Doctor Butcher M.D. / Zombie Holocaust
Released by: Severin Films
Released on: July 26th, 2016.
Director: Marino Girolami
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Alexandra Delli Colli, Sherry Buchannan, Peter O’Neal, Donald O'Brien
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Originally directed by Marino Girolami in 1980 (though released in an alternate form with added footage under the title of Dr. Butcher M.D. in the U.S – more on that in a bit), Zombie Holocaust made the obvious choice of combining two of the Italian horror boom’s most beloved genres, those being the zombie film and the cannibal film. The title itself is even a nod to Fulci’s Zombie and Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. The end result is a puzzling film, one which doesn’t always make the most sense or concern itself with things like logic, but which absolutely succeeds based on its willingness to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. A fun lead performance from the great Ian McCulloch (who also played the lead in that aforementioned Fulci movie) doesn’t hurt things either.
The story revolves around a man named Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch) and a beautiful woman named Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli), two residents of New York City. They become alarmed to learn of the presence of a cannibal cult operating in the city right under the noses of the local authorities. Lori and Peter hook up with a reporter named Susan Kelly (Sherry Buchanan) and her boyfriend George (Peter O’Neal) to try and figure out what exactly is going on here, but it all heads south quickly. Literally. Adventurous types that they are, they take it upon themselves to figure out just what this cult is all about and where it came from, a decision that very quickly leads them to a remote and mysterious island somewhere in the South Pacific seas. When, upon their arrival, they find themselves in danger of becoming the next meal for the island’s indigenous cannibal people. Thankfully, or so it seems, they’re able to quickly find solace with the mysterious Doctor Obrero (Donald O’Brien).
While Orbero may offer them safe haven, there are a few screws loose in his head. Soon enough he’s going to use Chandler as his own personal guinea pig in a series of experiments he has lined up that he hopes will reveal to him the secrets of eternal life. If that weren’t bad enough, curvy cutie Lori gets kidnapped by cannibals and finds herself the unwitting subject of their bizarre primitive rituals (which thankfully involve her getting very naked). But wait – isn’t this movie called Zombie Holocaust? Yes, yes it is – and it doesn’t skimp on walking dead action. As luck would have it, the island is also inhabited by a horde (well, if a horde is six or so) of flesh eating zombies, the remnants of Obrero’s mad science.
Co-written by Fabrizio de Angelis (best known for his work with, you guessed it, Lucio Fulci), Zombie Holocaust is a nuttier than a peanut turd and twice as stinky but you can’t help but love this bastard child of Italian genre insanity. Featuring some of the worst zombie make up in the entire run of Italian Romero knock-offs, the movie gets by not because it’s competently made but because it’s bat-shit crazy. Infamous for its scene in which McCulloch’s character handily disposes of a shambling corpse by using a conveniently placed outboard motor, the movie’s chock full of gore and features machetes to the head, fingers through the eyes, a bit of gut chomping, some gratuitously grisly surgical procedures and a fair bit more. Most of the gore effects are handled with a lot more care and expertise than the zombie make up effects, and some of them are genuinely disgusting in the best way possible.
The score from Nice Fidenco is fun, even if it steals from his previous work for D’Amato’s Emmanuelle And The Last Cannibals, while the tropical island locations contrast nicely with the footage shot in New York City. This gives the movie some interesting locations for everything to spill out onto, and they are all fairly well shot.
As to the actng? Well, this isn’t a movie you’re going to watch for the performances, it’s a movie you watch for tits, blood, cannibals and zombie attacks but McCulloch is dopey and dashing and fun in the lead. He played these types of roles well and always seemed to have a good time doing it. His work here is no exception and when you case him as the male lead in an Italian horror picture, you get exactly what you expect from the guy. Ms. Delli Colli is vapid and occasionally looks more than a little confused, but she is sexy enough that you won’t care. Donald O’Brien overdoes it every chance he gets and thank the good Lord above for that, because he’s a blast to watch here. Perpetually sweaty and stubbly, he’s one of the scuzziest looking ‘doctors’ you’d ever want to see but he’s awesome in the part and steals more than a few of the scenes in which he’s featured.
