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Sunday, July 17, 2016
I really scored this week, getting to see two notorious exploitation titles from the 80s that I hadn't seen before. Well, not quite, since they're both pretty much the same movie.
Thanks to Severin Films, both are now available in a 2-disc Blu-ray set under the title DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. (1980), which includes that noteworthy "video nasty" along with its predecessor, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST.
The initial film, an Italian gorefest directed by Marino Girolami (father of Enzo G. Castellari of "Inglorious Bastards" fame) and featuring both loinclothed zombies and ravenous cannibals on a tropical island, was then purchased by ballyhoo master Terry Levene and somewhat "Americanized" for the 42nd Street crowd.
In addition to some general editing for time and a different score, the main changes consist of the new name (from "Zombie Holocaust" to "Dr. Butcher, M.D.") and an entirely new prologue and main titles sequence with footage taken from an unfinished anthology film called "Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out" and starring its producer Roy Frumkes as a zombie whose presence is totally unrelated to the original storyline.
What the two versions have in common is the story of a New York hospital plagued by a rash of weird cadaver mutilations that stymie Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch) and Lori Ridgeway, a hospital staff member who's also an anthropologist (Alexandra Delli Colli, renamed "Alexandra Cole" for the altered version).
After catching the culprit actually eating the heart of one of the cadavers and then jumping to his death to avoid capture, Peter and Lori organize an expedition to the man's native island in the West Indies where it is said that primitive tribes still engage in cannibalism.
With Peter's assistant George (Peter O'Neal) and an annoying photo-journalist named Susan (Sherry Buchanan) in tow, they meet up with Dr. Obrero (Donald O'Brien) in his island research retreat and head out for the dreaded Kito Island. Soon after arriving, their party is attacked by bloodthirsty cannibals who dismember and devour anyone they can lay their hands on.
Thus, after a prolonged stretch of exposition and build-up, the stage is set for an almost non-stop parade of some of the most grisly and disgusting gore effects that a low budget and ample imagination can provide. They range from obviously fake-looking to near Tom Savini-quality gore, and even the less convincing stuff displays a sort of giddy showmanship.
(The main FX fail, in fact, is when a dummy thrown from the hospital roof loses an arm upon hitting the ground, whereupon in the next shot the victim's arm is intact.)
Entrails are strewn, eyeballs plucked out, scalps lifted--and that's before the zombies show up. It turns out the living dead are the result of Dr. Butcher's mad experiments in his island laboratory, which he soon stocks with the survivors of the expedition in order to include them as additional unwilling subjects in what resembles an even more horrific variation of "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
This guy's a real sadistic bastard, which means that we're in for some more grotesque makeup FX which must've delighted gorehounds over the years while giving anti-"video nasties" crusader Mary Whitehouse and her ilk heart seizures. The exposed brain effect with its pop-top skull foreshadows a very similar, and much more expensive, one in Ridley Scott's HANNIBAL.
Marino Girolami's direction is serviceable as are the modest production values--the film has the same basic look as other Italian cannibal and zombie pictures of the era by directors such as Lucio Fulci and Ruggero Deodato, as well as later ones by Bruno Mattei (ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING, IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS, MONDO CANNIBAL). The dubbing is often amusingly bad, yielding (as expected) some lines of dialogue that are real corkers.
The acting isn't always top-notch either, but the cast give it their all. Alexandra Delli Colli shows off her nude body a few times to stunning effect, especially in her big human-sacrifice scene during the film's climax.
The 2-disc Blu-ray from Severin Films is a treasure trove of extras. The keepcase itself features a reversible cover insert and a barf bag.
Disc one contains the feature film DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. plus the following extras:
"Butchery and Ballyhoo": an interview with Terry Levene
"Down on the Deuce": Roy Frumkes and Chris ("Temple of Schlock") Poggiali's nostalgia tour of 42nd Street's grindhouse theaters
Roy Frumkes' unfinished segment from "Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out"
"The Butcher Mobile": an interview with "Gore Gazette" publisher Rick Sullivan
"Calling Dr. Butcher": an interview with editor Jim Markovic
"Experiments With a Male Caucasian Brain": an illustrated essay by Gary Hertz
Theatrical and Video trailers
Disc two contains the feature film ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST and these extras:
"Voodoo Man": an interview with star Ian McCulloch
"Blood of the Zombies": an interview with FX master Rosario Prestopino
"Neurosurgery Italian Style": an interview with FX artist Maurizio Trani
Filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari Remembers His Father/Director Marino Girolami
Interview with Actress Sherry Buchanan
"New York Locations Then vs. Now"
Ian McCulloch sings his hit "Down By the River"
The films are anamorphic widescreen with English 2.0 sound. No subtitles. "Zombie Holocaust" can also be viewed with its original Italian soundtrack. Picture quality is a bit rough at times due to the source material but the films probably look as good here as they're ever going to look.
All in all, DR. BUTCHER M.D. is a gorehound's delight, with its slower first half giving way to a veritable charnel house of hokey horror later on. Which might truly horrify if it were meant to be taken at all seriously, instead of being such total dumb fun that your main reaction to its ample atrocities may be simply to laugh yourself sick.
Buy it at Amazon.com:
Release date: July 26, 2016