[Originally distributed theatrically by Medusa Distribuzione, this film was released on Blu-ray in July 2015 by 88 Films.]
Oh, those Italians. They were so good at exploiting trends—and shameless with it. And why not? Surely the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s was the Golden Age of Italian exploitation. What we have here is a real bastardo of an exploitation piece.
We all know 1979’s Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) was a Romero cash-in. That’s a pretty straightforward affair. Circa 1979, zombies were doing good business in Italy. Cannibal movies weren’t doing bad either, having reached their apotheosis with Ruggero Deodata’s 1979 epic, Cannibal Holocaust—love it or hate it (I kinda hate it, to be honest), its impact is beyond doubt.
The cannibal wave attracted a curious (if not profoundly witless and absurd) variation in 1977, when an enterprising team headed by infamous hackster Joe D’Amato excreted a movie entitled Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali (Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals). That’s right: an Emanuelle (sic) film—sexploitation—genetically spliced with a cannibal movie. Fucking and eviscerating in equal amounts, if such floats your boat. That’s as wacky as it could ever get, right?
Fabrizio de Angelis, one of Zombi 2‘s producers, didn’t think so. Eager to catch the wave of both the cannibal and the zombie crazes, he and his team crafted Zombi Holocaust, which delivered the zombies, the cannibals, the sexploitation (admittedly toned down a good deal), plus a peculiar Dr Moreau twist for good measure. This batshit insane bastard of a bastard (of a bastard?) probably takes some beating in the Preposterous Sweepstakes.
Lead actor of Zombi 2, the personable Scottish thesp Ian McCulloch, is brought back for his second of three Italian exploitation vehicles. The Italians apparently did not view his balding crown as very heroic, so Ian invested in a toupee for this outing—which, sadly, lifts up like a dustbin lid during one of the fight scenes (see: around 48:24), and is absent altogether in a rather grubby sequence removed from the final release print (see deleted scene on this disc). He gives good value for money, although the absurdity of things is clearly not lost on him. I like Ian. As much as I’m fond of this flick, he was wasted on material like this.
The gore is splashy and effective, even if the FX work by Maruzio Trani appears to have been afforded a budget of roughly £9.86. The zombies are crude but oddly memorable. Donald O’Brien, as Dr Obrero, the Moreau-esque zombie maker, tries gamely—using his own voice in post would’ve helped a bit, though.
The version released in America as Dr Butcher, MD in 1982, incorporating unrelated footage and losing a bunch of padding, became something of a cult classic back in the day. The full version is more ponderous but also more cohesive—relatively speaking, that is. It’s a fun romp, but exceedingly tacky and cheap; the early scene of a falling dummy whose arm very visibly falls off when it hits the ground sums it up nicely. That said, efforts such as Burial Ground (also 1980) can make it look quite classy…
Zombi Holocaust has a history of mediocrity in terms of home video releases. Even the Shriek Show Blu-ray release of 2011 was nothing short of underwhelming. 88 Films stepped up to make a new scan from the negative in 2015, inspired perhaps by Arrow’s sterling efforts of recent years—and staged a kickstarter to bankroll it. Was the effort ultimately worth it?
It’s a given that a movie of this budget & vintage didn’t look fantastically beautiful to begin with, so expectations for such material are always reduced accordingly. Naturally, some of the shots are extremely soft and lacking in definition (including, unsurprisingly, some of the duped jeep footage lifted from Zombi 2), but when the movie is strong—especially in various outdoor daylight exteriors—it is very crisp and finely detailed indeed. Film grain appears to be untouched—in fact, very heavy at times—and print damage is fairly minimal. Even if some of the FX suffer from the high definition, many of them hold up rather better than I’d have expected. On the whole I thought it looked quite lovely (as far as that goes).
Extras include a Q&A with McCulloch from the 2009 Festival of Fantastic Films and Calum Waddell’s superb documentary Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film. The latter was also featured on the US Grindhouse release of Cannibal Ferox. It’s a first-rate overview of the Italian cannibal cycle—practically worth the admission fee on its own.
Calum Waddell’s booklet—basically, a medium-length interview with Ian McCulloch—is a decent add-on to complete a nice package. Overall, a very strong edition of a fun-but-trashy movie. If you like the movie, you’ll like this release—it’s a good as it’s gonna get. Thumbs-up!