As mentioned earlier, Zombie Holocaust was released in the United States as Dr. Butcher M.D. – this happened when Terry Levene and Aquarius Releasing bought the rights to the picture and added a prologue taken from an unfinished horror film called Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out. This material was shot by Roy Frumkes of Street Trash fame. In the prologue, which doesn’t match the rest of the film very well at all, a zombie comes out of his grave in a ratty old looking graveyard and sort of shambles about. The score was also changed, some of the character development bits and pieces were trimmed and some bits of dialogue were changed.
The Zombie Holocaust cut, as presented here, also has an added sequence. It takes place on the island where Lori hides out from some cannibals after falling into a pit, only for Peter to bust into action and attack them, saving her life. Severin have included both versions of the movie on this two disc set with the Doctor Butch M.D. cut running 81:46 and the Zombie Holocaust cut running 88:57.
So let’s talk about the transfer. The Doctor Butcher version was only ever released on VHS, it never had a DVD release. For this Blu-ray roll out, the film is presented uncut in its official US theatrical version and taken from a 2k scan, restored from “negative elements from the Aquarius Releasing vaults and from the original negative of Zombie Holocaust in Rome.” As to the Zombie Holocaust version, it’s definitely worth noting that it includes the original title card (not the video generated one seen on the previous domestic Blu-ray release from Media Blasters reviewed here). Additionally the scene that was missing from that release and included as a deleted scene in the extras has been reinstated into the film where it should be, taken from 16mm elements (so expect a bit of a quality dip for this sequence).
How does it all look? Quite a bit better than what we’ve seen in the past, that’s for sure. Contrast looks good, color reproduction is very strong and of much better quality as well. Black levels are better and the image for both cuts appears free of obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement problems. The prologue sequence for the Doctor Butcher cut looks rougher than the rest of the movie but that’s understandable given the history of that source material (the bulk of this version is transferred from the same elements as the other version so quality differences outside of the prologue are minor/fleeting). Minor print damage shows up here and there but it’s nothing so obvious as to take you out of the movie. Grain appears nice and natural here – Severin have done a very nice job revisiting this title for Blu-ray. No complaints here!
Audio tracks are English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and LPCM 2.0 Mono for Doctor Butcher M.D. while Zombie Holocaust gets an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and an Italian language LPCM 2.0 Mono track. Unfortunately no English subtitles are provided for the Italian language option and the clarity of that Italian track is less than ideal but it’s here for those who want it. The English language options for both cuts of the movie sound pretty decent, with good range and proper balance. Dialogue is clean and easy to follow and there isn’t any serious hiss or distortion to complain about.
Extras for this release are spread across the two discs in the set and specific to each cut of the movie. Disc One starts off with a feataurette called Butchery And Ballyhoo which is an interview with Aquarius Releasing’s Terry Levene. In this thirty-two minute long interview, Levene talks about how his family got into the film and theater business in England before moving to the United States and then setting up shop in Buffalo, New York. From there we learn how he wound up with an office in the heart of Times Square during the area’s boom years or trash cinema, how he came to acquire (and often times tinker with) so many different foreign films, and what his marketing strategy was all about. He tells some great stories here, including his involvement in distributing Deep Throat before some unnamed parties put a stop to that, dabbling in the sex film market, and of course, how he came to turn Zombie Holocaust into Doctor Butcher M.D. Great stuff!
Also found on disc one is a twenty-two minute piece called Down On The Deuce in which Chris Pogialli and filmmaker Roy Frumkes stroll around a modern day Forty Second Street/Times Square pointing out where the old theaters used to be. This is juxtaposed against some great stills and clips from the area’s past while the two participants share stories about the history of the various theaters that once were and their own experiences in the area. Frumkes pops up again providing commentary for the eight minutes of outtakes from Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out – presented here in its more complete form (only about three minutes of this material was used in Doctor Butcher). This has been included on previous releases but it’s an important part of the movie’s history and Frumkes’ commentary is quite interesting.
