
Though they aren’t in the film much, their impact on me is something worth mentioning. I do love that the zombie’s make grunting and moaning noises along the lines of something you would hear from a fourteen-year-old boys bedroom while reading one of his dad’s Hustlers. Even better, they look like old dog crap – like when it gets all brittle and white…they are very ashy zombies to say the least and Oil of Olay would make for a great Christmas present for these undead creatures if you ever decide to visit Keto (Kaelin?).
I actually really enjoyed the ending of this movie and some of the best stuff is with Dr. Obrero and his MEDICAL DEVIANCY! as he performs his mad brain surgery on the poor reporter, Susan. Pretty mean-spirited stuff and this scene was actually shot pretty well in a great ramshackle sort of cabin setting that was also a setting used in…you guessed it, Zombie! Even during these moments, Zombie Holocaust finds a way to once again steal from another film with some of the things that happen to Lori, being very reminiscent of things that happen to Ursula Andress character in the Sergio Martino film, The Mountain of the Cannibal God.
Messy and imperfect, Zombie Holocaust completely steals so many things from so many movies (that stole from so many others!) and has very few original qualities about it. However, this “thievery” makes for a fun mishmash of so many different types of Italian Exploitation films that it is hard not to enjoy for how much shit is thrown into the blender. Not every sip tastes great, but overall, I enjoyed my Zombie Holocaust smoothie and can recommend it to any one that is a fan of these genres.
Best start to a trailer ever, by the way!