AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In New York City, parts of bodies in morgues are going missing. When a hospital worker is found devouring a body and throws himself from a window, and another person of similar ethnic origin is shot to death in another hospital after being discovered indulging in similar cannibalism, anthropology expert Lori Ridgewat notices that both men sport the same red tattoo, the symbol of Keto, which tells her that they are from the island of Keto in the Asian Molucca islands where she grew up. Along with Dr. Peter Chandler, reporter Sherry Buchanan and her aide Peter O’ Neal, plus local boatsman Molotto and two guides, she heads for Keto where a certain Dr Obrero is working but seems to have something to hide….
Zombie Holocaust is one movie that passed me by until now, even when I was a budding horror fan in the late 1980’s and I was doing what many folk of similar inclination also did – going through a phase of trying to track down all those Italian zombie and cannibal movies which horror magazines spoke about with a kind of awe [even the bad ones], and were either banned or legally available only in a form so mutilated that the whole point of the exercise seemed to be missing. I don’t know why I never attempted to obtain this particular picture, which supposedly combined the Italian zombie film and the Italian cannibal film into one ultra-gory fest, but maybe I had a feeling that it would be a major disappointment. Watching it now [£1 from Poundland!], it really doesn’t make the most of its premise and must have sent many moviegoers in 1980 out the exits feeling rather let down. Neither is it really a good film in most respects, being full of sloppily staged scenes, bad lines and other flaws. However, I must have been in the mood for some silly trash, because I had quite a good time watching it, albeit a time where I was laughing more than anything else, though I will say right now that this picture really is extremely gory and should satisfy any gore hound desperate for a quick fix.
Following the success of Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals [I don’t need to explain what two exploitation subjects that film was about] and Zombie Flesh Eaters, producer Fabrizio De Angelis came up with the idea of reusing the basic story of the Lucio Fulci classic and adding elements of cannibal films to come up with Zombie Holocaust. He wrote the story from which Romano Scandariato wrote a screenplay, while the director was Marino Girolami, a little known filmmaker with an extensive filmography stretching all the way back to the 40s encompassing most of the popular genres. In fact he was so prolific, distributors asked him to credit some films to pseudonyms, lest the market grow over-saturated. Filmed largely on the same sets as Zombie Flesh Eaters, the film was made as quickly and cheaply as possible and reused most of Nico Fidenco’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals soundtrack. Not a box office success, it was never listed in the UK as an official video nasty but the pre-cert video was seized by Cambridgeshire Police and the dealer was tried under Section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act 1977, though eventually found not guilty. The US version, called Doctor Butcher, M.D., added a [really poorly done] newly shot fight with two natives, plus a new, unrelated opening title sequence featuring a zombie rising from a grave taken from an unfinished film called Tales To Rip Your Heart Out, cut lots of dialogue from the first half, and added a new score where you can still hear the original music muffled under the replacement score.
After some rather non-descript title music involving a low sustained note over which whooshing sounds and thumps are played – a track that is then played over and over again even when it seems incongruous – we have a quite well done opening scene of a man, face unseen, walking down a hospital corridor at night to enter a morgue and cut of the hand of a corpse before wrapping it up and putting it in a case [it’s never explained why he does the latter two things]. The next day, the teacher conducting a medical class in how to operate is shocked to find the hand missing, but not enough to still open up the stomach. Yes, this film really does go for the grue, and sometimes totally gratuitously, though it’s hard to be shocked by a movie which has the culprit caught red headed, then jump out of a window so that we can see the dummy’s arm falling off as it hits the ground below. You would have thought that they would have just removed the shot as it looked so awful, but evidently nobody cared. PC types wouldn’t like some of the dialogue in this film either. Referring to cannibalism, “All primitive people practice it”, says our anthropology ‘expert’ heroine at one point.
It’s some time before we leave New York, but eventually we do and relocate to the Molucca Islands [which are actually part of Indonesia, though the film doesn’t attempt whatsoever to tell you where they are]. Our intrepid hero and heroine, plus their companions which include a typical nosey reporter [her dialogue often comes across as especially strained], are initially directed to the wrong island, because Dr. Oberero is obviously up to no good and, like Dr. Menard, not to mention Dr. Kananga, doesn’t want folk to find out what he’s up to….which isn’t entirely clear but seems to involve transplanting brains to prolong life, in the process creating zombies. Now, while the zombies do appear more often than I’d been led to believe, they don’t do an awful lot and leave all the gut munching to the islanders who are still alive, which may disappoint some. Worse than that,the final confrontation between cannibalistic natives and frankly whimpish zombies [more like the ones in the admittedly classic The Plague Of The Zombies, though with Fulci-type makeup] is almost over before its begun, as if they ran out of money and couldn’t film what they intended to.
Still, there’s much to enjoy if you accept that the film is frankly rubbish but decide to not let it bother you and instead opt to almost relish the experience. Once the characters hit the islands the action is almost nonstop and full of extremely graphic scenes like one poor guy being impaled on some spikes before having his throat cut and being chomped at by hungry natives, or a zombie’s face being gored by a buzzsaw. The effects are pretty good and put much of today’s computer-generated gore effects [which rarely looks convincing to me, but of course that might be because of my age] to shame. There’s even a bit of ‘torture porn’ foreshadowing, with our Dr. Oberero tending to do his complex operations [a victim’s annoying screams is no big deal to him – he just removes the vocal chord and then carries on] while the people strapped to the operating tables are not just still alive but totally corpus mentis, though even when our hero Dr. Peter Chandler finds himself in this situation, there’s no real feeling of fear in the film which couldn’t have been frightening even in 1980, especially what with Girolami showng no flair whatsoever for the genre. And why is Lori stripped naked and painted by the natives for a ceremony that doesn’t actually occur? Because Alexandra Delli Colli [The New York Ripper…and very little else….a reasonably proficient, but stunning, actress who quickly lapsed into obscurity] looks good naked and a similar incident happened to Ursula Andress in Mountain Of The Cannibal God [and would happen to Bo Derek in the godawful 1981 Tarzan too], that’s why.
Ian McCulloch is great as Chandler – he’s just hammy enough to get into the mood of the thing without going overboard – while Donald O’Brien really makes the most of his relatively few scenes as Dr Obrero. Sadly the [recycled] music score is quite bland and recorded very quietly too. No catchy Goblin or Frizzi riffs here, to be sure. Zombie Holocaust is pretty lousy to be honest but it’s also a great deal of fun if you’re in the right frame of mind of mind and could be a great party movie to chuckle at. After all these years, I expected little from it but was certainly entertained, at least. I guess that, bearing in mind all the great movies of varying genres I get to review, if I was reviewing Zombie Holocaust for another website, four stars and a nalf stars may seem a little high, but I reckon that for one entitled Horror Cult Films, it’s probably about right. Now I finally own the thing, I reckon I’ll subsequently stick it on far more often than a great many better movies.