Gore Gazette Editor In Chief Rick Sullivan is also interviewed here for thirteen minutes in a piece called The Butcher Mobile. He speaks here about how he started the infamous fanzine (as well as an obvious mistake that led to its demise) which in turn led to his meeting Levene. They got along and he suggested some William Castle style ballyhoo be used to market Doctor Butcher’s theatrical release – that birthed the Butcher Mobile stunt, wherein a truck was rented to tour around NYC with Sullivan acting as a carnival style barker while nurses and doctors dealt with various patients. This is a great piece, particularly if you have an affinity for old cult and horror movie zines. The last interview on the first disc is a ten minute piece with Editor Jim Markovic entitled Cutting Doctor Butcher. Here he offers up some candid memories about working on Doctor Butcher M.D. as well as on other films for Levene, making those aforementioned foreign pickups more American and, in theory, more commercially viable for the distributor.
Rounding out the extras on disc one are an ‘Illustrated Essay’ by Butcher Mobile victim Gary Hertz entitled Experiments With A Male Caucasian Brain (…and other memories of 42nd Street), the original Doctor Butcher M.D. theatrical trailer and two video release trailers, animated menus and chapter selection.
Disc two starts off with an eight minute interview with leading man Ian McCulloch entitled Voodoo Man. He claims here to have never actually sat through the entire movie, but he shares some great stories about how he got into acting. He also talks about his work in Italian horror pictures, notably Fulci’s Zombie and, of course, Zombie Holocaust. He’s a pretty charming guy with a good sense of humor about some of his less prestigious credits – this makes for a fun watch.
Blood Of The Zombies is a twenty-three minute long interview with special effects head Rosario Prestopino. Shot in 2007 before he passed away in 2008, this is a rock solid piece where Prestopino shares some great memories about his time in the business. He talks about how he came to work in special effects and gives us some welcome background information on his skills before discussing the specifics of such Italian splatter films that he worked on such as Lamberto Bava’s Demons, Demons 2, City Of The Living Dead, the infamous Burial Ground and of course, Zombie Holocaust. If you want details on how the brain surgery scenes were pulled off or other details about the gore effects that play such a big part in the fun factor of Zombie Holocaust, this’ll cure what ails you.
The second disc also includes an eight minute interview with filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari who talks about his father, Zombie Holocaust’s director Marino Girolami. Castellari should be no stranger to readers of this site, having directed plenty of legitimate cult classics himself. Here, however, he talks about his father’s work, how he started out as a boxer before he got into filmmaking and then telling various interesting stories about different projects that his father was involved with over the span of his career. Also on hand is a twenty-four minute interview with actress Sherryl Buchanan (who has a supporting role in the film as Susan Kelly) entitled Sherry Holocaust. Here she talks about growing up in the south, getting into acting and how this led to her travelling to Spain and then to Rome. She shares some great ‘stories from the trenches’ here as she discusses projects like What Have They Done To Our Daughters?, Zombie, Zombie Holocaust and Emmanuelle And Joanna (which, after it had hardcore inserts put into it, caused her to more or less drop out of the business). This is quite a coup, as prior to this release not a whole lot of information was out there about Buchanan. Here her story is told and told well – a fantastic addition to this release.
A brief but interesting featurette called New York Filming Locations Then Versus Now spends three minutes showing off some of the Big Apple locations seen in the movie as they exist today – it’s quick, but worth checking out. The second disc rounds things out with an audio clip of Ian McCulloch singing “Down By The River,” both international and German language trailers for Zombie Holcaust, animated menus and chapter selections.
Both discs fit nicely in a standard sized Blu-ray keepcase that comes with a nice reversible cover art insert sleeve allowing you to display artwork for either version of the movie – and on top of that the first 5000 copies of this release come packaged with an ‘Official Barf Bag!’
The Final Word:
Severin’s two disc Blu-ray special edition release of Doctor Butcher M.D. / Zombie Holocaust is pretty much the final word on the film. Not only do we finally get both versions of the film but they’re both presented in transfers much improved over previous releases. On top of that we get a ridiculous amount of supplemental material – and a barf bag! Don’t miss out. Highly recommended.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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